Like physics

On Wednesday night Caroline and I said goodnight to Jay and closed his door, at which point he commenced to talk to himself and loll about in his crib for more than an hour.  Last night was a different story: I closed his door and when I came back upstairs ten minutes later, he was asleep.

The source of the difference was obvious: On Wednesday Jay took a nap, on Thursday he didn’t.  And this pattern holds unerringly.  If he naps for an hour in the afternoon it takes him an hour longer to fall asleep at night.  If he doesn’t nap in the afternoon you can count on him falling asleep almost immediately at night.

What’s interesting about this, I think, is how perfectly correlated Jay’s ability to fall asleep is with his level of fatigue.  If you take away an hour of sleep over here, he makes it up over there, almost like shifting weights on a balance.  And if he’s not tired, there’s no way he’s falling asleep.

This hasn’t always been the case.  When Jay was first born I remember thinking like many new parents probably do: If he’s tired, he’ll fall asleep.  I quickly learned, of course, that this wasn’t true.  All sorts of factors interfere with an infant’s ability to fulfill the basic urge to sleep.  The main source of interference is that they don’t know how to relax themselves enough to let sleep take over.  They have to learn how to do that.

Even as recently as a few months ago Jay’s actions were still not perfectly attuned to his level of fatigue.  There were many afternoons when he clearly needed a nap but his busybody antics made it impossible for him to get into position to sleep.  He’d lie down on the bed, rub his eyes, then start fiddling with the zipper on the pillowcase, and before he knew it, he was sitting up and looking for something else to play with.  His body wanted to sleep, but his mind wouldn’t obey.

Recently, though, the gap between what his body wants and what his mind allows has closed.  Now, when he doesn’t take a nap I’m pretty sure it’s because he’s just not tired.  And some afternoons, he’ll play for an hour and then, when he realizes he is tired, he’ll go lie down on the couch and fall asleep.  Recently he’s become noticeably more aware of the state of his own body—when he’s tired, or hungry, or thirsty, or cold—and he’s learning how take appropriate actions based on that awareness.  Developmentally, I think this is where he’s made the biggest leap in the last few months.

I had time to think about all this last night because, unlike Jay, I did not fall asleep quickly.  When Caroline and I turned out the lights at 11pm I was plenty tired, just as I am at the end of most days.  But as soon as I lay down my mind started to race with images from the day and half-formed anxieties about the future.  After thirty minutes of failing to fall asleep I started to feel like a feeble newborn, unable to give myself the one thing I wanted most.  I pictured Jay, sleeping easy in the room next door, and I thought: Enjoy it while it lasts.

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