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Just When You Think You Are Out...

I'd estimate that about half of the questions I get over at Ye Olde Advice Smackdown these days are about sleep. Sleep and babies, that is, as in how to get them to go the fuck to it.

I'm (obviously) no expert here — I've read maybe two whole books on the subject and probably not all the way through because they have hardly any zombies in them — but I guess people figure that after three babies who were all over the sleep map I MUST have done something right in order to get them all to the point we're at now: Three mostly non-damaged children who sleep through the night. In their own beds! At a regular bedtime, even! 

It is a glorious thing, to no longer feel so singularly consumed by the Pursuit Of More Sleep, or to worry that you're doing something wrong and not instilling the right boundaries or self-soothing skills. The sense that you COULD be getting more sleep than you are if you just did CIO or co-slept or breastfed or formula-fed or added solids or listened to whatever crackpot theory your mother-in-law is talking about.

I read those long, detailed emails from new parents and remember what that feels like: an ever-darkening, non-linear tunnel of brain fog, one that you KNOW is supposed to end at some point but every time you take a few steps forward you smack facefirst into a wall. Sleep regressions! Growth spurts! Teething! Weaning! Night terrors! Confusional arousals! STOP CHANGING ALL THE RULES, YOU DUMB BABY.

And so I do my very best to diagnose what's going on with their baby (which is quite often nothing more than a baby being a goddamn baby, I'm sorry), and take very extra special care to not tell them the real actual truth: IT. NEVER. ENDS.

Oh, it gets better. Worlds better! Believe me, I do not take my children's sleep habits for granted. Ike's self-soothing skills are now so advanced that our "pre-nap routine" basically consists of me dumping him into his crib at some vague afternoonish point and being like, "Welp. This was fun. We'll talk later." And then I leave him to sort the rest out. Everybody heads to their room around 8 p.m. for bedtime and I frankly have little to no idea what happens after that. They go to sleep at some point and...I dunno. Conspire. Plot. Recharge. 

But it's not like "uninterrupted sleep" is a badge you unlock once and then get to move on to the next mission without ever thinking about it again. (NEXT UP: THE POOP ON POTTY ACHIEVEMENT.) For the rest of your life, your sleep can be fucked with, at any point, on any night.

In a way, this can feel even WORSE, because you're not expecting it. Because you've become soft and spoiled, because you're now like, I DGAF that I have to work tomorrow, Imma stay up late and watch the shit out of A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas because I am the boss of me. And then you drag your ass to bed at one in the morning only to be woken an hour later because:

  • Someone had a bad dream.
  • Someone's ear hurts.
  • Someone's tummy hurts.
  • Someone threw up.
  • Someone's diaper leaked.
  • Someone has a very important question about where weather comes from.
  • Someone's scared of the thunder.
  • Someone's scared of their closet.
  • Someone's foot is stuck in the crib slats.
  • Someone's thirsty.
  • Someone's hungry.
  • Someone can't find their blankie.
  • Someone can't find their other blankie.
  • Someone can feel their bones.
  • Someone cannot feel their bones.
  • Can your brain leak out of your ears, Mom? 
  • Can it, Mom?
  • Mom?

(I'm sure down the road this list will change and expand to include all manner of super-fun teenage hijinks, like "oh hey I just remembered I have a project due in five hours, do we have any posterboard?" and "oh hey I burned down the Christmas tree with a comically oversized joint and have to embark on a magical 3D quest to replace it, can I borrow the car?")

And sometimes Mercury goes retrograde and you get a string of wakings a few nights in a row. We're currently on night NUMBER FOUR.

On Friday, Ezra showed up at my bedside around two in the morning (clutching his blankie, his other blankie and a framed photo of Noah's first grade class), claiming to be "scared of the scary things." He climbed into bed and proceeded to thrash around and spoon with a neck-gripping vengeance for the rest of the night. 

