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Unified Theory Of Child Sleep

I've had a lot of time to think, but not write, the last 3 days as we endured the requisite 72 hour potty training marathon. The joke among a some of our friends whenever the subject of potty training comes up is, "You're not going to buy a house, are you?" Former neighbors and parents to twin boys a year older than ours first resolved to hole themselves up for a weekend of potty training they instead ended up driving around new model home subdivisions and bought a custom built half million dollar house while they were supposed to be potty training. But I digress...

Since I'm now soon to begin year two of child three, there's one axiom of childhood sleep that (to my knowledge) I've come up with all on my own. I had occasion to hone this theory on the older twin boys and the younger child has confirmed its generality. In a nutshell here it is:

When it comes to sleeping babies, comfort counts.

When we first began the parenting odyssey we made many of the normal mistakes when confronted with a child who awoke crying. We tried to diagnose and treat every potential ailment that could be causing the crying (cold, wet diaper, etc.), yet that never seemed to help - in fact it often made the situation worse. In hindsight I can see that regardless of nasal congestion getting the boogers sucked out of your nose with an aspirator while you were already upset wouldn't do much to improve your disposition. To our credit we were obligated to deal with a crying infant quickly since the twins were sleeping in the same room. You may (or may not) subscribe to the notion that twins have some mystical supernatural non-verbal communication link with each other, but I can assure you that you've never felt an emotion of dread like the thought of one screaming, crying infant setting the other still asleep twin off as well. I wasn't long before I solved that problem permanently by insisting that we separate the twins into separate rooms. A little used study was lost in the process, but the end of dual screaming infants was gained. Advantage me.

As a technology specialist and systems engineer my inclination in dealing with wailing infants was to do just what you would do to a broken computer or software bug - quickly diagnose the system failure and devise a remediation plan. Perhaps this is the special gift of men to the parenting process, who knows? Often this kind of quick and decisive action would yield the most sought after of dividends - a child who stops crying and goes back to sleep. The problem was (and is) that in many cases the engineering metaphor didn't work, and repeated trial and error interactions just exacerbated the crying.

Ever logical, I assumed that there was obviously a variable I was overlooking. Many sleepless nights (due to crying) ensued before I had my "ah ha" moment. That evening in the midst of another trial and error diagnosis effort I noticed that the sleep outfit the crying child was wearing looked god-awful hideous, and not particularly comfortable. Everyone has some outfit(s) that they feel morally obligated to dress they child in because it was received as a gift, and we're no exception. Could it really be that simple? The child was woke up crying because the pajamas were uncomfortable? After a bit of observation I noticed that one of the twins only had crying spells in certain pajamas, and that the other one had his worst nights in "footed" pajamas. One wardrobe makeover later our life was changed forever - sleep filled nights became the rule, not the exception.

My wife validated my theory last week when she noted that the baby seemed to be fussy in one particular outfit, and that changing him out of if during the course of a 2am mystery crying session stopped the crying, cold. Needless to say that outfit has been put into the pile of clothes to be shipped off to some other unsuspecting couple.

Why ruin their fun?


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Unified Theory Of Child Sleep:

» Outside The Beltway linked with Beltway Traffic Jam

» Amy Ridenour's National Center Blog linked with Sleeping Through the Night

Comments (22)

Intriguing. We have not ru... (Below threshold)

Intriguing. We have not run into that sleep angle, although there have been times I suspected her of being crankier based on what she was wearing. Perhaps it'll come to that.

The big thing with Sadie is she hates being too hot. We have to dress her in ways that some people would consider way too light. My grandmother keeps her place very warm, so she tends to have a fit any time we go there.

For us the big mystery has been rashy dry red splotches on her back. Just her back. We finally figured out in the past day that it must be the swing, and that after we ruled out everything else, it looked particularly bad after a day when she had spent an unusually long time in the swing. It's almost like bed sores, I guess, and probably due to what she's wearing plus the thin layer of fabric over plastic her back is against and the prolonged pressure.

Paul - a section at a time.... (Below threshold)

Paul - a section at a time. What is this 72 hour potty thing? Do you know I raised two boys from day one on my own and not once did I have to do any potty training! Not once did I ever buy a potty chair or use it and both were "potty trained" before they were even 2 years told.

