His & Hers: Settling into a sleep pattern

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Husband-and-wife journalists Bob Miller and Callie Clark Miller use this space to offer their views on everyday issues.

HE SAID

I enjoy living in 2008. Many people bemoan the nowadays, lamenting the rat race the world has become, complaining about the decline of morals in society, cursing everything from the economy to politics to newspaper columnists.

For the most part, I like the here-and-now. I like that most Americans can afford comfortable homes, automobiles, televisions and Internet access. Most of us have acquired these things working at jobs that do not require intense physical labor.

But I stumbled upon a statistic from the National Sleep Foundation website that made me yearn for yesteryear. Before Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, people slept an average of 10 hours a night. That's compared to a 2002 poll that said average Americans today sleep 6.9 hours on weeknights and 7.5 hours on weekends.

Sleep has become a big deal in our household. And I have wonderful news to report: Dawson has now slept through the night three consecutive days. I don't know what to do with myself.

Five-month-old Dawson had only slept through the night on three random occasions. The books say babies have the ability to sleep eight hours at a time from the age of 2 months. We were not so lucky.

The Sunday night before Labor Day, after not being able to console our bundle except by walking him around the room, we decided to let him cry himself to sleep.

This was torture, of course, because it's heartbreaking to hear your child scream as if dying. Fifty-one minutes later, the screaming stopped and Dawson drifted back to sleep. An hour later, at 5 a.m., he was awake again.

But that was pretty much the last of it. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday last week, our little boy slept. And slept. And slept. And so did we.

SHE SAID

The first time Dawson slept through the night was about a month and a half ago. About every 45 minutes, I poked Bob in the ribs and asked him to make sure Dawson hadn't suffocated or been kidnapped or any other way incapacitated. And every time Dawson made the slightest little sigh or sniffle, I rushed to the side of his crib. Dawson slept great that night; Bob and I did not. It happened two more times over the course of a week, and we tried each night to replicate exactly what we'd done that first night. The exact same lullabies, same bath soap, same pajamas -- I was doing baby laundry every day! But for the past month we've been up multiple times a night.

I woke up Tuesday morning when the alarm went off, and I panicked. Then I went back to sleep. We had done something different the night before that I thought could have contributed to a peaceful night: We listened to a book on CD instead of our usual bedtime lullabies.

Bob and I love J.K. Rowling; while pregnant and on bed rest, I listened to the Harry Potter books pretty consistently to help me fall asleep. The books' narrator, Jim Dale, is terrific. Apparently, Dawson thinks so, too.

I've read many times that babies recognize music and voices they hear in utero; I suspect Dawson thought he'd found a lost relative when we flipped the Harry Potter CD on the first time this week.

The next night I knew was going to be rough. Dawson slept from 4 to 7 p.m., despite my best attempts to wake him up. At 8 p.m., I put him in his crib and flipped on the CD player. For a boy who never entertains himself for more than five minutes, it seemed near miraculous that he played for an hour quietly and then fell asleep.

The next morning, he slept through the alarm going off. And so did I. Life is not kind enough to give us three nights' good sleep, I just knew it.

On Wednesday night, Dawson was getting sleepy-eyed and fussy at 7 p.m., an hour and half earlier than normal bed time. He started to drift off, though, so we fed him and put him down at 7:30 p.m., knowing he'd probably wake up at 10 p.m. ready to play. Then I flipped on the Potter CD. And darned if we didn't snooze right through the night. Heaven help us when that CD wears out.

After a decent night's sleep, Southeast Missourian editor Bob Miller and the special publications manager Callie Clark Miller are in a much better position to respond to your comments and suggestions. Catch up with them at bmiller@semissourian.com, or cmiller@semissourian.com.

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