New Year’s resolution: reading and no smartphones before bed

January 7, 2013 in Exercise, Misc, Technology

No iPhones

I decided my long-awaited first post of 2013 should, naturally, be a New Year’s resolution. Now before I am reminded of my abysmal New Year’s resolution record, let me assure you that I think this one is totally achievable.

When I used to work crazy hours I often wondered what it would be like if I worked a regular 9-5 job and what I would do with all that extra time. Now that I practically do work such hours (9-6, but close enough), the amount of stuff I get done after work is not actually all that different. Yes, there is the problem of a little boy who has completely changed my life, but he usually goes to bed by around 7:30pm-8pm, and even when you factor in the time it takes to wash and clean all his stuff every night, it’s not really an excuse. My goal is to sleep at 10:30pm every night, which usually means at least an hour and a half of leisure time before I close my eyes.

As is probably the case with most people, a significant part of my inability to do anything constructive during my free time stems from my smartphone and tablet usage, especially just before bed. I don’t know why these damn things are so addictive, but they are.

Recently, I have become obsessed with this smartphone app called Letterpress (following my previous obsessions with Words with Friends and Scramble with Friends). You know I don’t like to brag, but I am such a beast at this game. I remind myself of a 2010 movie title starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pine about a runaway train. But my awesomeness is also a curse because I’m always staring at the damn phone wondering when my opponent(s) will make their next move.

My wife reminded me the other day that the reason why our sleep hasn’t been so great recently, apart from a sometimes sick or restless child, is because our eyes are always fixated on electronic devices shortly before bed. It’s not just the smartphones or tablets either — we often watch a TV show or movie in bed or I’m writing something on my laptop. On the odd occasion I might be playing a console video game. I used to spend some of that time exercising, and I’m still working to get myself back into that.

Most of us have probably read research which states that staring at light-emitting screens an hour before bed will likely affect your sleep as it inhibits the proper release of melatonin, the hormone that regulates your body’s natural sleep cycles. I knew about it but conveniently wedged it away in the back of my mind so I could keep dominating in the word games and keep telling myself that I’m actually working on my vocabulary so I can be a better writer.

So my New Year’s resolution is very simple: no smartphones or other electronic devices (save for emergencies) in the 30 minutes immediately prior to sleep. Instead, I will be reading. A book. Made of paper. You may have heard of them.

Can’t be that difficult, right?

Book Review: “Save Our Sleep” by Tizzie Hall

March 31, 2012 in Book Reviews, Misc, Parenting, Reviews

Every parent of a baby wishes to be able to sleep through the night without interruptions. According to renowned “baby whisperer” Tizzie Hall, the author of the popular Save Our Sleep, you can.

I received this book as a gift from my darling sis, who had been recommended by a friend who swears by it. They had used Hall’s “self-settling” methods on their three kids and they apparently all sleep like logs throughout the night. From what I hear, when the clock strikes 7pm, they go off in a single file to their bedrooms, and are not seen again until 7am the next morning.

Sounds brilliant, right? So what is the secret? And does the book really work?

First of all, I should say that I think every parent has the right to teach their child the best way they know how and I don’t believe there is a definitive “right” way to do things (even though there are probably definitive “wrong” ways). It’s hard enough being a parent without everyone telling you what to do, so I think we should be forgiven for doing whatever we feel is best under the circumstances (in most cases).

Secondly, every child is different and will respond differently to the same parenting techniques. What works for one child might not work for another. That’s not an opinion.

Now, as I understand it, there are two broad schools of thought when it comes to parenting. At one end of the spectrum is the “attachment parenting” method which is essentially doing whatever it takes to please your baby. They are considered too young to develop manipulative behaviour (up to a certain point, which I believe is somewhere between 3-6 months) and you should do whatever you can to make them feel loved, safe and comfortable at all times, even if it means getting no sleep or rest yourself.

At the other end is the “cry to sleep” method, which is directed at making the lives of parents easier. As I understand it, parents who follow this philosophy believe children should adapt to the parents’ schedules, not the other way around. This means if it should be their bed time then you just put them down in bed and close the door, no matter how much they may be screeching their heads off. Soon enough, they will learn to sleep at the allotted time and you’ll be able to get your rest too.

There are parents who swear by one method and believe the other is complete rubbish. There are supposedly studies that support both sides. I don’t intend to get into a debate over.

Hall’s method of teaching your kids to “self settle” lies somewhere in between. It is based on the generally accepted notion that children are generally easier to look after if they are trained to have set routines. She doesn’t advocate allowing children to cry themselves to sleep, which she believes is harmful – but at the same time she allows an infinite amount of what she calls “protest crying” — that is, crying which is unrelated to the baby’s needs, such as hunger or a wet nappy. By distinguishing your baby’s cries, you should be able to ignore the protest cries, which will eventually cease if you let them do it for long enough. Eventually, the baby will learn how to self settle, which means falling asleep (or at least not cry) when they are left in their beds during the allotted times in the schedule. Soon enough, your baby will learn how to “re-settle”, which means not crying and learning how to fall asleep again when they wake up in the middle of their allotted sleep slot, and most importantly, in the middle of the night (which is bound to happen). Baby happy, parents happy.

