First of all, thanks for all of the comments. (I get most of my comments via email, fb, talking in person, or phone calls, actually.) It's nice to know others are going or have gone through similar things. Not that I want others to feel our pain, but there's definitely something about knowing you're not alone! I think many parents deal with problems with their children sleeping - they just don't all talk about it so much, whether because they don't want to admit they don't have it all under control or they don't want to be pressured into handling it in a way they aren't comfortable, or for whatever reasons. I know there are more of us sleep-deprived parents out there! ;)
Secondly...we kind of have a plan. It's kind of what we already started doing with a little added to it. We have been trying to just get up when Aiden gets up. After MONTHS of trying to get him to sleep past 5am, WE'RE exhausted, so we're trying to get to bed earlier. Sometimes you have to stop and take care of yourselves first, so that's what we're doing. Before we can put much more energy into working with Aiden at 5am or earlier, WE need to get some more rest.
But Aiden still needs more sleep. While it wasn't our preferred thing to do, we have gone back to giving Aiden two naps a day. This is not preferred for many reasons... We'll have to miss out on our weekly commitments (playdates and Bible study) for a while b/c a morning nap will take place at those times. Running errands is harder when you only have around lunchtime free, too. And at some point, we will have to transition once again to one nap instead of two. Also, Aiden nurses before the afternoon nap, but I'm not going to add back in another nursing before a morning nap. He's not liked that, but it's how it is.
The first day of two naps didn't go so well, so I wasn't too encouraged. He took two one-hour naps and woke up QUITE grumpy from the second one, clearly tired but refusing to go back to sleep. When we go for the first nap, I try to read to Aiden, but he gets so mad that I'm not nursing him, I end up just putting him in bed. BUT once I tuck him in and leave the room...he stops fussing. So, I don't feel so bad about him getting upset and missing the story. He's only mad while I'm right there!
Second day of two naps... He took two 1h45m long naps! That's a total of three and a half hours of sleep. When he takes one nap, he only sleeps about two hours. Now, we would rather him sleep that extra hour and a half in the morning before getting up for the day, but right now...we're just happy he's getting it period! Hopefully we can gradually get him to sleep longer and cut out that morning nap. But let's not get too ahead of ourselves just yet.
So, these long naps have happened over the past few days. And even though he's been sleeping until dinner time in the afternoons, he's not going to bed much later at all! Maybe 15 minutes later... And he's going right to sleep, often quicker than he usually falls asleep. Clearly he needs this extra rest! I've been really surprised at how easily he goes to sleep, as he doesn't even seem to be tired when I put him down for his morning nap! He'll be playing happily, acting like sleep is the last thing he needs. Yet it's obviously not.
Mornings... Well, one morning, he thought he would start waking at 3:30. I ended up going into him instead of Ryan. Why? Won't he just want to nurse? Well, of course! BUT I'm better about getting him tucked in and quickly leaving, even if he's fussing. Ryan wants him to calm down first and keep the blankets on. I've dealt with Aiden and sleeping more than Ryan has, so I'm a bit better at knowing when I can get out versus when I'm really needing to stay in longer. Not that Ryan doesn't try! He REALLY does, and I love that about him. So, I went in. Aiden screamed when I wouldn't get him out to nurse. I tucked him in, explained that he needed to go to sleep until the sun was shining, and I left. Before I was through my bedroom door, he had stopped crying. (This normally doesn't happen in the mornings...I wonder if that extra sleep during naptime has helped...) From this point until 5:30, he would wake like this and then sleep for 20 or so minutes, wake again, sleep again, with me going in whenever he woke. Why don't I just leave him alone when he wakes? Because I know my son. You don't go check on him, and he wakes up even more. That's the opposite of what we want.
This morning, he woke before 5, I went in, he went back to sleep until 5:30 and was then up for the day. See it however you want, I choose to see this as progress. :) I only needed to go to him once. And he went back to sleep for a bit and for a longer stretch than he did the other mornings. And he woke later than he did the other mornings.
Ryan and I have been managing to get into bed by around 10pm the past few nights, as well. I noticed the last two nights that by 10, I was feeling like it was well after 11. Maybe our bodies are adjusting to going to sleep a bit earlier, who knows. Hopefully we can keep this up, because WE certainly need the extra sleep. Another plus is that...if we continue to wake early (yet still get to bed early and get more sleep), Ryan might try to start working earlier...which means coming home earlier and actually having more time all together! That would be so wonderful because now, we eat the moment he walks in the door. As soon as dinner is over, he literally picks Aiden up from the high chair and takes him straight up to give him a bath! Then we get Aiden in bed. Not much time with Daddy... So, if this works out, we might even have more time as a family in the evenings. Silver lining.
