Today we have an interview with Patrick Allen, husband of Ashley Duckett Allen, who was interviewed here two weeks ago. With humor and compassion, Patrick acknowledges that the sleep issues with his younger child weigh heavier on his wife, but that it’s been no walk in the park for him either. He touches on problems we’ve all had as exhausted parents, like unsuspecting forgetfulness and the enhanced ability to procrastinate, but also conveys an unwavering optimism about his dual roles as a parent and a priest in the Episcopal Church. And, he’s not the first parent (nor do I think he’ll be the last) to mention the added challenges of having a dog that doesn’t sleep soundly with the setting of the sun. I hope you enjoy his witty replies:
It sounds like your second child has posed more of a challenge for the family when it comes to sleep. Can you walk me through a typical bedtime and overnight in your house these days?
Sure. In the divide-and-conquer pattern we’ve fallen in to, after supper I take charge of Lucy (our three-year-old) and Ashley takes Henry (eight months). In my mind, I’d like to have Lucy in the bathtub at 6:45 p.m. Of course, sometimes that’s a bit later, and sometimes, because bath time is fun, it’s a bit earlier. As needed, Henry gets plopped in the tub with Lucy and much splashing ensues.
Plucked from the murky depths, Lucy then begins the process of picking pajamas, which must be “beautiful,” and this is normally followed by picking clothes (also beautiful) for school the next day (the length and, from my point of view, tedium of this process makes it difficult to perform in the morning). Since Ashley and Lucy both have a dim view of my clothes-picking abilities, Ashley comes in and conducts those negotiations, usually in a spirit of mutuality, good will, and wholesome give-and-take, but occasionally with much wailing and gnashing of teeth on Lucy’s part.
These tasks accomplished, there are kisses and hugs all around, and Ashley and Henry (whom Ashley has changed and prepared for the night) retire to our bedroom to nurse and go to sleep (we don’t have a comfortable chair in Henry’s room; I don’t know why). Lucy and I then read for a bit in her bed. After the stories, Lucy will then excuse herself to give Ashley and Henry another kiss and get “a tiny sip of water.” Back in bed, we say our prayers: Our Father, Hail Mary (sung to a setting of Lucy’s own spontaneous composition), general intercessions and thanksgivings (“bless all my cousins and my clothes…”).
After prayers and a little conversation on matters of topical interest, Lucy gets up to give Ashley and Henry another kiss, get another drink of water, and go to the potty. Then we may sing a song or two and say good night. While all of this is going on, Ashley is nursing Henry in our bed and looking at work stuff or playing “Draw Something” on her iPad. I try to get out of there by eight o’clock; then it’s downstairs to feed the dog, do the dishes, and straighten up a little. It normally takes Ashley a few attempts to disentangle herself from Henry, whom she usually leaves sleeping in our bed. We’ll do work and flip through the channels for a while, and are usually in bed by ten o’clock, Henry having been removed to his own bed. Before getting in bed, I usually pick Lucy up and take her to the potty one more time.
Henry wakes up for the first time between eleven o’clock and midnight, demanding to be nursed. One of the difficulties in all this is that overnight Henry requires Mama; he won’t take a bottle from me (which of course he is more than happy to do during the day) or let me rock him back to sleep. I can get him back to sleep if we go downstairs and I commit to being up for a while. So he ends up back in our bed and will awaken a few times more during the night for some quick nursing. He likes to sleep perpendicularly between us, head in my chest, feet in Ashley’s tummy. The co-sleeping has been the best way to so far to maximize sleep for both of us, but we need to embark on some more intentional sleep-training.
Of course, because of the nursing, this is all much harder on Ashley, but for me it’s like death by a thousand cuts, semi-waking throughout the night as Henry moves around or practices his head-butting technique, or waking because I’m afraid of rolling on top of him, and so on. Lucy almost always sleeps straight through until sometime between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m., when she comes in to our room and asks, “Is it morning time yet?” I’m up at 6 a.m. and out the door most mornings a little before 7 a.m., except when Ashley has to be in early.
What is the craziest night of sleep that you can remember having with your children?