The principle of separating the wants and needs of a baby seems to be sound. If you keep giving them whatever they want, chances are they’ll come to expect it and get used to it. By servicing only their fundamental needs, you are teaching them that they won’t always get what they want just by crying.

However, as always, it’s easier said than done. For starters, not all parents can listen to their babies cry, sometimes for potentially an hour or more, especially when it sounds like they are being tortured. Some babies might settle into it after a few days, but others might take weeks, or more. Hall stresses the importance of toughing it out in the beginning — then longer you wait before you go back into the room the quicker they will supposedly learn. It’s important to realise that the book is a guide, not a miracle cure, and it will take a lot of hard work before you see results, and might take some more effort maintaining it in the long run.

The other key part of the book is the routines. Hall provides detailed daily routines from newborns until they start taking solids, which she believes is 4.5 months as opposed to the generally recommended 6. The great thing about these routines is that they let you know exactly what you must do at every hour of the day — ie, when you should be feeding and when the baby should be sleeping. She provides two sets of routines, one for breastfed babies and one for bottle fed babies. Bottle feeding by formula and expressed milk are presumably the same.

The downside of the schedules is the inflexibility. They all start at 7 in the morning and roughly end at 7 at night, though for younger babies you still have to give them a “dream feed” (ie, feeding them while they are half asleep) around 10pm and then subsequent night feeds as they require throughout the night. It is only when the baby can go without feeds for longer periods of time that the routine will really make your life a lot easier.

So that presents a big problem for a lot of parents. If one parent leaves early for work and doesn’t get home until around 7, then he or she basically won’t have any time to spend with the baby. If parents like to sleep late and wake up late, that’s also a problem, especially since it is a daily routine, including weekends. But I guess you need to make sacrifices somewhere.

My biggest problem with the book is learning the difference between a distressed cry, which Hall says you should attend to immediately, and a protest cry, which you can leave alone. She provides some broad guidelines on how to tell the difference between the two, but to be honest neither my wife nor I could figure it out on most occasions. It creates a dilemma — should I go to the baby or not? What if he is just protesting and I end up screwing the plan up? Or what if he is genuinely distressed and I allow him to cry for ages unnecessarily?

To Hall’s credit, she does provide a lot of valuable information and has a FAQ at the end of each chapter, but as expected, it’s impossible to cover every question a parent might come up with. She tries her best to cover all areas, such as parents with twins (or more) and babies with disabilities. There is also a lengthy section on solving common sleep problems, which includes teaching parents how to make slight modifications to the routines. There is also a chapter on special situations, such as times when you want to go out for dinner (god forbid) or have guests over. But we still had a lot of unanswered questions. The solution is to find someone whom has used the book before or go on her online forum (but I believe you need to pay for it). I’m sure there are other free forums where parents discuss their experiences with the book but you’ll have to look for them yourself.

One issue I had was with this whole deal of resettling the baby once they wake up after the first sleep cycle, something which I did not feel was dealt with very clearly. The book says that the first thing is to teach the baby to self settle, and once that happens they will soon learn how to resettle. But I felt like there was a gap there that wasn’t really explained properly. Hall recommends picking the baby up as soon as they start crying upon waking up, but doesn’t that rob them of the chance to learn how to resettle? And then she recommends trying to put them back to sleep until the next part of the routine (which is likely a feed and some awake time), but if the baby doesn’t fall asleep before then then doesn’t that mean they’ve hardly slept at all? We kept having this problem where it would be virtually impossible to wake the baby up during their supposed awake time and virtually impossible to put them to sleep during their supposed sleep time, to the extent where parts of the routine started eating into one another. It could be unique to us, but I am willing to bet it’s quite common.

Accordingly, I am not going to review the book on the basis of it’s efficacy, because clearly different families will have different results. I have heard some parents swear by it while others say they wish they tore it up right from the beginning. My score is hence based on how well the book operates as a guide, in particular in terms of its completeness of information and flexibility. In that regard, I have to say the book did quite well, although I wished it had more flexibility and spent more time on some of the more complex issues.

3.5 out of 5!

PS: for those wondering, we are no longer using the routines in the book for various reasons, but this does not mean I don’t think it doesn’t work. As a friend of mine told me, a lot of parenting is instinctive, and some aspects of it just didn’t feel right to us. That said, we have not ruled out returning to it at some point in the future, depending on how things develop and whether we feel the baby is up for it.

I want my sleep back!

March 13, 2012 in Best Of, Fantasy, Novel, On Writing, Parenting

It’s amazing how little sleep you can function on when you have no choice.

As a new father, I’ve repeatedly astounded myself by sleeping less than I’ve ever slept in my life, even worse than when I was working my tail off as a lawyer. The problem is not just the lack of sleep — it’s the continuous breaks in the sleep when you actually do get the chance for some shut-eye that really kills you.