On Saturday, Ike's diaper leaked. And then he continued to loudly protest even after I changed him and the crib sheet, because everyone knows that once a diaper hits capacity you're totally done sleeping for the night. FACT. 

On Sunday, Noah decided that 1 a.m. was the perfect time to have a discussion about how much he dislikes his current summer camp and how he planned to refuse to go the next day, just a heads up, something to look forward to in a couple hours. 

Last night, it was Ike's turn again. This time there wasn't really a reason; he seemed just as annoyed to be awake as I was. But whereas he settled back down within 10 minutes, I spent the next four or five hours wide awake, brain fully engaged in the art of Finding New Things To Worry About. I eventually gave up and went downstairs to sit on the couch and play with my phone. (So to everybody woke up this morning with a lot of new lives from me in Candy Crush Saga: YOU'RE WELCOME.) 

In other words, I am so tired right now I can't even see straight. I don't know how you people with little babies do this every night. Someone give me my Sleeping Through The Night badge back; I'm too old for this shit. 


Amy in StL

New moms and retired people are my favorite people these days because I can use all my lives and then wake up in the middle of the night and BOOM, recharged.


OMG yes. This. And mine are 13 (whole new list of reasons to be up at night), 11, 9, and 6. It's horrible! And I have a heart condition and so can't use caffeine as a crutch. Torture. I keep saying I'm going away to a hotel for several days so I can sleep but never do.


Owen, just about 2 now, still wakes up at least once a night because OH MY GOD MOM I NEED MILK!! and then wets through his diaper because of all the milk in his bladder. try not giving him milk, and he will scream for like three hours. every night. for a week straight. we know, because we tried once.

I now look at a good night's sleep as getting 3-4 hours straight before having to change the sheets.


I am always surprised by how panicked I am when they wake now. They are 10 and 5 and excellent sleepers 95% of the time. But when someone has a dream, has to poop, is in a funk...omg my panic is ridiculous. Will they ever sleep again? Was that it? Am I doomed to be awake forever now? When will it end!? But it does and I'm fine, I'm a little embarrassed about it.


My youngest didn't sleep through the night until 10 months, and then just once a week, MAYBE. But you can bet your ass that on that one freaking blissful night of more than 1 1/2 hours of sleep in a row, the 3 year old would wake up and need something. The one who has slept 13 hours straight since he was 3 months old.


I especially LOL'ed at "Someone can feel their bones. Someone cannot feel their bones." A few nights ago here it was "My skin feels swirly." Uhhh... is that a bad thing?


A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas! Being scared of the scary things! More reasons why I have been reading your blog for a ridiculous amount of years. The lulz, they keep happening. Thank you.


I was awakened at some time during the night by a 6 year old playing with my hair in his sleep. He'd awakened his father and instead of putting him back to bed he just told him to climb in our bed. This morning the 6 year old argued with me about the playing with the hair insisting he did no such thing while also insisting that our bed was plenty big enough for all three of us....I beg to differ.


Yeah...we're contemplating a second, and my first was/is a pretty good sleeper on the whole. But he's been sick and up and we've been dealing with a mild reprise of the "OMG is he going to sleep?" and I, gosh. How do I do it again? And what if the next one isn't a good sleeper?


I got maybe a couple weeks where the baby slept through the night, only to have him start waking up a couple times again. Sometimes for boob, sometimes wet. He likes to keep me guessing. The shock to the system is just mean. I think I'd rather just be used to the getting not sleep thing. Its way worse to get a taste of 6 -8 straight hours and then have it taken away again.

Maxine Dangerous

I rarely sleep without bad dreams or waking MYSELF up. If I added a child to that mix... well, there would be a lot of milk drinking and existential conversations about weather.


Your response on the Smackdown was good, but this one is WAY BETTER.


Shit. You're all goners. We all are. My damn 12 year old was up last night at 1 and again at 3 (OK hers was because she has her period FUCKFUCKFUCK YOU HARD, HORMONES! IS IT THE CHICKEN? IS IIIIIIIIIIT? WHY ARE THE PERIODS SO EARLY? HERS CAME AT 10. SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE!) but still. Her 3 turned into the boy at 5 standing beside me lovingly caressing my arm only to say he needed to poop. Um, right here? Bruh, take your ass to the bathroom. LITERALLY.