One of the consequences of a constant state of sleep deprivation is that I don’t remember much at all. While it’s all a bit hazy, there have been a few nights when our senescent and incontinent Labrador Retriever Idabelle has added some extra craziness to the mix. Her incontinence means that she is mostly banished to the outdoors. She is also terrified of thunderstorms and will run away, attempt to cross highways, and get lost if not confined. So there have been nights when I failed to anticipate a storm, and minutes after having fallen asleep, for the third or fourth time of the night, have been awakened by ominous rumblings from the sky. This has led to me walking up and down the street in my boxers at 3:30 in the morning in the thunder and lightning and rain, carrying a wet, smelly lab in my arms, and getting back in bed just in time for Henry to wake up again.
There was another night a few months ago when Lucy fell victim to a terrible stomach virus that was going around. She started vomiting about five in the afternoon and kept it up till about three in the morning. Ashley had Henry, who was particularly wakeful, and I was on the floor next to Lucy trying to comfort her and doing HazMat duty. It was too terrible to write about in any detail. The next day was my day off and of course Lucy stayed home with me. Needless to say, she awoke at 6:30 a.m. feeling completely rested and refreshed and ready to play hard all day. I, of course, was completely wiped.
How does being overtired during the day affect your ability to get work done? Do you have any tricks for dealing with this?
I do often feel fatigued, which exacerbates some of my already negative tendencies, especially procrastination. Writing, as you know, takes a particular kind of mental energy, as does long-form reading, and both become difficult to accomplish when I’m tired. And, of course, the other part of my work is people, and it becomes very easy just to sit in my office idly clicking across the internet ethers rather than seeking out parishioners (I’m a priest). I don’t have any great tricks, but I do try to set deadlines for myself and sometimes try to schedule the day in such a way that some natural and energizing breaks are included – mainly getting outside. We are fortunate in that two of our major hospitals are just a couple blocks from our parish, so sometimes I can plan to do a couple hours of sermon preparation in the morning, and then walk up to the hospital to make some visits, and/or have lunch with my wife who works there. It helps to get outside and walk, and I’m glad to have a good excuse.
How has having a child who doesn’t sleep like the proverbial baby impacted, if at all, how you feel about having more children?
I don’t have some ideal lifestyle that I want our family to fit into, but rather the other way around. I want us to be faithful to whatever God is calling us to, and I know that if that includes more children, God will equip us for that. Now, obviously, we have some control over whether or not more children come along, but Henry hasn’t turned me off babies; he’s a sweet, happy little boy. We are definitely on the older end of the childbearing curve (I’m 43; Ashley is much younger in every way), and I do worry about economic and “logistical” factors (two working parents, resorting to daycare, etc.), but I find a deep joy in my family. I’m really tired, but really happy.
Is there any sleep device that is part of your kids’ sleep routine that you couldn’t live without? If so, what is it? And why?
On the advice of friends, we’ve used a noise machine with Lucy from the beginning. I’m not sure what, if any, effect it has with her. There was a time when she liked me to set it to the music function, and for close to a year we had ritualized conversation after I said “goodnight” and turned it on: “Who is playing this song, Dada?”; “That’s Mr. Brahms, sweetie”; and so on. It was a key part of the routine, but lately she wants the setting with the light rain and distant thunder. The entire bedtime routine with Lucy described above is highly ritualized – not in a pathological, OCD way, but more as a kind of game we play together. Lately, she loves her little children’s story/picture Bible. Lucy also has a “blankie” that’s essential for bedtime. Other than riding in the car, I don’t believe Henry has ever fallen asleep without a bottle or his Mama.
Ashley Duckett Allen is a trained pediatrician and mother of two children under the age of three. Recently, she took some time out of her busy schedule, juggling jobs as a mom and a doctor working on little sleep, to answer a few questions for Sleep Dreams. Her insightful commentary, especially on figuring out the “right” time to sleep train and the disturbing feeling of not knowing when your child will sleep, will resonant with many readers, I am sure:
You are the first pediatrician who has been interviewed for Sleep Dreams. Although you are not working directly with children right now, what do remember most about your pediatric training regarding sleep issues?
