When people ask me how I am these days, I tend to answer the same way. I point at my fourteen-month-old and say, ‘For the past two months, this one has been staying up till at least midnight every night, often till two or three in the morning, and I have no idea how to get her to sleep. All she does is scream and scream. I’ve not had a single night off in over a year and I’m physically and emotionally wrecked.’
I figured that response was fine, since it was true. However, since I can hear like a bat, I’ve started noticing people talking about me in other rooms – family and friends and whatnot – saying how I’m always moaning, I’m never happy, I’m always going on about how tired I am, etc., etc. Yes, I have become ‘that guy’. Sucks to be me.
But it’s a real problem nonetheless. She’s too young to be disciplined, threatened, bribed or reasoned with; too old to cry herself to sleep because she can stand up – and special as she is, stand-sleeping is beyond her.
Since I’m clearly not allowed to be honest, and my family, friends and whatnot don’t have the insight to realise my moaning is a cry for help, I thought I would offer the pearls of my wisdom to other parents who find themselves in a similar position: stuck with a screaming child that won’t sleep, and clinging to the end of their rope by a single breaking fingernail.
Here are the tactics and the techniques I’ve tried, considered and/or been recommended to get my daughter to sleep. Use them wisely and with a pinch of salt.
1. Don’t let her nap during the day.
Upsides: It makes her tired.
Downsides: By ‘tired’ I mean ‘cranky’. You get no down time during the day, and now she’s too irritable to sleep.
Overall verdict: Counterintuitively, kids need to be less tired to sleep, so a baby who has regular naps and is well rested goes to bed easier than one who is exhausted. The more you know.
2. Move her bedtime back a couple of hours.
Upsides: You defer the problem till later.
Downsides: You defer the problem till later.
Overall verdict: You still have to face the horrors of bedtime, only now your kid is even more tired and irritable
3. Let her stay up till she goes to sleep naturally.
Upsides: You don’t have to do anything.
Downsides: Where the hell is my evening?
Overall verdict: Who’s the parent here anyway?
4. Give her a bath.
Upsides: It’s fun!
Downsides: It’s too much fun. She’s more awake when she gets out than when she got in.
Overall verdict: A great way to kill an hour. Not a great way to get her to sleep.
5. Leave her to ‘cry it out’.
Downsides: It wakes up the rest of the household and makes you want to die. After ten minutes, she’s choking and hyperventilating and it then takes you thirty minutes to calm her down, which makes it counterproductive anyway.
Overall verdict: Might work with earplugs and sociopaths, but painful for all concerned.
6. Shout and scream right back.
Upsides: It feels good.
Downsides: It doesn’t help get her to sleep.
Overall verdict: The only people you should be shouting at are reality TV stars and politicians. Or when they’re both.
7. Take her for a drive.
Upsides: You get to see interesting places, people and wildlife, and avoid watching teleshopping.
Downsides: When you get home after an hour speeding around the countryside, she’s more awake than you are.
Overall verdict: Save your petrol money, pay for a nanny.
8. Take her for a walk.
On these mean streets? In the dark? You must be joking.
9. Give her Calpol.
Upsides: When she’s ill, it soothes her enough to sleep.
Downsides: Unless she’s ill, why are you giving your kid painkillers, you psycho? It’s not a freaking sedative!
Overall verdict: If you think drugging your kids to make your life easier is acceptable, you’re at the top of a slippery slope that leads to sprinkling benzos on their breakfast cereal and fixing their ouchies with ketamine.
10. Spike her evening milk with rum/gin/whisky.
Upsides: Your elderly relatives will respect you for following their advice.
Downsides: Are you freaking kidding me?
Overall verdict: If you think drugging your kids to make your life easier is acceptable…
11. Cuddle her on the sofa.
Upsides: It’s nice, she goes to sleep, and you get to catch up on a box set..
Downsides: It is physically impossible to get her from the sofa to her cot without her waking up and starting to scream.
