Sunday, January 16, 2011

Hitting the Wall: What it Feels Like

If you've already read this post and are looking for an update, please click here.


Having had two panic attacks in the last ten years, I am no expert, but I have learned two golden rules:

 1) It’s better not to take yourself to the emergency room of a New York City Hospital when you can pop a Benadryl and berate yourself in the comfort of your own home.

 2) When pulling your jogging bra off in a panicked effort to get more air, it’s best to check your proximity to the men’s locker room first.

The panic—or sensation that I could not breathe and was near death—occurred last Sunday a few minutes after I had the very real feeling that I was about to collapse or pass out. It turns out that after two and a half years of bad sleep, and four months of really bad sleep, at the hands of a clinically diagnosed “bad sleeper” of a child, a mom can lose it.

The first thing I’ve lost is the feeling that I am sleepy. I am so chronically tired that I am no longer tired.

The second thing I’ve lost is my appetite.

I’ve also lost my patience, at times my optimism, my concentration, and my “free time,” but losing my appetite is probably what led to the loss of a third thing in my life—equilibrium. Equilibrium in the literal sense—I got dizzy and almost collapsed. And equilibrium in the emotional sense---the dizziness made me panic and I lost my peace of mind.

All this manifested in the last five minutes of my beloved Zumba class, during which I was dancing to one of my least favorite songs, the kind of tune that, even on the best of days, makes me want to leave the room.

On this day I fled.

I grabbed my kids from the child care area, made my way to the front desk of my gym and sought out the most maternal and competent looking person I could find.

“I feel like I am going to pass out and I want you to know who I am,” I told the woman.

She suggested I take a seat, calmly handed me a chocolate covered LUNA bar and a cup of water and searched for my file.

I didn’t know if I was actually going to faint, but if I did, I wanted someone to call my husband and look after my kids until he arrived. My oldest knows our home phone number---a relic my husband never answers, much less checks messages on, and my youngest knows that she is “2 years old” and is in love with Tyrone from the Backyardigans, but when it comes to identification, I’d say that’s about as far as it goes.

“Two a’s and two f’s” I muttered. The bane of a woman married to a man with a Dutch last name, I realized, was that I was going to waste my last moment of consciousness doing what I do in the more mundane moments of my life: explain to some poor listener the key to correctly spelling Vander Schaaff.

The woman found my file and I moved from feeling faint to feeling like I could not breathe.

We called my husband, who hopped in his car. She called 9-1-1 and got an ambulance on the way. In the meantime, I sipped water, tugged at my shoes, and apparently, at the annoying tank top clinging to my chest.

“Why don’t you put this t-shirt on?” another woman said, handing me a loose fitting t-shirt from behind the counter. “You’re sort of....exposing yourself.”

So, that was why the men sitting in the chairs near their locker room had put down their copies of US News and World Report.....

I put the t-shirt on overhead and slipped my jogging bra off beneath. As much as I breathed, I felt like I was getting no air and that the next breath would be more restricted than the first. My hands shook, my stomach felt queasy, and even as I continued my slow conversation with the helpful team who had now surrounded me, I felt lost in another place.

The EMTs arrived before my husband.

They checked my blood pressure; my chest; my lungs.

“When was the last time you ate?”

I’d had part of a muffin walking through the grocery store at 8am that morning.

Then I remembered I’d not had lunch the day before. Or the day before that. Or the day before that.

“I haven’t been sleeping much,” I said.

“Since when?”

It’s been particularly bad since August of last year, but it all started......oh, I don’t know.....shortly after I went into labor on June 18, 2008.

I sometimes wonder what it would take to start to chip away at the deep fatigue I feel. An article in Scientific American on accumulated loss of sleep, something called sleep debt, suggests that it would not take a single night or two of sleeping well. You have to look at the larger deficit, which since Ava’s latest bout began in August is at least 270 hours.

It would take more than ten days of consecutive sleep to make up for that, or nine months of napping for at least an hour. Even if it were humanly or logistically possible to do either of those things, I'm not sure I would.

I am, in my own way, as stubborn as my child who does not want to sleep. I have been told that I am the “goose that lays the golden egg”, that I must take care of myself so that I can tend to my children, and that I should find a way to catch up on sleep even as I figure out a way to help Ava with her own problems, and not wait until it’s all “fixed.”

But there is a part of me that has not believed that I am vulnerable or can be tired out to the point of passing out; that does not accept that while working towards the solution with Ava, that I need a compromised, messy, imperfect coping system to make up for the losses in sleep I’ve incurred.