I don’t remember a ton of specific teaching about sleep issues in babies or kids from my training. I’m not sure whether this is because there wasn’t much or that I have forgotten it, as a result of all my own sleepless nights. I know that I was taught to always ask about sleep hygiene and snoring when parents complained about behavioral issues. I remember one of my attendings coaching me on the “cry it out” method so that I could counsel a family struggling with sleep issues. I always talked to the parents of newborns about AAP recommendations for decreasing SIDS — placing babies on their backs to sleep, nothing in the crib except the baby and the sheet, etc.
And then I had children. And I knew all the “right” things to do. And I have an eight-month-old who has slept less than six hours in a row exactly one time in his life — and that was last week!
How, if at all, has having your own children shifted how you think about sleep, and particularly about how you think about other parents who are struggling with their children and sleep?
Sleep always came very easily to me, at least prior to my first pregnancy. I survived a four-year residency that involved many, many call nights, and often I would be awake all night. I always knew that I would have a chance to catch up on sleep once I made it home to my own bed. I never appreciated just how all-consuming sustained poor sleep can be. When your child doesn’t sleep, it’s like taking call every night without any hope of relief.
Our first child (now three) was a reasonable sleeper — sleeping through the night around six-months-old. We had to do a little sleep training but nothing major. She slept in her crib from the day she came home from the hospital and has maybe woken up twice in the middle of the night in the past year.
Our second child (now eight months) has been a terrible sleeper since the day he arrived. He had reflux and was colicky and woke up every one to two hours until very recently. The only way I could get ANY sleep those first few months was by lying down with him. Co-sleeping was totally off my radar. It was not something I wanted to do and, frankly, it scared me for the first few months. But, it was the only way I could survive the next day, especially when I started back to work.
He spends a good deal of time in our bed these days. His favorite sleeping position is perpendicular to us with his head up in his dad’s chest and his feet in my gut. He’s a perpetual motion machine. We’re still not getting much good rest. At some point soon we’re going to have to start some sleep training but it seems like he’s always got a cold or getting a new tooth. Let’s just say that I have become a more sympathetic person and doctor after my experiences with this child.
Do you follow the latest research on sleep and children — are their any new studies or findings that are making waves in the medical community? Any shifts in thinking about how to approach sleep with children (that you are aware of)?
I haven’t kept up much with the latest research, aside from trying to trouble-shoot our own family sleep struggles. I did see that the updated AAP guidelines back in October recommend sleeping in the same room, but not the same bed, for the first six months of life. Also, the use of pacifiers at nap and sleep time is encouraged, which I think is interesting. Neither of my children have liked pacifiers.
When friends ask you for advice on sleep, what do you most often say? Are their any particular books that you recommend? If so, why?
Now when friends ask me, I tell them to do whatever they need to do to get some rest (for the whole family). All babies are different and you just have to find what works for you and your child. The book that was recommended to me and that I have recommended to others is “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child” by Marc Weissbluth. The advice in that book makes sense to me. The author is a physician who specializes in sleep related issues. It doesn’t feel preachy, doesn’t make you feel guilty, and has some research behind it.
Joe Wyman has done what no man has ever done before and been interviewed for Sleep Dreams. It is refreshing to hear about sleep from the male perspective, especially from a father who is such an active participant in the bedtime, morning, and overnight routines of his two children: a son who is nearly three and a daughter who is five. Here’s what Joe has to say about the ups and downs of getting through the night with two young children:
How involved were you with nighttime wakings when your children were infants?
I feel like it was different with my two kids. With my older daughter, I was more involved than with my younger son. To be honest, I can’t remember exactly what I did, but I definitely got up more with the first. I would do things like pick her up and bring her to my wife. When we were night-weaning her, I would wake up and rock her, or hold her, until she would go back to sleep.
With my son, we gave into the idea of having him sleep with my wife pretty early on, so honestly, I had virtually nothing to do with the night wakings. My wife was nursing and I felt like it was her body, and I supported her nursing, and supported her in general, of course, and it was working for her, so I didn’t feel guilty about it. If my daughter woke up, I would handle that, but at that point she was sleeping through the night regularly.