Overall verdict: It’s great for killing time on the long evenings when she just won’t settle, but you’re simply deferring the problem till later. And worse, now she’s slept for a few minutes, she uses it as a springboard to propel her past midnight and into the early hours. Depends how much you want to catch up on Game of Thrones, I suppose.
12. Rock her in your arms.
Upsides: Really effective and gives you biceps like Dwayne Johnson.
Downsides: Cramp, boredom, and you’re still left with the problem of transferring her into the cot.
Overall verdict: Can work if she’s really tired, but if she’s not, get ready for her eyes to pop open and her lungs to fill during the transition.
13. Sing to her.
Upsides: You get to practice your aria with an uncritical listener.
Downsides: Pretty hard to get the right pitch and intonation when someone’s screaming at you.
Overall verdict: It can work, but you’d better keep singing because the second you stop, she’s going to give you feedback, and you probably won’t like what you hear.
14. Read to her.
Upsides: You get to do something interesting and she gets to work on her grammar.
Downsides: You have to have the light on. And even if she does fall asleep, you face the awkward prospect of having to get up and creep across the creaky floorboards without waking her up.
Overall verdict: quite good, but it can take a long, long, LONG time.
15. Stay in the room with her.
Upsides: You get to sit there and completely ignore her. You have the power!
Downsides: If she’s anything like my kid, she starts off quiet, then starts talking, then starts shouting, crying, screaming, choking, hyperventilating and then dying, until you have to sort her out. End result: she wins.
Overall verdict: She wins.
16. Bring her into your bed for the start of the night.
Upsides: She goes to sleep happily and easily.
Downsides: You still have to transfer her back to the cot, and since she’s been so happy and comfortable, it makes her doubly angry when she wakes up mid-transition and even less likely to settle.
Overall verdict: It’s better to avoid the aggro.
17. Bring her into your bed for the whole night.
Upsides: The easiest technique of all.
Downsides: Where do I begin? You have the same bedtime as a baby; you’re going to get kicked in the nuts and punched in the neck half of the night; babies are a real passion-killer; you’re paranoid you’re going to roll over and squash her.
Overall verdict: Don’t. Do. It. Once you’ve started, how and when do you stop? It might seem like the easy option in the short term, but do you really want your ten-year-old still sharing a bed with you because she never learnt to sleep by herself? Jesus, cut the apron strings.
18. Give her a relaxing massage.
Upsides: A great way to bond with your child.
Downsides: She giggles the entire time like it’s the funniest thing ever, which isn’t relaxing at all.
Overall verdict: If laughter makes you sleepy, go right ahead. If you’re normal, might be best to skip this one.
19. Give her a slap.
Upsides: I’m not even going there.
Downsides: If you want her to stop screaming, slapping her probably won’t achieve that. Well, I guess it depends how hard you slap…
Overall verdict: Not an effective tool for bedtime, or daytime, or any time, actually, unless you like the look of prison.
20. Knock yourself unconscious.
Upsides: You sleep.
Downsides: She doesn’t.
Overall verdict: Doesn’t solve the problem.
21. Put her on her back in the cot, slip your arm through the slats, place your hand on her chest and pin her to the mattress.
Upsides: You’re in the room with her; you’re in physical contact with her; she can hold onto your hand; she’s reassured that she’s not been left alone; she’s lying down and can’t stand up; when she whines you can rock her gently; you can sing to her at the same time; and eventually when she goes to sleep, you don’t have to transfer her because she’s already asleep in her cot. Job done!
Downsides: This can take up to forty-five minutes; depending on the size of your forearms and the gap between the bars, your arm will probably ache after three; once she’s asleep you’re faced with slowly removing your hand from her chest without waking her and you still have to get out of the room; and if she isn’t tired after all, you’ve just wasted three-quarters of an hour.
Overall verdict: It works. It’s time-consuming and labour intensive, but my God, it works. Most of the time. And it’s the only way I’ve figured out to get her to sleep these days. You might as well try it – what have you got to lose?