And partial solutions only make me more frustrated that something so simple, so essential, so basic as sleep, is such a horrendously difficult proposition in my house.

Sometimes, because I am conflicted about acknowledging the severity of our problem and because I used to teach public speaking, I like to recite to myself a passage from Lincoln—completely out of context and appallingly out of proportion:

“The world will little note, nor long remember...” .....the fact that Ava doesn’t sleep.

But, the body does.

We’ve made some baby steps, with the help of a second specialist, but until the problem is consistently solved, we have to make do with the frustrating, maddening muck of being in the middle. I have to accept an element of failure—that we are failing—and therefore, what do we do until we succeed?

It’s no longer a question of “what do we need to do to succeed?” It’s a question of “While we are trying, what do we do?”

One reader and friend, whose own child exhibited similar sleep issues until the age of 5, suggested that I end this post by posing a question to you, the reader, that can be the subject of next week’s post. What have you done? Before a solution clicked, before a child outgrew a phobia, or a problem reached a long-hoped for solution, or you decided there might not be one--What did you do to persevere while you were in the “middle?” Send your stories to me at this email.

"Fifi" the comfort object french poodle, low wattage light bulbs, relaxing music and narration, box full of treats and rewards for "good sleep" and a chart to mark our progress.

PS: The other stories this week, of course, are the painful ones coming out of Arizona, which made me turn to the insightful Gavin de Becker for perspective. He is out of the country and unable to answer the questions I sent him, but for a clear headed assessment of the world in which we’re raising our kids, his book, Protecting the Gift, is one of the best.



Photo credit: Boxing Gloves:

45 comments:

parenting ad absurdum said...

You are such a good writer!! And I feel your pain. Sleep is the bane of our existence right now. With my first, I was strict about routines and placement (in his own bed, period). Three years into my second, and we have lots of make-shift arrangements, including everyone in our bed. Messy, yes, but sometimes we just go with what will work at the time. Good luck and big hugs!!

momchick said...

Sarah, there isn't anything in parenting that's tidy, neat, and put in its place. Those lives are saved for repressed parents who suck the joy out of life.
I hate that you're going through this. And I won't bore you with trials from my child raising years since they won't solve your problems and would just be the long version of saying, "I think I know how you feel."
Instead I'll say what I always say to Jenny, "I wish I lived closer so I can help." Please find yourself someone who can help you get that hour nap each day. Maybe some nice old lady like me (but in NJ) who will read to Ava for a couple hours? I'm praying for you.

Liz said...

Sarah I am so sorry it has come to this. Why is it that we as women and moms feel compelled to do for everyone else and so consistently and easily neglect ourselves and feel good about ourselves for doing it??? Yes, Ava has a problem and yes it's your problem too, but please try to find some time for yourself! And know I feel like a total hypocrite saying that as I carried my 40 lb sick child up the stairs twice yesterday despite my very pregnant state and knowing I should be doing no such thing....

Lunch Box Mom said...

Thanks for the comments. And, yes, I have now moved past the feeling that it's my job to do it all and neglect myself. Still, finding ways to remove oneself, for periods of rest or whatever, takes some planning--finding sitters, a place to escape to--wondering who will be with Ava from 1-3am and what she'll do to them--all things I am working to discover. But, it takes energy and work to find the plan. And, that's hard to do...when you're already tired and have used most of your creative problem solving skills to get a tot to sleep.

Kristi said...

Oh Sarah, you poor thing! But knowing where your limit is and when you need to replenish yourself is not weakness, it's wisdom.

Heather said...

Some things have been so frustrating, the best thing I could do was remove myself from the situation altogether. Thankfully my husband and/or our day care folks have been there to step in for a bit when I'm at the end of my rope.

Other than that, keeping a sense of humor and a day job have been the most help of all.

Anonymous said...

I cried reading this. My baby refused to sleep. I ended up in the emergency room with what several doctors believed could be a brain tumor...it was not, "just" exhaustion and extreme sleep deprivation. I am working with a new specialist and her plan is working. Janeen at Swellbeing is a life-changer!

Anonymous said...

I can't imagine the nightmare you are living through. Have your physicians ever suggest a sleeping medication for a couple of nights to see if it snaps her body out of it?

Anonymous said...

What we did when we weren't getting any sleep with young twins is to sleep in shifts. I went to sleep as soon as my husband got home from work -- 7pm at the latest. Then I slept until midnight. He slept on the couch with the monitor, dealing with the wake-ups. At midnight, my husband came into the bedroom with the monitor, and at the next wake up, I was on duty for the rest of the night.
Yes 7-12 is not a full night's sleep, and not at the ideal hours, but still, I was usually able to get 7 or so hours in...

