We know that this will pass.
Every sleep regression comes with some sort of developmental surprise.
In this case, for the first time, Kina has been able to articulate that the sleep regression is about the developmental surprise—and that the leaps taken by her brain at the moment are rocking the nighttime boat. Something unexplainable is happening inside that little noggin, and it’s been a huge pain in the ass for all involved. In the last three weeks, Kina has emerged from her bedroom in tears, complaining about various combinations of the following:
“The air conditioner is making a noise”
“The fan is making a noise”
“The white noise is too loud”
“It is too hot”
“It is too cold”
“I’m not feeling cozy”
“The door is not open enough”
“Somebody turned down the kitchen light”
“I need to go pee”
“My brain is going crazy”
Really, it all sort of ends up at the last one. Whatever wakes her up, it’s her brain that keeps her there; she has just now fully grasped that sleep is not something you can take for granted—and that her own brain can be to blame. The other night (which was particularly bad for wake-ups) Kina mused out loud that “the wall is too far away, but it’s super close”, which is a sensation of exhaustion that I specifically remember having when I was a kid, and while that sort of thing is amusing when you haven’t yet gone to sleep, it’s a real doozy when you wake up at three in the morning, and it comes as no surprise that Kina might come screaming for us when it happens.
The problem with talking to a five-year-old who’s annoyed at her own brain in the middle of the night is that you, as her parent, may tend to favor tactics—songs, stories, questions—that stimulate that brain and reward its insomniac anxiety, which makes the whole thing worse and only ensures that you’ll be back in her bedroom in ten minutes. Fortunately, we are well-trained by years of sleep regressions and ultimately remind ourselves that the key is to be incredibly boring when we return her to bed. Our presence, we say, has to be reassuring but not rewarding.
In any case, I have a few days here alone with Kina to work out our little brain strategies for bedtime. She’s asleep in her bed now, having taken a little pee, with the kitchen light going full blast, door wide open, air conditioner temperate, white noise murmuring, and all the tires on the street out front in good condition. The rain is tapping on the windowsill—the one nighttime noise that relaxes Kina—and her brain is at ease. Tomorrow, she’ll ask me some ridiculous question, and I’ll remember what this is all about.
She’s growing up. Again.