I used to be a relatively deep sleeper, but now I wake up over the sound of a pube hitting the ground. You can’t sleep when the baby is crying or making noises, and you can’t sleep well when they are completely silent because you wonder if something has gone horribly wrong.  It’s f&%ed.

That said, I am getting used to it. Kind of. I had my first five-hour sleeping spree last night in months, followed by an uninterrupted two-hour nap. I am hoping my little boy has finally turned a corner (I probably just jinxed myself there), but I’ll have to wait and see tonight if it’s just a once off miracle.

I long for the day I can get a full night’s sleep again.  I hear maybe from six months onwards, babies will be able to sleep through the night.  Looking back, I deeply regret the times I took sleep for granted.  Ahh…sweet, sweet, beautiful sleep. How I miss thee!

Life has slowly entered a routine around here. Well, kind of.  I go work in the morning, stay there for nine hours, come home, have dinner, try and finish off my freelance work, maybe watch some TV or a movie, play some Words With Friends or Scramble With Friends, exercise a little, feed the little one and put him to sleep, before I collapse in exhaustion myself.

Not that I’m complaining. Despite the general exhaustion and sleep deprivation I have never been happier.  It’s such a wonderful thing watching my little boy grow everyday — he has already doubled his birth weight and has gone from a skinny alien into a fatty with a couple of chins.  I love watching his big wandering eyes, seemingly curious at every little thing in this new world around him.  I love how he cracks a little smile when I steal a kiss on his chubby cheeks.  I love the look of satisfaction on his face when he finally gets that hard-fought burp, fart or poop out.  I even adore (love is too strong a word) the way he sobs and cries.

In fact, it’s one of the rare, perhaps unprecedented times in my life where I actually know how special things are right now.

The best part about my current situation that I no longer hate my job.  I wouldn’t say the work, working conditions are pay are ideal, but it feels good not waking up to a tsunami of overwhelming dread every morning just because you have to go to work.  Amazingly, I enjoy what I do and almost look forward to it.

It’s only been a month, so I probably just jinxed myself again, but it’s been the first time I’ve ever actually thought about work outside of work hours because I want to, and not out of fear. I want to write good articles and I want to come up with better ways to write and improve my writing. I also enjoy reading my articles after they’ve been published, particular so I can see the changes our copywriters have made so I can learn to be a better writer.

The working hours are good, the work itself is varied and most of the time it’s interesting. Occasionally I still get the dud article but I take it on the chin and think of it as a learning opportunity. On the downside I thought I’d have a lot more spare time during work hours to do other stuff, such as doing my own writing.  But not only does it feel wrong, I actually don’t have that much time — maybe five minutes or ten minutes here or there, which is never enough to get into the writing mood.

Right now the only thing preventing me from getting back on the novel-writing wagon is this freelance job I’ve been doing. After three months of crawling through this turd, I can finally say I am in the home stretch.  I’m just about in the colon.  My guess is one or two more weeks, and then I’m done.  It’s a good thing to have on my CV, being able to say I edited an entire book and all, but it’s just too hard and the pay is too low.  Besides, I’d much rather work on my novels again.  I’ve been in touch with my friend back in Oz and maybe we will get my masters project back on track.  I still believe it has potential.

As for my fantasy novel, I’ve been dreaming about it a lot lately. I guess it’s always like that — the scenes are written in your head much easier than they are written on the page.  Having kind of ‘figured it out’ at last, I know I’ll have to rewrite most of the damn thing, but I look forward to the challenge. Thanks to Game of Thones for getting me back into fantasy.

That’s the life update. I have about 40 posts in wait, and I promise I’ll eventually get to them. The only problem is that new post ideas are popping up quicker than I am writing them. Oh well, it’s time for the night feed. Sweet dreams (fingers crossed).

My nap made me more tired!

January 26, 2011 in Blogging

Source: ImageShack

I am an avid fan of the afternoon power nap, even though I have not had one for ages because of work and when I haven’t been working, because time is too valuable to waste.  Besides, I tend to get enough sleep at night anyway (around 8 hours) so I don’t usually feel tired in the afternoon.

Yesterday I had my first afternoon nap in years while watching the Australian Open — a match between a Danish woman and an Italian guy — and fell asleep as the match reached the end of the first set.  I woke up midway through the third set, probably about an hour later, expecting to feel refreshed and energised for the night ahead.  But no, I was groggy and exhausted!

It literally took me a few minutes of staring passionlessly into nothingness before I managed to compose myself as I had to drive out.  I felt a little better after dinner but when I got back home I was ready to collapse into bed.  And I did.

So how is it that my afternoon nap had the opposite effect of what I expected?  How could more sleep make me more tired?

Anyway, I did some quick research, and as it turns out, I didn’t really have a ‘nap’.  I had a ‘sleep’.  According to this article, there are seveal stages of sleep — stage 1 is just drifting off, stage 2 is brain activity slowing, and stages 3 and 4 run into deep sleep.  An afternoon nap ought not to take more than 30 minutes, or else you risk falling into stages 3 and 4, which is what must have happened to me.

Looks like the next time I would like to take a nap I should set an alarm.

Talk about a post about nothing.