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Emily Popek

July 20, 2013

There's no rest for the weary mom

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about sleep.

The first reason for this is obvious: I’m not getting nearly enough of it. My daughter is going through one of those phases that babies sometimes go through, in which she wakes up for 1 or 2 hours every night and just. will. not. go. back. down.

(If your kid went through this, then you know what I’m talking about. And if your kid never did this, please, I don’t need to hear about it right now. Maybe later.)

As annoying as I find it to be up for two or three hours in the middle of the night, it wasn’t so long ago that this practice was completely commonplace, and not just for parents of small children.

We tend to think of a long, uninterrupted night’s sleep as a biological norm — something our body craves and needs. But in 2001, a Virginia Tech historian published a paper (and a subsequent book) revealing that, for centuries and as recently as the 1800s, it was not uncommon for people to sleep for a few hours, wake for an hour or so, then return to sleep.

Back then, of course, it was also more common for entire families to sleep in the same room. So one has to imagine that the concept of “uninterrupted sleep” was pretty foreign in general.

Nowadays, we worry a great deal about waking up at night, particularly when our kids do it. There are any number of websites, videos and books that promise to help me get my super-awake baby back to sleep.

For example, I can “Ferberize” my daughter by following a method of sleep training outlined in Richard Ferber’s 1985 book “Solve Your Sleep Problems.” The approach involves, among other things, leaving a wakeful infant alone for progressively longer periods of time to assist the child in self-soothing.

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