Monday, December 29, 2008

Hibernation Issues in Wombats

Elijah is now almost 5 months old. I know. I can't believe it either. And ever since he was 3 months, the first question anyone asked us was "And how is he sleeping? Is he sleeping through the night? IS HE?!!!!"

I don't know why sleeping through the night is the ultimate measure of how good an infant is. It seems that if the baby IS sleeping through the night, people are satisfied with his progress in life; if he is not, they give you a ton of advice, hoping, apparently, to help you progress his current station. I wonder at what point sleeping through the night no longer becomes a yardstick for your accomplishments - 1 year? 2 years? In a way, I wish it lasted into adulthood - darn it, if judged by sleeping through the night, I should have multiple awards. I can sleep with the best of them; always could. And there wasn't even any place to mention it on my college application (although it's not too late to list it on my resume).

Anyway, at our last pediatrician visit, the doctor asked if Elijah is sleeping through the night, and, upon hearing that he wakes up 2-4 times, told us to research baby sleep issues. Specifically, he told us to read "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child" by Dr. Marc Weissbluth. I read the book, and thought I'd expand my thoughts on it here.

Dr. Weissbluth presents results of studies of sleep in babies, and then uses those results to propose some sleep training methods for your child, who is behind in his sleep progress (obviously. Otherwise, why would you be reading his book?). The research is interesting and useful; the methods are interesting and scary. Research first:

1. 5 Elements of Healthy Sleep:

  • Sleep duration: naps should be at least 45 minutes; night sleep is best uninterrupted. Night waking usually disappears around 9 months.
  • Naps are important: 3 naps up to 9 months, then 2 naps (morning and afternoon) until 12-21 years and 1 nap until 3-4 years of age.
  • Sleep consolidation
  • Sleep schedule
  • Sleep regularity
2. Sleep is controlled by 2 biological mechanisms, which do not always talk to each other:
  • Homeostatic sleep control: a biological system that tries to restore sleep when any sleep is missing. It is involuntary, and controls sleep much in the way that our bodies control their temperature.
  • Circadian timing system: switches specific genes on and off in response to the light/dark cycles. This molecular clock is set by sunlight (although it seems to be set to a 25-hour cycle rather then our 24-hour day).
3. Biological Rhythms control sleep:
  • Sleep/wake rhythm emerges immediately after birth
  • Body temperature rhythm (temperature rises during the day and drops at night)
  • Cortisol peaks in early morning and has lowest concentration levels around midnight (develops by 3-6 months)
  • Melatonin surges at night and helps support the sleep/wake rhythms (completely controlled by the pineal gland by about 6 months). It is produced by human brain starting around 3-4 months of age and both induces drowsiness and relaxes the smooth muscles encircling the gut
4. Good sleep is important
  • Night sleep, daytime sleep and daytime wakefulness have rhythms that are partially independent of each other. Before 4 months, they are not in synchrony with each other at all. This means that the sleep rhythm can be in "deep sleep" stage, while wake rhythm is in "alert" stage instead of "drowsy". So the kid can be completely exhausted, yet wired and unable to fall asleep.
  • Naps differ in quality by the time of day. Morning naps provide more REM sleep, while afternoon naps provide more deep sleep.
  • Naps dramatically reduce levels of cortisol (stress hormone) present in the body.
  • After 4 months, naps should be 45 minutes to 1 hour to let the body relax. 30 minute naps do not do the trick.
  • Most common sleep-deprivation complaints are headaches and stomachaches. If you are experiencing either, try sleeping better.
Now the scary part. From this research, the Doctor concludes that sleep is obviously extremely important (no disagreement there), and that therefore you must make your child sleep NO MATTER WHAT. We must stop at nothing to make him sleep!! And the best way to do that is to leave him crying so he learns to fall asleep on his own. In fact, the Doctor goes as far in his book as to suggest that if you should turn off your baby monitor for the entire night; that if your kid throws up while crying for you, you should not clean him up until morning, and that if he falls down while trying to get you, just let him stay as he falls. That'll teach him not to try it next time!

On top of that, the author adopts a condescending tone and frequently makes interesting passive-aggressive comments about the rest of the family of the sleepless child. Here are my 2 all-time favorite passages from the book:

"Practical Point: A parent who keeps a baby up past his natural time to sleep may be using this play time with the child to avoid unpleasant private time with the other parent." A practical point indeed! Let's make the parent not only exhausted, but also paranoid! Why is my husband so happy to be playing with our son in the evenings?! I used to think it was because he misses him all day, but now I suspect it's due to his secret hatred of me!! It's all clear now!!!!

"Why Can't I Let My Baby Cry? I enjoy my baby's company too much at night. This may be because you are not a good sleeper yourself." Yes, this makes sense. Not only is your child a failure in the making, you yourself are also a ruinous sleeper. Right. This guy could make a second career as a motivational speaker in addition to his pediatrics practice.