My six year old sons now go to sleep well and stay asleep during the night, except that one of them still wakes early (4:30 am all three days this weekend), so going to bed early is the only way I can cope.
Good luck. Sleep deprivation is horrible.

mooneyequalsmc2 said...

I came over from Motherlode.

I am a mother of a child that does not sleep.

I have not had more than 3 consecutive hours of sleep in ages. Maybe not even that.

My little was born end of may 2008 so it sounds like they are close in age...though my little has a genetic disorder that COULD be the cause of his sleep disorder but not really sure.

We have tried everything too, including a 3 week trial of melatonin dosing that changed NOTHING at all.

Finally, my doctor told me that the only way to save my sanity, and that of my family, was

TO MOVE.

We live in a shoebox of a house and it is only 2 bedroom. She told us that we need to find a 3 bedroom place, make little man's bedroom as childproof as humanly possible. No cords available, no heights to climb from (mattress on the floor) lots of soft toys, tv mounted on the wall for movie watching if we could, a sippee cup for a drink and a lock on the outside of the door.

Yep.
Sounds cruel but she said that she has parents of other kids with seratonin issues, like my son, and sometimes you just have to concede that they are going to be fine on little sleep but that YOU are not going to be fine so shut them in safely. White noise machine for your own room, ear plugs if needed, baby monitor with video if you can swing it, and get some rest.

We are moving into our new home at the beginning of March.

Something has to give. We are lucky though, he loves playing in his room alone and is not easily upset at having his door closed. In fact, all night long, he wants to play in his room, in near darkness, while his older brother tries to sleep nearby.

This might not work if your child is fearful of closed doors. Or if you cannot bear to lock that door shut. I just want to pass along the strange advice that we were given.

Take care of yourself. {hugs}

Anonymous said...

I just saw your article on the front page of the International Herald Tribune and have just a moment to post a comment.....I adopted my daughter from China
when she was 10 mos. old. The first time she slept through the nite was when she was 8 years old. My husband managed to sleep through the night every night since we brought her home, but I was up with her all night....every night. By the time she was 8, I was really physically ill from the sleep deprivation and no one really understands what it is like to have an infant for 8 years.....I discovered when she was 5 years old that they had fed the babies with water from the industrial waste plant next door to the orphanage. She was loaded with heavy metals. I started detoxing her in a very non-invasive way when she was 5....3 years later, I had removed enough poison from her system that she was able to sleep. She is 10 years old now and she still has more heavy metals in her system than 85% of the population, but she is sleeping through the night....at least until 6:30 am....and she is gifted intellectually, doing well at school. We had to remove so many things from her room that she was allergic to and still do.....she loves to read, but is allergic to the paper and ink in the books....Maybe your child has sensitivities or maybe had some exposure to something that is preventing the body from relaxing into a sleep state.....just a thought.

LJG said...

My child was this way too. I hired a sitter to come over for two hours, twice a week and take him to the neighborhood playground to play with him while I rested in the house. (If I could have afforded to do that daily, I would have.) Could you try to find a sitter to do that for you? You can pack some snacks and toys/books for her to take along to the park. If she's at age two, could she start to attend a playgroup in the mornings (even at a local church/synagogue/YMCA)? Your whole family would benefit from that. Hugs!

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry this is happening. I don't know how to fix the problem but when we went thru some extreme sleep deprivation with my twins (feeding issues required us to feed one baby more frequntly) we sometimes would take shifts or take nights. My husband would take a night or 2 for me and then I would start to feel more sane. I will be praying for you.

-sarah

Helen/H1202 said...

Sarah, I know how exhausting it is, have gone through it myself with our eldest.

May I suggest if you haven't already contacting a pediatric sleep specialist. Both a sleep study and an MRI are likely in order.

I know of 3 extreme no-sleep cases, including ours, where there were underlying and fixable medical issues all revealed only after mri/study were done. For our son, sleep apnea caused by enlarged tonsils/adenoids. For two others, different medical issues but were able to address and begin to fix.

Boston Children's has a super pediatric sleep center. In NY, we used Dr. Kass in Westchester with great success (lewiskassmd.com). In the city I'm sure there are pediatric sleep centers as well; I believe NYU has one.

Good luck.

Ellie @ The Mommyist said...

