Nick and I are blessed with the rare gift of being able to fall asleep quickly and deeply.
Close friends of ours, Rachel and Jon, were expecting the imminent arrival of their second child. We were on standby to look after their toddler once labour started. It was all planned well, if labour started in the night they would call us and one of us would go round and stay at their house. Simple. I was actually away on a course when the call came, although to be honest the outcome may have been the same had I been at home. My mother in law and Nick both slept soundly through all nine increasingly urgent attempts that Jon made to try and stir them into action. In the end, he had to wake up a more responsive friend and thankfully Rachel did get to the hospital just in time.
As far as we are aware we haven’t had too much trouble with our kids sleeping but this could be that when they woke up, we didn’t.
We had no clue about babies when we had our eldest, Leila. For the first 11 months of her life we took it in turns to spend each evening slumped against her cot, arm stuck through the bars, awkwardly rubbing her back every night until she dozed off. Then we would make the slow and silent retreat towards her bedroom door on tenterhooks, knowing it was pretty much 50/50 as to whether she would notice our departure and start crying again. This routine was a killer. It was taking most of our evenings. We had no idea that it was actually OK to let a baby have a little cry to themselves before they fall asleep. We discovered a technique called controlled crying which basically means that once you have put your baby down for bedtime you leave them. If they cry you return after a couple of minutes and lie them back down and speak calmly to them but pretty quickly you leave the room again. The first night we had to return to the room every two minutes for 90 minutes. it was exhausting and to be honest distressing for all of us but we were resolved to give the technique a go. The second night we had to return to the room every two minutes for 60 minutes. On the third night Leila went to sleep after crying for less than 5 minutes. After that we only had trouble getting her to sleep if we were staying somewhere new and not going through the usual bath time/bedtime routine or if she was unwell.
When Edward came along we introduced this “controlled crying” method when he was about 4 months old, when the twins arrived it was pretty much from week one.
One of the best pieces of advice I got from a more experienced twin mum was to wake up the sleeping twin if the other one had woken up for a night time feed. The aim being to feed them both at the same time so that you were not being woken twice. It is very counter-intuitive to wake a sleeping baby in the middle of the night but if you are raising twins it’s worth it.
Children on the autistic spectrum often have atypical sleep patterns and this was certainly true for Edward. Although he went off to sleep fairly easily he would wake in the night. I was only aware of this because my mother would hear him at 2 -3 in the morning when she was staying with us. He would babble and chatter loudly to himself and rock in his cot, so that it banged against the wall. He wasn’t distressed; just fully awake and active.
Realising that my young toddler was awake and active whilst the rest of the household slept posed some issues around safety. When we moved him from his cot to a bed we basically removed all the furniture from his room onto the landing so that he had a bed, some fixed shelves and a comfy chair in his room. We also fitted a lock onto his bedroom door so that we could lock him in his bedroom when we went to bed. For a few years he continued to have a middle of the night high jinks session where he basically chattered loudly and ran around his room, banging into the walls, until he exhausted himself and fell back to sleep. We would never know where we would find him in the morning, on the chair, on the floor, in his bed or a combination of these!
When he got older and we knew he would not pose a danger to himself we took the lock off his door. I was once woken in the early hours to someone crying but once I got up and searched for the source of the sound I realised it was Edward laughing loudly to himself. He was downstairs watching a documentary on YouTube. It was 4.30am. He was 7. We got him a clock soon after that and from then on he was not allowed to get up until 6am, which he thought was far too late.
Edward is a teenager now. I don’t think he needs as much sleep as a typical teenager although at weekends he can easily languish in bed like the best of them, provided that he has a decent book and good wifi connection.