It's pretty amazing how often looking at lots of data results in your losing all common sense. There really should be rehabilitation programs for these people.

Anyhow, I am trying a slightly earlier bedtime with our little Wombat. And I'm trying to normalize his naps somewhat. But overall, he can keep waking up through the night for now. Beware of white coats bearing research, to paraphrase Warren Buffet. :)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Animal Tales by Simon Rich (The New Yorker)

See the original at Shouts and Murmurs.  Courtesy of the fabulous New Yorker, all rights, of course, reserved.  Personally, Dalmatians story is my favorite. 


“Hey, can I ask you something? Why do human children dissect us?”

“It’s part of their education. They cut open our bodies in school and write reports about their findings.”

“Huh. Well, I guess it could be worse, right? I mean, at least we’re not dying in vain.”

“How do you figure?”

“Well, our deaths are furthering the spread of knowledge. It’s a huge sacrifice we’re making, but at least some good comes out of it.”

“Let me show you something.”

“What’s this?”

“It’s a frog-dissection report.”

“Who wrote it?”

“A fourteen-year-old human from New York City. Some kid named Simon.”

(Flipping through it.) “This is it? This is the whole thing?”


“Geez. It doesn’t look like he put a lot of time into this.”

“Look at the diagram on the last page.”

“Oh, my God . . . it’s so crude. It’s almost as if he wasn’t even looking down at the paper while he was drawing it. Like he was watching TV or something.”

“Read the conclusion.”

“ ‘In conclusion, frogs are a scientific wonder of biology.’ What does that even mean?”

“It doesn’t mean anything.”

“Why are the margins so big?”

“He was trying to make it look as if he had written five pages, even though he had only written four.”

“He couldn’t come up with one more page of observations about our dead bodies?”

“I guess not.”

“This paragraph looks like it was copied straight out of an encyclopedia. I’d be shocked if he retained any of this information.”

“Did you see that he spelled ‘science’ wrong in the heading?”

“Whoa . . . I missed that. That’s incredible.”

“He didn’t even bother to run it through spell-check.”

“Who did he dissect?”


“Betsy’s husband? Jesus. So this is why Harold was killed. To produce this . . . ‘report.’ ”

(Nods.) “This is why his life was taken from him.”

(Long pause.)

“Well, at least it has a cover sheet.”

“Yeah. The plastic’s a nice touch.”


“Hey, look, the truck’s stopping.”

“Did they take us to the park this time?”

“No—it’s a fire. Another horrible fire.”

“What the hell is wrong with these people?”


“Well, it’s another beautiful day in paradise.”

“How’d we get so lucky?”

“I don’t know and I don’t care.”

“I think I’ll go walk over there for a while. Then I’ll walk back over here.”

“That sounds like a good time. Maybe I’ll do the same.”

“Hey, someone refilled the grain bucket!”

“Is it the same stuff as yesterday?”

“I hope so.”

“Oh, man, it’s the same stuff, all right.”

“It’s so good.”

“I can’t stop eating it.”

“Hey, you know what would go perfectly with this grain? Water.”

“Dude. Look inside the other bucket.”

“This . . . is the greatest day of my life.”

“Drink up, pal.”




“Hey, look, the farmer’s coming.”

“Huh. Guess it’s my turn to go into the thing.”

“Cool. See you later, buddy.”

“See ya.” ♦

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Boing Boing Boing

We received a door frame jumper as a gift, and tried it out with Elijah, who loves to jump.  So you would think he should loooove the jumper.  But not so fast.

He also loves to swing.  But doesn't like his swing, and only uses it as a chair.  After exploring this paradox, we realized that what he does not like are the American safety standards.  When he swings, he wants to go fast!  With real acceleration, swinging dangerously close to the ground and then really fast back high up!  None of your silly speed-controlled mosying-along Fisher-Price Rainforest boring-along swings, thank you very much.

And he loves to jump.  As in, to be thrown high up in the air (preferably up and across), and then caught by Dad in free fall.  Oh boy.  So we received sort of a lukewarm response from the jumper.... but only because he has not yet figured out how to push with his toes to get the spring to really compress and the jumper to really lift off.  Oh I am sure he will.  Thankfully, not yet though.  Ah, 4 months old and already an adrenaline junkie.... BOYS! :) Here is a video of him evaluating his new jumper (taking it quite seriously I might add).

Elijah in the Jumper! from Olya on Vimeo.

Monday, December 15, 2008

4 Month Checkup

Elijah's 4-month checkup was last Friday, and we have confirmed some suspicions about our little Wombat. He is very long, in the 92 percentile for his age. And he is getting heavier! :) The checkup did not confirm our suspicions that he is quietly making fun of his parents - although that is probably in the 50th percentile for any age. :)

Here are the vital stats:
Height (length): 26.5 inches
Weight: 15 lbs 2 oz

And here is a recent photograph of our little 4 month old wonder:

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