I'm so sorry to read about your lack of sleep. I wish I could offer you some advice but my first, and sure to be only child after 2 1/2 years with out sleep, is around the same age as your daughter and doesn't sleep either. People can't imagine what this level of exhaustion does to the body and unless they experience it for themselves. You that you are not alone, you are not a failure and it's not you're fault. Some kids just don't sleep. I hope it gets better soon! I'll be following your blog to hear more.

jane said...

Hi there, our toddler daughter is also a poor sleeper. And I also agree that CIO doesn't work for every child and stopped working for us once she became more aware. She's 2 yrs, 3 months, and was such a terrible sleeper her first year, we hired 2 sleep consultants. She slept well for a year after that and it has been awful again since August. I wanted to share something that has been working for the past three days, just three, but soo much better than before. I've followed Weissbluth's sleep rules and sticker chart example. Our sleep rules are: 1) stay in bed until the sun comes up, 2) story only at bedtime, 3) be quiet, 4) close your eyes, 5) go to sleep all by yourself (customized for our needs). If she follows the rules, then she gets a sticker on the sticker chart and a disney princess figurine (you can buy a set of 8 princesses for $8.50) the next morning. I make a big deal of the chart and the princesses. After 4 stickers, I've told her that she can go to the Disney store and pick 1 toy of her choice. Until now, she's had little exposure to Disney and princesses, but you have to pick something that they will want. It's worked amazingly well so far (knock on wood). I've been able to leave the room while she is awake (which was impossible to do before) and she hasn't woken up with a night terror for those 3 nights, or required us to stay up with her for 2 hours in the wee hours. I have gone in 1x a night to rub her back a little bit when she has trouble sleeping, but much less than usual. I hope that this is helpful, since sleep deprivation is very tough to deal with, and since obviously, you've had to deal with it for so long. Good luck! (sorry so long, wanted to be detailed)

Anonymous said...

My son (now 3 and some) had a similar problem. Only my husband and I knew about it because I was kind of ashamed of it. Around the time when he turned three, I told him that I wouldn't be waking up in the night with him anymore. Guess what? After a few months of him waking up every two hours or so (I would just say "Sorry, I'm sleeping!" and he would scream for a few minutes and fall asleep) he now sleeps mostly through the night. He wakes up at 4 or 5 sometimes but this is a minor miracle considering our life before that. I think, at some point, they get smart enough to reason with. Your daughter will most likely hit this point soon! I still cringe when I hear folks saying "UGH, my baby is four months old! When will she be sleeping through the night?" I think, kid, imagine doing that for three years. Now THAT is sleep deprivation.

Anonymous said...

I've had sleep issues with one of my twins since he was 6 mon.(they turned 2 in Dec.) From 6 mon - 13 mon the would start screaming the moment we went to put him in the crib (a little like we were putting him into a hungry shark infested crib). He would scream for hours if we didnt get him. We did Ferber,CIO, the 3 day sleep solution...most nights he either slept with me or in the swing, bouncer, stroller, anywhere he would settle. Some nights were better then others- he only cried for an hour or so, but if he woke up, forget it! At 13 mon he stopped crying about going to bed and we revisited that behavior at about 18 mon after traveling. Now he still wakes up 2-8 times a night. He will scream till I come up, but once I am there, he lays back down as long as he has a paci (which he didnt even like till he was 15 months old). Many people have been telling me not to go up to him anymore, but he when I try that, he cries for hours- if you notice, all the books that say to cio dont say for HOW LONG. I feel that if I go up and he settles back down, even if its 8 times a night, at least we are both getting short bursts of sleep. I recently read on the TwinParenthood blog about a Wake Light system and have started using that. Basically, I have a timer on a lamp in the room and if the lamp is off, it is still sleep time. When the lamp is on, they can 'get out of bed'- mine are still in cribs, but if they wake early, I go up and say the wake light is not on, lay back down. It is very effective in the morning and I'm hoping it will work when they move out of the cribs. Still hoping when my son wakes at night he will learn to lay back down if the light is out, but I'm not holding my breath. But, maybe it would be something that Ava will respond to...Good luck and have you thought about a one or two day a week mothers day out program- maybe if you could leave her there for a few hours once or twice a week you could get a little sleep. Though if you are anything like me, any chance away from toddlers means ME TIME and I hate feeling that I wasted it napping.

Patty Chang Anker said...

Ava, I so feel for you! I just posted a blog about you: http://upside-down-patty.blogspot.com/2011/01/when-child-does-not-sleep-please-help.html, will put on Facebook, too.