For the most part, our kids are good sleepers and though each slept through the night at a different time, the fact that I have a fully potty trained 3.5 yr old who sleeps through (or wakes to pee or poop and can do it alone but must wake me up to assist (and tell me again, mommy, why you don't have a penis? Soooooo much to discuss while pooping!)) is not lost on me. I get many of the winks and I do not like it when my eyes lose them.

And I agree with Karen; this one's more, um, informative.


I keep on wanting to email you my child sleep problem (seriously, can a 2.5yo suffer from insomnia?) but I think to myself 'but she has just answered a sleep question', so I don't. Then you answer another. Then I think 'well there is no chance now', then you answer another... And I am pretty sure I will send that email on the day you pinky swear to answer no more sleep questions ever.


ZOMG! Thank you. I have 2 year old twins (4 days older than Ike). I feel your pain. Thanks for something on the silly intranet that isn't all "my child potty trained in 3 days, done!" and "sleep train thees way and all is good, FOREVER." We need the misery loves company, empathy, mamas.

We have amazing sleepers, but it still is often something with somebody. My husband often gets up first, don't hate me, but I'm often silly and stay up past nine watching a similar stupid movie (I have seen all the Harold and Kumars) and then I work at 5am. Aack!

Love to you and many sympathies to the poster that can't use caffeine as a crutch.


Hahaha. I was just going to email you a sleep question (even though you just answered one on the Smackdown yesterday). But this was much better. I shall suck it up, figure it out and be assured that whatever I do figure out will only work for a short time anyway. Silly little humans, just go to sleep already.


Night wakings ALWAYS happen when we decide to stay up late doing who knows what. The next night, my night owl of a husband is so chastened by the thought of another night awake that he goes to bed early.

The worst is when my 4 year old is half asleep, comes into our room at God knows what hour and says: "I don't want to sleep!" And I seriously tell her: "I don't care what you do in your room, just go back in it." Luckily, she always does. I'm not very nice when I'm woken up in the middle of the night...


My child is four. She maybe sleeps through the night one night a week. If I'm lucky. I think it has something to do with a dad in the military, who is gone. But, I sure would like some sleep.


For the last week, my 16 month old won't go to sleep until 2 or 3am. And then my 4 1/2 year old wakes up for the day at 5:30-6am. She screams at me "wake up mommy it's morning time!" every time I fall back asleep for a few minutes.
When I took her to school one day I explained to her what was happening and asked if she and her brother were trying to kill me. She said "heh heh. no." I don't believe her.


It never ends here...the 8 yo is a sleep walker and the 10 yo has night terrors occasionally.


You got me at "someone can 't feel their bones!" Hee hee!

We are in an awkward spot now. Girls are nearly 6. Baby A has come in once every night between 1-3 because she has to pee but is afraid to go in the bathroom because it feels like someone is watching her (yeah, that's ME kid, when you drag me in to follow you) - this started a month or so ago and is now compounded by her newly-broken wrist. She can't quite maneuver to get the TP and wipe with her cast on.

Blissfully (or so I thought) the girls are with their grandparents for 3 nights and DH is traveling this week, so I've had the entire house to myself. Wouldn't you know that I still wake up between 1-3 because now *I* have to pee, and then I lie there wondering what everyone else is doing where they are. Can't win. :-)


Oh my gosh, this would have scared me when my first was a baby! Yeah, older kids sometimes wake you up, but it is NOTHING like a baby waking up all the time every night. My first did that until he was a year and it was truly horrible.


My children have grown up and no longer wake me in the night. However, the 18-year-old cat we got when they were young wakes me every morning between 4:30 and 5:00 - just because?? Once you are a parent you never sleep the same again.


