The 30 Minute Intruder (Part I)

This is the sorry tale of our epic napping battle.

It begins in Week 7. Also known as the Golden Week, or The Week That Michael Gets My Guard Down So That He Can Sucker Punch Me the Following Week. During this week, Michael shakes off most of his colic, and starts acting a little more predictably. He manages to stay awake for at least half an hour after his feed, and I manage to put him down in his rocker for a solid nap every feeding cycle.

Bam. E.A.S.Y. routine done and done. I celebrate with my friends over whatsapp. “E.A.S.Y. is actually easy now! Hooray! I can do this!” I feel confident and in control, a far cry from my earlier weeks of fumbling panic.

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And then… Week 8 arrives. And it’s the stuff of nightmares. The recurring kind. Except it’s not a nightmare, it’s my life.

Day 1: For the whole day, Michael wakes up from every single one of his naps after 30 minutes. Screaming.

Day 2: Ditto.

Day 14923812021049: Ditto.

By day 3 I’ve come round to realizing that something weird is going on around here. I mean, 30 minutes every single time? Not 40, not 20, but 30 minutes right about on the dot. Of course, I google this thing to death, and find out that it actually has a name. The 45 Minute Intruder. Except in Michael’s case, it’s 30 stinkin’ minutes!

Here’s the theory: Babies have short sleep cycles (between 30 to 45 minutes). In the transition between cycles, they wake briefly and then either go back to sleep immediately or wake totally. In Michael’s case, he would wake totally. Regardless how tired he was, my boy’s eyes would spring open like someone had just flicked him on the forehead, and he would be so done. Half the time, he would wake screaming in protest, and I would be tempted to scream right along with him.

It became a tragic but interesting phenomenon which I would demonstrate to disbelieving friends or family. “See how deeply asleep he is? He looks like he could go on for hours, right? Hah. In exactly two minutes he is going to open his eyes. You just watch.” Invariably I would be proven right.

Bizarrely, Michael’s night sleep operated completely independently of his day sleep. So after another wearisome day of 30 minute naps, I would give him his dinner feed, and then he would go to bed in his crib and sleep a good 5 hour stretch. Why? How? How did he know it was now night time, as compared to two hours earlier when he did his final nap of the day???

It turns out that babies just know. They process day and night sleep completely differently, using different parts of the brain. Very often, they work on consolidating their night sleep for the first few months before figuring out their day sleep. Not big on multi-tasking, the little buggers.

Google gave me an estimated end date for this sorry state of affairs: 6 months. Maybe. There were mothers in the forums saying that the Intruder kept right on intruding until their kids turned a year old. I think I cried.

Google also gave me a few suggestions on how to boot out the Intruder instead of just sitting and waiting for things to sort themselves out:

1) Put baby down earlier (because he’s overtired and can’t sleep through the transition).

2) Put baby down later (because he’s not tired enough so can’t sleep through the transition).

3) Wake-to-sleep (where you prod / disturb your baby five minutes before his transition, juuuust enough so that he doesn’t fully wake, but stirs enough to start a fresh cycle and the whole thing resets for another 30 minutes).

4) Start patting him a couple of minutes before he’s supposed to wake up, and then keep patting till he goes back to sleep.

5) Teach him how to self soothe. So if he wakes, he can fall back asleep on his own without help. In other words, let him cry it out.

Of course, none of that worked.

At first, I was in denial. Surely, something had to work, no? Because there was no way I was going to deal with this nonsense for another four months. So I tried and I tried and I tried. I tried white noise. I tried darkening the room. I tried swaddling. I tried rocking the rocker. I tried using a pacifier, or my finger as a pacifier. All I got was 30 minutes, every time, and an overtired baby.

The only thing that worked was to hold him in my arms to sleep for the entire nap. When he woke at the 30 minute transition, I would quickly get up and pace and rock him back to sleep. I would do this 3 out of 4 naps a day, every day.

I went absolutely barking mad.

I was grateful that I was able to extend his naps at all, but micromanaging his naps meant that I had zero time to myself. It meant that my mother had to keep dropping in to help, so I could get my lunch and some rest. It meant that I felt like I was taking a short flight to Malaysia three times a day, buckled into my chair, with my baby in my arms. At some point I even tried to use a travel neck rest, so my head would stop rolling around and I could get some sleep myself. My mother thought that I was crazy, because none of her babies ever had problems sleeping, of course. My husband also thought that I was crazy, and that I was spoiling our son by letting him sleep in my arms.

I felt misunderstood and desperate. There were days where I thought of just putting Michael down and letting him get overtired, just to prove my point. To show everyone that I was not crazy, that all my hard work was necessary. But every time I looked down at that face with the drooping eyelids and parted lips, I knew that I was just kidding myself. There was no way I was going to let my baby go through the day exhausted. If he needed me to hold him, then that’s what I would do. For this nap, and the next nap, and the next.

Most days, I managed to be quite stoical about it, but my frustration, boredom and despair were barely contained, and every now and then I completely broke down. I feared that even after my baby finally learned to get through the transition (if he ever did), he would only know how to sleep in my arms. One month in, and I was already a basket case. And I had at least another three months to go.

To be continued…

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