I hope it generates lots of support and helpful, constructive advice. I felt half dead for 6 years. It will get better, but maybe not tomorrow - get help, pace yourself. I'm pulling for you!!

Bec said...

Are you still seeing the sleep specialist?
I am a children's sleep specialist, based in Seattle, but works with families all over the world.
PLease get in touch if you would like to talk further about your and your daughters issues. I don't claim to have come up with my own crazy sleep training technique, I develop a plan for your family with your families needs in mind which never involve leaving your child to cry it out.
Please take a look at my site www.rebeccamichi.com
I would love to help you.

Anonymous said...

I came across your story on motherlode; just wanted you to know that it does indeed get better. My first born was a terrible sleeper, even as a newborn baby, he napped for maybe two 10-15 minute snatches throughout the day and never slept for more than 2 consecutive hours at night. He stopped napping completely at 14 months but still didn't sleep well at night; it took me hours to get him to sleep and he would still wake up at regular intervals. He first slept through the night around two-and-a-half, and it was still a very rare occurrence for more than a year after that. My solution at the time (after the first year or so, when I was starting to feel I couldn't cope any more) was to leave him overnight at my mother's house once a week while I had a sleep fest. I found that I could (barely) manage to go through 6 broken nights simply by knowing one night's sleep was guaranteed, no matter what. I don't know how I would have survived without that. The other thing I realised as he grew older: it was his intelligence and over-active imagination that were mostly responsible for his sleep problems (he is highly gifted, tests at the top 1%). I started to keep a sleep diary to identify (and try to reinforce) any patterns inherent to his sleep and at the same time somehow hit upon a really good idea: because my presence at his side seemed to excite rather than calm him and we would go through storybook after storybook with him still wide awake, after reading to him in bed for a while, I would switch on a stories CD and leave him alone to listen to it (busying myself nearby but out-of-sight). At first it would still take him an hour or more to fall asleep, but soon he got used to unwinding like that and finally at almost four years old I had a "normal" child. After that, I just made sure that he had a very regular bedtime and plenty of exercise during the day; then, once he learned how to read on his own, bedtime became his sacred reading time. He is now a lovely, charismatic pre-teen, almost as tall as me, who still seems to need much less sleep than any of his peers but is considerate about staying in his room after-hours to give his parents some much needed alone-together-time. Remember, it's not what you do that causes these problems, it's the child's unique personality. My youngest, whom I almost didn't have because of my experience, thankfully turned out to be much easier in this respect. I still remember that light-headed, walking-on-eggs feeling only too well - I suspect I will to the end of my days.

Anonymous said...

I came across your story on motherlode; just wanted you to know that it does indeed get better. My first born was a terrible sleeper, even as a newborn baby, he napped for maybe two 10-15 minute snatches throughout the day and never slept for more than 2 consecutive hours at night. He stopped napping completely at 14 months but still didn't sleep well at night; it took me hours to get him to sleep and he would still wake up at regular intervals. He first slept through the night around two-and-a-half, and it was still a very rare occurrence for more than a year after that. My solution at the time (after the first year or so, when I was starting to feel I couldn't cope any more) was to leave him overnight at my mother's house once a week while I had a sleep fest. I found that I could (barely) manage to go through 6 broken nights simply by knowing one night's sleep was guaranteed, no matter what. I don't know how I would have survived without that. The other thing I realised as he grew older: it was his intelligence and over-active imagination that were mostly responsible for his sleep problems (he is highly gifted, tests at the top 1%). I started to keep a sleep diary to identify (and try to reinforce) any patterns inherent to his sleep and at the same time somehow hit upon a really good idea: because my presence at his side seemed to excite rather than calm him and we would go through storybook after storybook with him still wide awake, after reading to him in bed for a while, I would switch on a stories CD and leave him alone to listen to it (busying myself nearby but out-of-sight). At first it would still take him an hour or more to fall asleep, but soon he got used to unwinding like that and finally at almost four years old I had a "normal" child. After that, I just made sure that he had a very regular bedtime and plenty of exercise during the day; then, once he learned how to read on his own, bedtime became his sacred reading time. He is now a lovely, charismatic pre-teen, almost as tall as me, who still seems to need much less sleep than any of his peers but is considerate about staying in his room after-hours to give his parents some much needed alone-together-time. Remember, it's not what you do that causes these problems, it's the child's unique personality. My youngest, whom I almost didn't have because of my experience, thankfully turned out to be much easier in this respect. I still remember that light-headed, walking-on-eggs feeling only too well - I suspect I will to the end of my days.

Mari Passananti said...

