Orla and I have this in common; sleep doesn’t come easily for us. My parents told me in Orla’s first year where sleep deprivation was a daily battle that I was just the same as her, and even now, falling to sleep takes deliberate effort on my part. My brain does not switch off without a fight, in fact the only way I can stop my mind running over the problems of the day and the things to do tomorrow is to think about stories; I have to think about the book I am reading, or a film that I love. Somehow thinking about fictional things tricks my mind into dropping off, thinking about real life keeps me awake!
I don’t know for sure if Orla is exactly the same, but I have watched her lying in bed for half an hour. Perfectly still and quiet, but awake. And she still wakes up about every other night and pads into our room for a cuddle.
We’ve come such a long way with Orla’s sleep and although it would be great if she fell asleep easily and stayed asleep all night, we have settled into a routine that works with where she is at now. Here is how it goes:
We take turns: This was the game changer that helped us give Orla what she needs during the night but also protects our sleep. We take turns. Tonight, I will put Orla to bed and when she wakes up in the morning, I will take her down to breakfast. Rob gets the night shift, meaning if Orla wakes up in the night, it’s his job to settle her. Tomorrow, we will swap; Rob will do the bedtime routine and I will cover the night shift. It means that however Orla sleeps we each get an unbroken sleep at least every other night.
6:50pm: Bedtime! Orla gives a night time kiss and cuddle to the parent who isn’t doing the bedtime routine. Pajamas, teeth and face wash. Whilst this is happening the other parent will set up her bedroom; pulling the curtains close and turning on her reading light so that when she walks in her bedroom is calm and cosy.
7pm-7:20pm: Story time. We will read about three to four out of Orla’s book collection. For the sake of our sanity we have a lot of books because believe me, We Are Going on a Bear Hunt will send you in a spin if you read it every night for six weeks straight. I always give Orla the last book warning, “You can choose one more story, and then it will be time to sleep”.
7:20pm: Goodnight prayer. I dim the light and tuck Orla in to bed and say a prayer.
7:25pm-8pm (ish it varies) Settling period. Now for the fun bit that can change each night. Sometimes Orla will sit in her bed and play with her cuddly toys, sometimes she will want to sit on my knee wrapped in a blanket and have a cuddle, sometimes she will lie down and twiddle her hair until she falls asleep. Often she will do a mixture of these until she drops off.
We have tried a few methods to encourage her to drop off without us staying in the room with her, but nothing has worked consistently yet. Sometimes she is happy for me to leave her for a little bit but after ten minutes she will ask me to come back over the baby monitor. Most nights, I just stay with her, I sit on the chair and scroll through Instagram on my phone with my screen turned down to dim. (I have tried sitting without the phone to see if my phone light was keeping her up but she still stayed up just as long but it felt twice as long for me!)
Normally by 8pm she is asleep and I can turn off the light and leave her to it. On a bad day it can take another 45 minutes!
Middle of the night – Sometimes Orla will wake up and walk into our room and climb in to our bed. It’s not ideal but actually I’m finding this easier than when she used to cry for us in her bed. I used to go in to her room and try and settle her, and it could take up to two hours for her to let me go back to bed without lots of crying. Her climbing in to our bed without tears and without me having to get up is preferable! If things get a bit squished with three of us in a bed, the parent who isn’t on the night shift will slip away to the spare room or Rob might carry Orla back to her room (he has a better track record of getting her back into her own bed then I do!)
6am-7:30am Orla can wake up properly from the day at any time from 6am. Sometimes she is happy to just have a cuddle and let us doze but once she starts chatting we know she is awake for good. Time to take her downstairs and have some breakfast!
And that’s roughly how our night time routine looks like at three years old. I’m sure some people will find it intolerable but this feels right for us. I saw a video essay recently on the film Lady Bird. It described the opening shot of the film which is of a mother and daughter sleeping, inches apart and facing one another. The director explained that asleep and unconscious, they are physically closest in that shot then they ever are again in the rest of the film that follows their difficult relationship. That thought shifted how I see disturbed nights and lingering bedtime cuddles that we live with now. It is such a privilege being Orla’s mummy. There will come a day when she doesn’t sleep in our house, let alone our bed. All these kisses, cuddles, the feel of her hand wrapping in to my hair happens because right now, I can soothe her and comfort her just by holding her close to me, so I am going to enjoy it for as long as it lasts, and she can have all the cuddles she wants for as long as she wants them.