On to your rest. On the crying business to get them to sleep and stay asleep during the night, and since I don't lnow how old they are this following advice. When you know that they should be sleeping through the night, they tend to wake up at the same time every night to cry and get your attention. What you have to do is lie in bed and ignore it. Oh sure, you're tempted to get up and go to the cihld but brace yourself in bed, rigid if you have to, and do not get up. After about 5 nights of this, the child will know that you're not coming, so why make all that fuss and crying and that is when they will through the night.

I had one son who has sweaty feet, so those one piece thingamagig that you put on over their pajamas, so the footies had to be cut off and special sneakers - not the heavy, solid, plastic kind could not be used. Any sneaker or shoe for him had to be breathable. At 21, the problem still exists but since he buys his own clothes not, I can't tell him he's got the wrong kind and that's why his feet blister and itch and so on.

Comfort is very important - like the soft beautiful blanket that they love - there could be someone about the material that irritates them. Have you ever put on a shirt you had, tug at and just generally hate, they have that kind of opinion. T-shirt style softness, I think, Babies like best.Soon you'll realize that about sheets too.

I'm always surprised by young parents and having to rationalize everyting. Don't. Just let em be and don't go by the book, go by your instincts because instincts will never let you down.


It's time for "Queer Eye Fo... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

It's time for "Queer Eye For The Fussy Baby!"

Got a baby that just won't quit crying? No problem! Our Fab Five will give your baby a complete makeover that will not only make them the envy of the toddler world, but is guaranteed to be far more comfortable and sleep-friendly!

(This offer not available to families with gerbils.)

I am SO gonna burn in Hell for this...


Congratulations, Kevin, on ... (Below threshold)

Congratulations, Kevin, on discovering the clothes discomfort angle! (My only trepidation at reincarnation is that my future parents might dress or cover me too tightly - can't stand tight clothes or heavy blankets tucked in all around even now :))

We went through a similar s... (Below threshold)

We went through a similar situation with our daughter back in the olden days (1977). Every night she would cry from 8-10 pm. No matter what we tried, she cried. Finally, in exasperation, my husband tape recorded her crying and played it back to her. Voila! She went right to sleep. Our pediatrician was as surprised as we were. Congrats on your solution. May all their problems be so easily fixed.

Wish clothes had been the a... (Below threshold)
Just Me:

Wish clothes had been the answer for our older son. He had really bad reflux, we eventually got a recliner and spent our nights in it. Between him and later his younger brother I don't think I ever got much more than an hour straight of sleep a night.

I would have just gone onli... (Below threshold)
Steve L.:

I would have just gone online and looked for an upgrade to the baby that would fix the crying problem.

Seems to me that would have been faster.

Two words, synthetic fiber.... (Below threshold)

Two words, synthetic fiber. Argh. I hate kids pajamas. The Gap sells 100% cotton kids pjs and they are worth every cent. Footed anything is the work of Satan. I find that my four daughters all sleep best in over sized t-shirts in summer and in winter we just add a pair of cotton stretchy pants.

My kids have all got an aversion to covers. They hate them. They kick them off and wake up cold. So we use long sleeves when necessary and insist on pants. It is all about comfort.

Same theme, different concl... (Below threshold)

Same theme, different conclusion...most crib mattresses have that wonderful plastic liner and don't breathe. Baby sweats up against the plastic and doesn't sleep well.
I spent a miserable night on a plastic-covered mattress last vacation. It takes more than just the thin cotton cover to breath, it has to be as thick as a blanket.

My daughter is currently li... (Below threshold)

My daughter is currently living with us and has two bundles of joy with her. One is 4 years old and the other is 6 months. The baby wakes up numerous times EVERY night no matter what she's wearing, whether or not she has a full tummy, etc. We've exhausted all possibilities. I love them with a fervor but I'm slap worn out.

You could be onto something here. I will gladly pay your consulting fees if you could help us. It could be a lucrative business for you.

My mother brought me home f... (Below threshold)

My mother brought me home from the hospital in 1961 in a wool baby suit. She then spent 2 weeks worried about why I wouldn't stop crying and the terrible hive like rash I had developed. Thank God some old Aunt suggested the wool was "a bit scratchy for me" and perhaps cotton would be better....Almost 45 years later and I still can't wear sweaters!