What an interesting blog. I feel your pain. My son literally never slept more than an hour, around the clock, for the first eight months of his life. He had a serious medical issue that was resolved at four months but bad sleep patterns died hard. Two things that proved invaluable (these only apply if your child is healthy):
1. Do your pediatrician's advice one better and get a night nurse. Not just any night nurse - a professional - one who had experience, will "boot camp" your child and NOT get you at night no matter what. I cannot say enough great things about Kate Hall and her company www.bluebirdchildcare.com

Get someone in every night for a month, perhaps two. Seriously. For a month. I know Kate's people sometimes travel, or perhaps she could recommend someone in your area. Please feel free to tell her I referred you.

If her agency is impracticable for you, find one with great references. Be clear that you don't want to be interrupted at night. Make sure the shift is at least ten hours. I know it's daunting now to even interview anyone, but it's so worth it.

Frightfully expensive? Yes. But I'd have mortgaged the house to pay her. This is no longer a lifestyle problem; it's about your health (and that of your child/children), which brings me to my next point.

2. If your PCP doesn't take you seriously, fire her and get another. My OB shrugged off sleep deprivation, even though I was literally losing my mind and was so weak I couldn't stand sometimes. My primary doc prescribed anti-anxiety meds, pills to help me stay asleep and told me to get rid of the baby monitor pronto (I'd done that already).

I just thought of a third point: tune out the noise. By which I mean, people who say parenting is rough, you wanted a kid, all parents are tired, at least you get to be home, at least you have a husband, etc. Distance yourself from those people until this crisis passes. That kind of "support" only feeds your anxiety.

Good luck, and best wishes,

Mari Passananti
thelittlegrape

Ines said...

Sarah, I have not much to say other than that I understand, perhaps not completely as my children did not have this issue. If I lived nearby you I would offer you to babysit while you took a nap. I am sorry you are going through this.

julia said...

I know of three children who slept much better after their enlarged tonsils/adenoids were removed. A pediatric ENT doctor has the equipment and knowledge to diagnose this.

Anonymous said...

What did we do with our child who wouldn't sleep unless one of us was holding him and walking at the same time? What did we do for the 2+ years of "cholic" or whatever they called it? What did we do for the next 2 years of poor sleeping even if the cholic had supposedly passed? We cried, we held each others' hands. We yelled at each other. We grew farther and farther apart as we had no energy or time or patience for one another. Our bad sleeper is now 14. He's wonderful. Really. A simply terrific kid as is his younger sibling (who slept fine) We're ok, just ok. We probably won't ever be more than that.

Lunch Box Mom said...

I wanted to thank the many people--both friends and new readers--who reached out and left comments. I have emailed those who sent me direct emails, but cannot do that for some of the comments here (the workings of google, etc) so I just wanted to say to each of you--thank you. You've made me feel less alone in this, and you've shared deeply-earned advice, and you've impressed upon me the great need to find ways, as a parent, to rest, even when the little one is not. Thank you--more than I can actually say.

Cloud said...

Hi, I followed a link over from Sharon at Proactive Parenting.

I don't think my first was quite as bad a sleeper as your Ava is, but she was pretty terrible. The period from about 7-8 months to 12 months was particularly bad. I wrote up my tips for how we dealt with it here:
http://wandsci.blogspot.com/2008/02/working-mum-working-with-baby-who.html and here: http://wandsci.blogspot.com/2008/10/sleep-what-else.html.

Since you are probably not in the mood to go reading other people's blogs right now, I'll boil it down to my top tips:

1. I used tylenol PM to get reasonably solid sleep when I was "off duty". I would do this once or twice a week during the bad times. Otherwise, I'd just lie awake in bed, waiting for the sound of the baby crying, even though I was so exhausted that my eyes itched.

2. My parents came over every now and then and gave me and my husband a night away. We'd go to a hotel and sleep. You'd be surprised how much a night of solid, uninterrupted sleep can help- even if it doesn't completely fill the reserves. Once we weaned, we even had two nights away once. I felt a little guilty leaving my parents to deal with the crappy nights we had, but you know what? She always slept better for them.

3. I napped on the weekends. I still do this when my second baby (a much better sleeper, but still not great) is going through a rough patch.

Good luck. I hope you find a way to get some sleep soon. If you want more details on how we did any of these things, you can email me at wandsci at gmail dot com.

BiteSizeTherapy said...

You were linked from a post on Ask Moxie (how I found you).

First of all, I have tremendous empathy for the physical and psychological strain that you are experiencing. I truly hope that you find some relief, somehow.