Hee hee. Why was he clutching a framed photo of Noah's first-grade class? That's so random! Hee hee--that is why I so totally love that age! Hee hee hee... isn't blogging weird? I'm so giggly about Ezra and the photo clutching. But you DON'T KNOW ME! Blogging: What's it all about? Hee hee hee... that Ezra. That total stranger, named Ezra. Hee hee hee...


You are seriously the funniest person alive. It's actually really not fair how funny you are. Because mommy hood is sometimes REALLY NOT funny. And yet, it's hilarious when you write about it. Stop it! You are confusing me!

Caitlin Greene

I just laughed so hard my husband actually came out of his office to make sure I wasn't in fact choking to death

Natalie month old who MUST have mommy by his crib. DO NOT LEAVE THE ROOM OR I WILL SCREAM! So I leave the room. We're on the second round of CIO after a lovely regression. But he still gets up at 11:00 and refuses to self-soothe and then at 3:00 to eat. Just sleep kid!!! And this is only the first kid so I see decades of this in the future. Thank goodness he is so damn cute and squishy.


Thank you. My 10 month old is usually a great sleeper but woke up over and over last night screaming like the world was ending. She then woke up at the ass-crack of dawn like nothing had happened wanting to play. It's nice to know someone out there feels my pain. She can't even tell me she can't feel her bones, though, so it's all a guessing game. And snuggles, and babymilk, and Tylenol. Sometimes I think she fakes it just to get those 2.5 mL of sugary medicine!


Oh thank you! I really needed those lives! ;)


I'm here just for the laughs. Sorry it's at your expense.


My 2 year old (1 month older than Ike) has decided for the last 3 weeks that somewhere between 3am and 4:30am is a totally reasonable time to be awake. And I have so much work to do that I'm not getting to bed before 11pm at the absolute earliest. There is not enough coffee in the world. I have tried nursing, I have tried sending the parent without the boobs (aka daddy), I have tries being firm and leaving, I have tried sleeping on his floor, I have tried bringing him to our bed, I have tried medicine, I have tried crying and begging and pleading, I have tried earlier bedtime and later bedtime. Nope. Nothing. I am in fact jealous that you have only been doing 4 days of this. 4 days and coffee still worked. *cries*


Haaaaa that you posted this just as my two month old awesome sleeper decides that sleep is for the weak. I'm going to go for the positive and be glad I'm not alone rather than terrified at what's to come.

Lynda M O

I am so sorry for all you moms whose kids awaken you in the night. My kids are grown and gone now and I am the best babysitter EVER, seriously, during the day but about midnight I NEED to be left alone to get my rest for the day ahead.

Holding you all up to the goddess of sleep deprivation relief....


I heart you and this post. While I have a great sleeper that is my 2 year old...there are nights that I need to head to his room for "something". I don't think I'll get a good nights sleep again until his married.


My daughter is 4 years old and I can count the number of times I've slept through the night since her birth on one hand. She slept through the night at 8 weeks, regularly.

And I haven't. I wake up if she wakes up or not.

The rule is that all of us get some sleep. So the solution was to buy ourselves a king size bed and move the queen mattresses into her room. That way, one of us stumbles out in the middle of the night and sleeps with her if necessary.

(Of course, the other night, it was YOU who fell asleep putting your kid to bed, not me. And slept there all night)


THANK YOU for this post! I needed a laugh today ... my nearly-three year old and nine month old WITH COLDS are currently the gatekeepers of my personal brain-fog tunnel. I don't even know how these words are typing right now ...


Delurking after many years to add my THANKS to the list - I really needed a laugh and on this topic!!! My 10 1/2 year old has slept great ever since she was 6 months old. My 4 year old has never slept well and the past month has been just awful. I spent about 20 minutes in my psychiatrist's office crying yesterday before I mentioned the recent worsening of the sleep and he looked at me and said something along the lines of "Aha, no wonder". I know you're right that it will get better, I just thought we'd already be there by age 4! ;)

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