How has your role in the night shifted as your children have gotten older?
Well, right now we each sleep with one of our kids. Most nights my wife is with my daughter and I am with my son. My son has only recently gotten to the point that he falls asleep easily on his own at bedtime. The issue with him was always more about getting him down for sleep rather than having him sleep through the night. For a long time, I would lay with him until he was asleep at bedtime, but now, most nights, he goes to sleep on his own.
We know we want the co-sleeping to end in the foreseeable future, and we have a pseudo-plan, which is to get the kids bunk beds. They do have a fear of sleeping alone, but it’s hard to tell if this is really case because they don’t know any different. Co-sleeping is challenging. I loved it in the beginning; it’s comforting to know someone is with them, but I think when it goes on and on and doesn’t have an endpoint it gets harder. That said, I don’t regret it at all.
The biggest issue with nighttime sleep right now is when the kids are both sick – and our house definitely gets ravaged with sickness once in a while. The way we break down the night coverage tends to be based on which adult is sick and recently my wife has gotten sick more than I have, so I have been on duty in the night.
How do you handle bedtimes in your house? What are you favorite bedtime rituals with your children (if any!)?
We have a pretty consistent bedtime routine. The kids get in their pajamas and brush their teeth and then they get stories – sometimes two for per kid, sometimes just one. I will take my daughter into “our” room, which is really the room she shares with my wife, and lay down with her and read, for example a chapter book, because that would be too boring for my younger son. The nice thing about the reading is that it gives my daughter a time limit. She knows I’ll read the story and then I will leave. At the same time, my wife will read with my son. This takes anywhere between five and 15 minutes. Then we switch. I go to my son and lay with him for a few minutes. We do this because it is a less dramatic departure for him when I leave, versus when my wife leaves his room. Sometimes I’ll read him a second story and that also helps set a time limit for him, letting him know I will be there for the length of the story and then it is time for him to go to bed alone. Usually these days, this works.
My favorite part of this time of day most consistently is the story reading, except when I am getting interrupted every second with a question! Of course, I don’t want them to stop asking questions, but sometimes their inquisitiveness at bedtime can really push me over the edge. In general, though, reading to them at bedtime is something I really enjoy.
How does a typical morning unfold in your house?
I typically wake up at 6 a.m. regardless of the kids. This is when my body wakes up. I’m almost always up first. My son often, but not always, gets up with me or shortly thereafter. One of my favorite times of the day is that early morning time with him. He will sit in my lap in the living room and watch a PBS Kids show, and I will read a little. It is such a calm start to the day – and there is not much calm time with my son during the day!
Has your appreciation, or relationship, with sleep changed since becoming a parent? If so, how?
I would say I took sleep for granted before having kids. I didn’t think about it. I never had sleep issues – knock on wood – aside from rare short-term bouts of insomnia. I fall asleep quickly and sleep through the night. If anything, I need a lot of sleep, and that was hard for me when the kids were really little. I remember I was up all night with my wife when she was in labor with our first child and I fell asleep more than once just sitting there in the chair – I couldn’t control it. But these days I’m sleeping pretty well.
The real question is: why can’t I get any dads to participate in the Q&A? I’ve heard a number of responses from men, mostly along the lines of “I sleep fine” or “Ask my wife.” (full disclosure: I haven’t asked that many fathers to participate). If you know of a Dad who would fit the bill, and have something useful to say, please send their contact deets my way at email@example.com. The Q&A will be back on its regularly scheduled Monday next week, hopefully with a male respondent.
As Erin Osborn awaits the arrival of her second child this spring, she weighs in on how sleep has been going for her as a pregnant mama, as well as what her experience was like with a newborn the first time around. She also tells one of those “I’ve so been there” stories about sharing a house with a group and being unable to settle your restless and fussy child in the night. I know you’ll enjoy her honest and thoughtful responses, so get reading:
You are the first Mom I have interviewed for “Sleep Dreams” who is expecting! You are also the mother of a nearly three-year-old. How has this pregnancy been going for you in terms of sleep? Are you approaching it any differently this time around?