I was struck by how you expressed the sense of shame that parents of poor sleepers feel. Everyone thinks that everyone's child sleeps from 7-7, no problem. This isn't true. Of course, your issues are obviously tougher than average. But, even parents of so-called "good" sleepers still have to contend with nap refusals, 5am wake-ups, climbing out of bed, etc. Very few parents are really on easy street, and it is time to say so! It would make people feel less alone.

Good luck to you.

Shannon said...

I'd second the lock on the outside of the door. When we moved halfway across the country and saw that on one of the bedroom doors, we thought it was horrible. After a short while though, we thought it was brilliant. So much so that we installed one at our new house. Baby-proof the room, lock it up, then get some sleep. I felt guilty at first, but then once I started sleeping some, I quickly got over it.

suzanne said...

Not sure if this is anything new based on what you've been hearing, but I thought I'd add it just in case.

First, I can totally empathize. My son who was born only a few days before yours has not really slept through the night in 2.5 years. We've had a few (short) successful periods of sleeping longer, or sleeping through, but otherwise he's been up anywhere from 1-5x in the night. The worst stretches for me are when I don't get more than 3 hours in a row.

What I finally figured out was that when we hit particularly bad periods (i.e. not more than 3 hours in a row for more than a day or two), I really have to go into survival mode. The sooner the better (sometimes it takes me a whle to figure out that we're actually in the bad period).

So, for me, that meant going to bed right after DS. If he woke at 1am, then that at least meant that I got 5 hours in a row. Plus the extra naps until he woke up at 5 or 5:30 am. I could at least function. But after 2.5 years, I just can't do multiple nights of less than 3 hrs in a row. A minimum of 5 hours is my magic number (and more than that is heaven).

Whatever you decide to do, I think that once you get those few nights of blissful uninterrupted sleep, it gives you courage and strength to carve that out for yourself however you can.

The other great thing was to find someone else who was going through (almost) exactly what I was and to be a support for each other. I made much more progress on the sleep front this way and just hearing someone repeat things back to me that understood where I was coming from and was sympathetic to my situation let me see where I was maybe preventing myself from trying new approaches to get more sleep.

Good luck and sending good sleep vibes your way.

MorethanMommy said...

You've got all of my empathy. My daughter is an awful sleeper and has been for most of her life. She wakes up multiple times in the middle of the night screaming, but won't let anyone talk to her, hold her or anything else. She has no obvious sensory issues during the day. It's maddening.

I don't know what to do with a kid who doesn't sleep (obviously), but I do have advice for you:

1. Take a nap. I nap whenever possible because I can't function otherwise.

2. Swap duty with your husband (or someone). If you're the one who gets up with a child like this at night, you stay forever on alert that they will wake up at any moment. I think I may have developed a mild ulcer as a result. If someone else has to get up/stay up, it frees you to actually sleep without worry. It changed my life, honestly.

I hope you figure out what's going on with your daughter. But in the meantime, take a weekend away where you can just catch up on sleep. You may not catch up, but it will definitely help.

Teri D said...

I assume you've removed all dairy from your daughter's diet? and possibly soy? 3 weeks minimum. you may be pleasantly suprised.s

Teri D said...

honestly, all these comments and no one has even mentioned dairy protein intolerance? it's real, it causes big issues in sleep duration and it can easily be solved (esp if you breastfeed) I had twins who had the issue. we got through it. and now, at 4 when my sons' sleep duration suffers, 3 weeks off dairy fixes many things. Google: FPIES>

Teri D

Heidy F. Leal said...

Dear Extremely Exhausted Mom: You are not alone, I feel your pain. My son Arthur, who is now 2 years old did the same thing for nearly those 2 years. I was so tired, the word exhausted doesn't do it justice. You are right that it takes many months for recuperation of the sleep deprivation you are going through. Be careful driving - I crashed my car parking in our garage once. My body just 'fell asleep' probably thinking 'oh I'm home let me sleep a little'. I tried everything under the sun too. Nothing worked until one day out of the blue my son just slept through the night. Hang in there. A sleep specialist told me that if you don't get a 6-hour solid uninterrupted stretch of sleep per night, that night didn't count too much for rest to your body. Try hiring a babysitter for the night - to be sure you sleep. It can get expensive but at least you'll have those precious 6 uninterrupted hours of sleep.... Good luck.

kate said...

Hello! As a mum of a 4 year old and a mum of a 4 month old my best advice is if you have a partner... get ear phones, run a bath, turn on your favorite music and have a glass of wine in the tub. block it all out for one hour. Better yet have your partner leave the house and take the kids to the park for a few hours. You deserve it.

