How We Deal With Twins That Basically Never Sleep
One thing I’ve learned over the past 8 months is that sleeping with twin babies in the house takes patience and prayer. And sometimes alcohol.
Look, all babies have a way of changing nighttime routines; I get that. But twins provide a one-two punch that’s hard to match. One will cry, the other will sleep. And then they switch. Basically, they’re working shifts.
Lack of sleep has been my toughest adjustment to fatherhood. Nothing else even comes close. I miss sleep so, so much.**
**Obligatory mention of the fact that I love my babies to death and they are worth every minute of lost sleep. But still.
For the first six or seven weeks, our house was like an IHOP – we were serving breakfast 24 hours a day. Jackie would generally care for the babies downstairs from about 11pm – 4am (while I slept upstairs), and we would switch from about 4am-7 or 8am. On a good night, Jackie was getting 3 or 4 hours. I generally got 4 or 5 hours. Hello coffee.
Being upstairs in bed while the babies were downstairs with Jackie felt like I was at home base during an intense game of capture the flag. For the time-being, I was safe. But not for long…
I remember one morning Jackie came in the bedroom and told me it was my turn to watch the kids. She then got into bed, closed her eyes, and said “ahhh…glory.” That’s exactly what it was like.
What made it even worse? This whole thing went down during the dregs of the sports calendar (June-August). SportsCenter is terrible this time of year, and the news cycle is unbelievably slow. Pretty much all there was to watch was (a) shows about people buying/fixing houses, (b) fly-fishing, and (c) NBA/NHL reruns. I generally opted for the NBA reruns, but I have to admit I watched quite a few shows about buying houses.
Oh, I forgot option (d): infomercials. In case you’re interested, I could probably tell you anything you would ever want to know about the Ionic Breeze Air Purifier.
Anyway. After a few months the babies began sleeping in their own cribs, and Jackie and I were sleeping in our own bed. The problem was that the sleep was being interrupted every 45 or 50 minutes. Let me just go on the record as saying this is the worst kind of sleep ever. If faced with the choice, I’d take 4 straight hours of sleep over 8 hours of sleep interrupted on a semi- hourly basis any day of the week.
And it was during this phase that my hatred for the device they call “the monitor” began.
Many parents of babies learn to hate the monitor very quickly. Why? Because baby monitors are essentially alarm clocks without a snooze button. They’re evil! They’re also pointless – those babies scream loud enough for my out-of-state parents to hear them at night. Nothing adds to the frustration of screaming babies like a device that works to amplify an already ridiculously loud sound. Remember: the monitor is on your baby’s side – not yours!
Our monitor comes with three settings: constantly on; on when there’s a sound in the room; and off. If it were up to me, that thing would always be off. But we compromised on the middle setting – it’s on when they cry. So for a while, it was pretty much always on.
Here’s how bedtime worked: we would put the kids down at about 10pm. Bath, bottle, prayer (“Dear God please let us all get some sleep tonight” was a common one…). They would fall asleep, and we would plop them in bed. As my bride would say: “Ahhh. Glory!”
But this was always the calm before the storm. Within an hour, one of them would scream. And scream. And scream! (The monitor picks up this sound quite nicely). We got up so many times every night just to calm them down and feed them. And just when you got one down, the other one would wake up. This would carry on until about 6am when one of us would surrender to the babies. For a while, my first words in the morning were “ok, ok, you win.” In the battle between sleep and babies, babies always win.
This process was physically brutal. Literally! Early one morning after Jackie went to feed Jimmy, I heard a loud crash.
Note: anytime you hear “that sound” (and parents know exactly what that sound is…), you panic. It’s a distinct, unmistakable thump. When you hear it, something is always wrong.
Ok, back to the story. I’m lying in bed (half asleep) and I hear “that sound.” I ran into the hallway half expecting to see Jimmy fallen on the floor. But Jimmy was in bed. It was Jackie. She ran right into a wall and broke her nose. Sometimes those walls just come out of nowhere!
At about five months, we got out of bed one morning and collectively said “oh-my-gosh-we-need-to-do-something-about-this-nighttime-thing-before-we-lose-our-minds.” If your babies don’t sleep through the night, chances are you’ve been here. So the research began…
We reached out to many of the people reading this blog. My cousin (who has twins) gave us some great advice. The rest we got from “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child” – a book I highly recommend. We ultimately decided that a modified “cry it out” plan was best: feed them once a night, and let them scream the rest of the way.
Let me just say something about the “cry it out” method: it’s hard. It basically entails hearing your babies cry and not doing anything about it. The idea is that in the long run, they learn how to calm themselves down and ultimately sleep better. It’s a tried and true method. But while you’re going through it, it’s pure misery.
Jackie would often stand right outside their door as they cried, thinking of excuses to go in. Here are some: he’s hungry, she’s sick, he’s going through a “growth spurt” right now, they’re cold, etc…
Note: if you’re a dude, and you somehow manage to come out this process without looking or sounding like a heartless fool, then you are a better man than me.
Also: if you and your wife intend to let your baby/babies cry it out at night, you had better come up with a good answer to the question “how can you just let them cry like that and not go in there?” There’s a 100% chance you will be answering it. Choose your answer ahead of time, and choose it wisely…
Anyway. Riley responded well to the cry it out method. In fact, she was already sleeping through the night off and on. Jimmy, however, was a different story. He hated it. Oh, and he let us know it too.
The craziest part about this whole thing was that Jimmy would scream (ridiculously loud, and sometimes for 40 minutes in a row), and Riley would sleep right through it. It was amazing! I have to wonder if she ever told Jimmy, in her baby language, to give it up. Something like: “hey, Jimmy, they’re not coming for us so why don’t you just give it up!” To this day Jimmy fights the good fight.
So. Here are some things we tried that didn’t work: keeping them up late so that they would sleep in, feeding them just before we went to bed so they wouldn’t wake up for a while, and not giving them naps late in the afternoon so they would be more tired. Let those babies sleep as much as possible!
Oh by the way: babies know when you’re hung-over – even if only slightly. I’m just sayin. If you don’t believe me, try having a few drinks with your wife one night and see how things go the next morning. Babies just know.
The result of the cry it out method? Generally positive. For a while, they were going to bed consistently around 7:30, which is nice because Jackie and I are finally getting some time to hang out. Jimmy still wakes up once or twice a night, and we have never been able to get both of them sleep all the way through. We don’t always get them in bed at the same time (for instance, last night Jimmy went down at 7pm and Riley went down just after 10). But, praise the Lord, it’s much better than it was before. One of these nights, Jackie and I will both go to sleep at 11pm and wake up at 7am. In all likelihood, that will be the night they decide to sneak out of the house.
We aren’t out of the woods yet. Jimmy reminded us of that on our recent trip to Jamaica (the topic of a soon-to-come blog post). As for sleeping, older parents love to say things like “it gets better in about 22 years.” Thanks for that.
In the meantime, I’ll plan on sleeping when I’m dead. Of course, that assumes Heaven is a place with no baby monitors.