Struggles for sleep and connection: Transitioning to the ‘big girl bed’

Change can be unsettling, particularly for little ones. That’s how I had been explaining away Baby Bu’s disturbed sleep over the last month.

When we returned from our summer in the UK, we made the transition to a big bed and all went beautifully smoothly. For a few days.

To begin with, she LOVED her new bed. She was excited to lie in it, and would squeal with delight when I laid down beside her as she fell asleep. Our routine changed from me telling her stories until she fell asleep in my arms, to her sitting in my lap to hear stories and then lying down to sleep. She would happily close her eyes and fall asleep without issue after a couple of stories.

But then the restlessness came. Once the novelty of the new big bed wore off, her sleep routine started to deteriorate. She would wake up sometimes only a couple of hours after falling asleep. She settled easily. With a gentle hand touching her sleepy shoulder, and a reassuring word, she would lie back down and fall asleep. But then she’d do the same every 30 mins to an hour or so until 1/2ish, when she’d finally settle to sleep more deeply again. Not the healthiest of sleep patterns, and not doing any of us any good. Taking her into our bed only eased our own workload (getting up and going through to her), but she was still restless in her sleep.

She started to resist going to bed, insisting she wasn’t tired, requesting extra stories, jumping around her room and only finally sleeping after an hour or so of gently trying to settle her.

Then the requests began – can the light stay on, can the door stay open, can mama sleep in here, can she have her water bottle (which was always right beside her bed, in it’s usual spot). Little requests that were more an appeal for connection than actual face-value needs. I always endeavour to honour requests for connection with Baby Bu, but this was becoming exhausting, and the lack of proper sleep was showing on both of us.

The last few nights, I’ve been aware that I’m tense during the bedtime routine, and easy to feel frustrated. Deep breaths needed more and more frequently to keep calm while she asks for a 8th or 9th story just to avoid having to go to sleep. The thought of getting a little me-time downstairs was becoming increasingly important in my mind, the more she fought sleep (or perhaps she was fighting sleep more as she felt me become distracted? Chicken and egg!).

Then today she had a runny nose. She was a bit grumpy; not her usual bouncy self. I took her up to bed early, praying she’d settle easily, but after the 3rd story, she told me she wasn’t tired and didn’t want to go to bed tonight (!). With her big eyes looking up at me, and the clear signs of a cold coming, I felt only tender towards her rather than frustrated as I have been at this stage of the night recently. I said, “I tell you what, rather than a story from a book, how about I cuddle you and tell you a story instead?”.

I felt like my soul and my energy to love were being replenished whilst I sat there holding her.

She leapt back into my arms, laid down and looked up at me. I told her Jack & the Beanstalk, whilst gazing into her gradually more heavy-lidded eyes, and she was fast asleep in 5 minutes. It was a beautiful, loving, sweet moment. She hasn’t fallen asleep in my arms like that in almost a month, and I didn’t realise how much I missed it until tonight. I felt like my soul and my energy to love were being replenished whilst I sat there holding her. I wanted to cuddle her, and kiss her perfect little forehead, and capture the perfection of the moment forever more.

And suddenly, I realised. Perhaps all this struggling at bedtime, these requests for connection, are because she misses that beautiful little moment too? The connection we have during story time is powerful. Dim lighting, warm cuddles, rocking chair. Everything else fades away. The only things that exist in that moment are Mama and Baby Bu, gazing into each others’ eyes as one talks quietly and the other listens sleepily.

I know for certain that I’ll be trying the same thing again tomorrow, but not just because it worked tonight (although only time will tell whether she’ll stay settled), or because she might need it. But because I need it too. I feel more able to cope tomorrow, after having that quiet connection time with her tonight.

For little hearts and little souls that loving connection is everything.

This experience reminded me: love is powerful. And for little hearts and little souls that loving connection is everything. If you lose it from your day for whatever reason, find a way to replace it, to keep their little souls replenished. And yours.

Sleep well x

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