Anonymous said...

I read your blog post through tears. I was you 6 years ago, I joke now that I did not sleep for 4 full years (through 2 children, 2.5 yrs apart) but it really is not that funny. I honestly should not have been driving, I was that sleep impaired. I have no idea how I went to work. My doctor said the same thing as your doctor. What got me through were once a month grandparent weekend overnight visits while my husband and I went and slept for 48 hours in a hotel 5 minutes away (could not safely drive further away). I can only say that over time, it just got slowly better. I don't have any other advice, other than you are not alone. Hang in there.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear this. We have the same problem. Very sad. Sometimes I feel like crying. I hope things will get better

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. I am pregnant with my second boy and my first has never slept through the night and I am so tired. 6 hours of sleep at a time is a long stretch for me. I am so worried about having the second baby now as I feel like I can barely make it through the day already. so miserable. i feel like I have totally lost touch with myself, feel like a bad mom, and am so sick of hearing about everyone's babies sleeping through the night. just feel like I wasn't made to be a parent, I am destroying myself. don't know how to handle it. falling apart. thank you for making me feel like i am not completely alone. I wish you lots of sleep soon and positivity.

Anonymous said...

Same person as above, forgot to say its been two years and thinking of two more years of this no-sleep hell is too much for me to bear. don't know how i'm going to survive this insanity. all I do when I'm alone is cry. I can't sleep when i have short breaks from him because i have too much anxiety about all the other parts of my life that seem to be falling apart. dirty house, endless laundry, school work, keeping in touch with friends, trying to be a good wife. its too much. so overwhelmed. i need help.

Anonymous said...

and my husband can't help as he works all the time in a super demanding job so I'm left to do it all most of the time. since I'm not working, I can't complain and can't make demands of him. I just hope life gets better one of these years. okay, i don't have time to keep complaining, but thank you for being open and honest. either not many people are, or most people are having a wonderful time with this motherhood craziness.

ashley said...

This article spoke to me at around 3am while I was googling: WHY DOESNT MY TWO YEAR OLD EVER SLEEP?!

I read the article on NYT and we have lived the same life. We are currently on 12 nights of absolutely no sleep.

I am curious, or desperate rather, to know how sleep is for you now? This morning I told my husband to take the day off of work..that I was not getting out of bed all day.

Some days I truly feel that I will die from this.

Let's be friends and drunk coffee and not ever move .

Anonymous said...

I am a single mom of a 2 1/2yr son. He has never slept through the night but his sleep habits have gotten progressively worse until now we are under 3hrs a night, for the last month. My fear is he does it to get my attention. And being guilt ridden over the 72 hours a week I have to work to support him while he is at the sitter.I'm afraid he is winning the battle. But its becoming dangerous. I do work 72 hrs a week. I come home and do all the toddler and household chores alone. And I'm falling asleep at work. Severely fighting off sleep while driving. And let's not mention my mental and emotional status. I'm desperate. And yes I know I should call a friend or family to help at this point so I don't keep risking our safety. But I just moved. No family or friends in a 300 mile radius. And suggestions??

Lunch Box Mom said...

Dear Anonymous--
I am so sorry this is happening. I know it's a very painful experience. I am not an expert, but I certainly believe that transitions on children can be hard and sometimes that disturbed my sensitive sleeper's sleep patterns. And by age 2.5, perhaps there is a bit of missing you and making up for it at night. But, as a working mom, you do not need to feel any more pressure on top of your 72 hour work week.
I wonder if you have any ability to prioritize nap time for both you and your son on the weekends to start with. And then, do what you can to get more sleep for yourself.
Do you know, by the way, if your son is getting a good nap in during his daycare? When I went back to work full time, my problem sleeper started to nap at preschool, and that helped us a great deal at night. I could never get her to nap at home. But in the environment of others taking naps, she did.
Take care. And know that the lack of sleep is a very real and painful experience.
Best-Lunch Box Mom

Unknown said...

I know this article is old, but I am a mom, sitting on her couch in the dark and thinking "OMG I AM NOT ALONE." My daughter is already special needs (first documented case with her combination of genetic disorders AND neurological malformations). She never sleeps. She has 10 doctors. 10!!!!!! And they all just shrug and say "hopefully she will grow out of it." To make it worse, she has a feeding tube and is connected to a pump all night, so we have to monitor her while she is up. I feel like my spirit is slowly dying and that I am all alone in this situation. This post made me feel a little less that way. Thank you.