Now with 3 kids under 4 years of age, I've become the clothing inspector. If it doesn't look comfy to me, my kids don't wear it....so far all three kids have been happy, content and very comfy babies. As for my mother, I continue to torment her about the wool baby clothes...it makes me itch just to think about it.

My mother actually got angr... (Below threshold)

My mother actually got angry with me after all three of my kids were sleeping 6-7 hours every night within a week of coming home from the hospital. She said that I, of all people on earth, did not deserve such good babies. I have no idea why she had such an attitude ;-)

So, I can't relate to your problems. The few times they did wake up in the night crying it scared the hell out of me, and fortunately the problem was usually easily identifiable.

Reminds me of a time about ... (Below threshold)
Frank R:

Reminds me of a time about 16 years ago when I noticed that my son was in a pair of yellow Dr. Dentons that had become 3 sizes too small for him. Boy was he pissed off. I've never seen his face get any redder. I got a pair of sissors (the ones for cutting next to skin) and cut the feet off. I unbuttoned the crotch button, and instant relief. I haven't thought about that night in years. Thanks for the memories!

jjjjay - ayup!! You will ce... (Below threshold)

jjjjay - ayup!! You will certainly burn in hell for saying that about the Fab 5!


Cindy have you gotten that ... (Below threshold)

Cindy have you gotten that complacent? The post is Kevin's, not Paul's ;)

You new parents crack me up... (Below threshold)

You new parents crack me up....Heh.

Good pajamas are a must. G... (Below threshold)

Good pajamas are a must. Go to Hanna Andersson (spelling might be Anderssen) or the Gap or anywhere to avoid the plasticy synthetic crap some morons have decreed must be sleepware. I'm not sure if it's Federal Regulations or what that makes it necessary to make pajamas into itch-infested hairshirts, but everyone should learn that cotton jammies are the key to happiness. Fire-retardant blends can stay on the firefighters and NASCAR drivers.

Also, why are children put in separate rooms? My little ones are in my room, which features a twin bed up against a king bed. There's room enough for us, and most feeding needs can be dealt with long before the screaming starts (of course, if there's no breastfeeding, that's probably not true for you).

Five in a bedroom may seem like a lot, but we all sleep better that way. It's not for everyone (especially you, Mister Jackson!), but it works for me.

Fire-retardant blends ca... (Below threshold)

Fire-retardant blends can stay on the firefighters and NASCAR drivers.

No, they can't. It's the law. And from the heart wrenching stories I've heard from my uncle, a fire captain, and cops I know, it's a damn good law, too!

There are different qualities of flame-retardant pjs. I'm sure parents can find one that suits them.

Would it be terribly naieve... (Below threshold)

Would it be terribly naieve of me to ask when we started expecting babies to catch on fire?

James needs to watch <stron... (Below threshold)

James needs to watch The Incredibles...

My kids have brutal eczema, and have to wear all-cotton pj's or they are miserable. My daughter is insanely fussy about her socks (think Sean Connery's reclusive writer character in Finding Forrester) -- it used to drive me nuts until I realized I am every bit as sensitive.

It's weird but a lot of people don't seem to realize that babies are little PEOPLE. Just because they haven't mastered the language or all the bodily functions, they're still human, and still have all the same emotions and senses (usually) as grown-ups do.

Very, very early in our parenting careers I busted my husband for yelling at the kids. I asked him how he liked it if anyone yelled at him, and he said, "What does that have to do with anything? They're kids!" As if kids were some other kind of creature, that they wouldn't mind being yelled at. You'd be amazed (or maybe not) at how many people think that way -- "they're kids, they're not like us." Wrong, wrong, wrong. I must emphasize here that my husband was a very quick learner and now qualifies for the Father of the Millenia award.

Last word -- keep an eye on how that underwear is fitting as your kids sprout through the gradeschool years. One day it's fine, the next day it's just a wee bit too small, and major grumpiness ensues!

With all of the comments on... (Below threshold)

With all of the comments on kids' pajamas, why are the pajamas necessary at all? I rarely put my son in traditional pajamas. He's six now, and chooses to sleep in just his boxers. I figured with as fast as kids grow out of clothes, the pajamas are just an unnecessary expense.

How very interesting. I've ... (Below threshold)

How very interesting. I've noticed more crying when my baby is too hot or cold, but the biggest key to sleep for us has been identifying and eliminating food allergies. I'll have to pay attention to the pajamas, though.






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