Well, I’m trying not to approach sleep any differently, but it has definitely been different for me. The first time through I had plenty of time for naps, and the occasional early bedtime. My son, who picked up his night-owl habits from his father, doesn’t go to bed until 9, 9:30, or sometimes 10 pm. After which, I get my only down time of the day. Often, I spend this time catching up on work, but when that is not happening, I love to crash early. Or fall asleep watching TV. Or read myself to sleep.
I’ve been having a decent amount of insomnia lately, though, which seems really unfair. I know I’m not going to be sleeping more than two hours at a stretch in just a few short months, so this seems a little like a cruel joke to me. Aside from being awake at night, I haven’t really had any trouble getting comfortable or having to wake up to use the bathroom. Strangely, I don’t even feel that tired during the day, just short-tempered and probably cranky. I’m waiting for that to change, though.
The bone-tired feeling in the weeks and months following my son’s birth is definitely my worst memory of that stage of the game. I was hoping to go into that period well rested, and these late nights have been a surprise. I’ve never had trouble sleeping at all before this pregnancy.
How did your first son sleep as a baby? In other words, are you going into this experience with some sleep battle scars, or did you glide through the sleep stuff the first time around (or a combination of the two!)?
Let’s see. My son started sleeping through the night at around six months (after a couple of days of gentle sleep training). After that, he slept a solid 12 hours almost every night. I have to say, this is when i started feeling human again. Before six months, he woke up regularly about every two to three hours. I would feed him and he would go back to sleep pretty easily, but I was never able to get more than a couple of hours of uninterrupted sleep for what feels like that whole six months. (Due to my husband’s work schedule, he was unable to help out during the nights at all). So, I’m dreading the night time feeding routine. I’m doing a little reading now to see what, if anything, can help this new baby sleep longer stretches at a time earlier than six months — if you have any pointers, I’m all ears!.
What’s the craziest sleep story/scenario you can remember with your first son?
This one is easy. Definitely the worst sleep experience we had was during a trip up to Lake Tahoe to participate in a relay swim across the lake. Our team all rented a house together, and we had to get up and get out on the water by 5:30 am to drive across the lake to the starting point for the relay. Somehow, we wound up in a room that was all windows and no window coverings, so it was fairly bright from the moon. The rest of the 12 people in the house got to listen to our son
wake up about every 40 minutes, screaming. We couldn’t really walk around, or go rock him in the living room, as this was a rental house with limited baby-friendly supplies. Also, every possible room and couch was already occupied. So, we put him in our double size bed, where he proceeded to sleep fitfully for 40 minutes at a time and then wake up screaming again. During the “sleep” time, there was a lot kicking and jerking going on, so I don’t think either myself or my husband got any sleep at all. More than once, I was “woken up” by a strong head butt to the face. Good times. I was in tears by the end of the night, and watched the sky grow light with the realization that we were going to have to leave this poor kid with a sitter for the entire day while we swam the relay. The night was particularly hard to deal with, because it was a complete surprise. Our son is normally such a good sleeper. I’m not used to dealing with these kind of nights!
How is your son sleeping these days? Does he still nap? How crucial is that for your sanity?
He is (usually, see above) a great sleeper. About 10-11 hours at night, and usually a two hour nap in the afternoon. I love the afternoon time for myself, but I realize we should probably scale that back or eliminate it completely so that he goes to bed at an earlier hour. He wakes up at 8 or 8:30 am or later, though, and I hate to mess with that part of the equation. I don’t like the idea of knowing the baristas that open our local Starbucks.
I know that you currently live in a two-bedroom apartment. Do you have any plans for how you will handle bedrooms and sleep once the baby arrives?
Yes. We are prepared this time around (I think?). We just moved him into a big boy bed, which is a great low loft-style bed. He loves it, and hasn’t figured out that he can easily climb down himself, so it works like a crib so far. There is space underneath for his dresser and some toys, and the old crib is ready and waiting in the same room for the new baby. We are planning to keep the baby in our room for the first few months in a Moses basket (until he is sleeping through the night?!) and then move him over with his brother once he is sleeping more. This plan will work, right? Alternatively, we might give up and move to a bigger house. I guess we will just have to wait and see how it goes!