I feel like we at least have a better grasp on what we are doing now.
We have gotten some suggestions from others. One friend also had to go back to two naps. It's always encouraging to know someone else who also had to back-track a bit. Some have recommended room-darkening blinds/curtains. We were all ready to get some, and when I was in Aiden's room multiple times the other morning, I actually paid attention and noticed it was still rather dark, as in very dark. Some have simply been sympathetic about it because they've been through something similar or just know they couldn't function on such little sleep. Some have mentioned letting him cry it out. Well, that's a long story, and there are many reasons we aren't doing that.
For one thing, (and I hate to even admit this) I tried it before and it totally backfired, causing Aiden to be extremely cling and fearful of me even getting him near his bed. I only let him cry for naptime for two days. It took much longer than two days to undo (more than a week even and that was with quite a bit of work and reassurance on my part), and I won't do it again. I only did it because I was at the end of my rope at the time, not knowing what else to do, as we had (thought we had) exhausted all other methods. Also, it's not that Aiden won't go to sleep on his own. He does. Every night and every naptime. We've always taught him to do that...sometimes he did better and he went through phases where he wouldn't do it. We never were ones to nurse/rock/sing him to sleep. It didn't help that he would fall asleep within minutes of starting to nurse. Even in the hospital, we would work at keeping him awake to get the full meal. A nurse snapped at me that he was too cold when she saw that we had left him in only a diaper while nursing. When my mother and I snapped back that he wouldn't stay awake to nurse, she politely backed off. Point is, we tried very hard not to let him nurse to sleep from day one, but it was a lot of work! So, this child who wonderfully puts himself to sleep will still have a hard time going back to sleep if he does wake. One of my friends said she thinks that is what makes his case a bit different b/c most babies that can put themselves TO sleep can typically put themselves back to sleep if they wake too early. Who knows why he's so different... But I'm not sure how letting him cry will teach him to go BACK to sleep. If he wakes and is left to cry, he only wakes up more! That just doesn't make a lot of sense to me.
I will say that Aiden will be allowed to fuss when going to sleep or back to sleep. Now...I differentiate between letting him fuss some and letting him CIO (cry it out). Fussing is a bit of crying but it's when he's whining some b/c he's not happy with what we're doing. When it gets to the point he is actually crying - that means he needs something or is scared or hurt. I won't let him get to that point without checking on him. I think there are many reasons not to let a child stay in that emotional state. It's not healthy for various reasons. It's not that I'm fearful he will remember being left to cry and will hate me for it one day. Ha. No. It has more to do with how being that upset can affect his stress hormones and his health. There's a lot of research on it out there. Also...the real CIO plan is not about leaving your child to cry until they fall asleep! The real CIO only intends for parents to leave their child to cry for a small amount of time before checking in on them at certain intervals. They're not meant to leave the child for hours, crying. And I won't do that. I think some people hear CIO and just assume you're supposed to just leave them to cry until they give up, but that's not the case.
Seriously...I could go on and on about this, but I won't. It's a whole other topic, and I don't want to turn Aiden's sleep stuff into a debate on whether or not to let a child cry it out (so please, don't go there). I know parents that have done it, and I know people that won't. To each his own, and I will not judge another parent for doing what they feel is comfortable. But I don't need to hear any more suggestions to just let him cry. We've tried to do that, anyway, and it does NOT work with Aiden...it does quite the opposite, and I won't go that route with him. He does fuss some, and we know at which point to step in. His sleep issues are not the result of us not letting him cry for hours. He actually sleeps rather well! He just wakes up an hour or so earlier than he needs.
Back to the main issue.... *Sigh* So easy to get off topic. Anyway, he's taking his second nap of the day now. I've noticed with each day of two naps, he goes to sleep quicker and quicker, indicating this is just what he needs. I've also noticed that he has woken some during his naps and put himself back to sleep! Even once or twice he's stirred in the middle of the night, and he went right back to sleep on his own. This is real improvement for him! And all we've done is made sure he got an extra nap! Instead of feeling guilty that we haven't been doing this, I am just happy we are doing it now. I know this means we'll miss out on our weekly activities - my time with other mommy friends, his time with his little buddies. But the fact is, his sleep is our top priority at the moment. It affects too many aspects of his health, brain development, and mood to put other *wants* above it. Hopefully it won't take too long, and we'll be back on track with our other activities soon, though. I know we're going to miss them! Meanwhile, I'm enjoying the fact that my child is sleeping and am hopeful that this will help.