The Sleepy Hat
Since becoming a mother, there is a question I have has been asked so many times that it outweighs all other inquiries combined: “How is your baby’s sleep?” Knowing how it feels to be asked, I try to never ask this question. If I am honest with myself, though, I will recognize that when I ask parents of a brand new infant: “How is it going for you?”, what I really mean is “How much sleep are you getting?” I refrain from asking this question of anyone with a child over three months. In this case I practice restraint because the parents of an older baby already know what it means to be living on too little sleep. I never ask in order to follow up with advice. Rather, I want them to know they are not alone.
I believe that the reason for the universal question is that babies and small children are not meant to sleep in a way that an adult would consider well. As with every shared quality and each developmental milestone there is a huge spectrum of what can be considered normal. I do know of a few babies, with very fortunate parents, who can be placed in a crib wide awake. These parents confidently saunter off while the baby shuts his or her eyes, makes nary a peep, and effortlessly drifts off to sleepy time. My son lies far at the other end of the range. He could easily be labeled a Terrible Sleeper. While I know there is nothing pathological about his sleep habits, I have in fact been known to call him a Terrible Sleeper. I have no idea how many times I have said this about my little guy. At the same time I don’t get too hung up about his constant wakings and my resulting lack of sleep, because I am certain it will pass, that he will grow out of it. I know I will be nostalgic about the moments in the middle of the night when finally ready to move back into deep sleep, he flips onto his side with the expectation that I will spoon him, and then he gently reaches out to brush my face to make sure I am still there. No matter how fatigued I am, this is a moment so sweet that it never fails to affect a rush of love from my heart. Still, some day I would really love to sleep through the night.
This common question repeated numerous times becomes alarming, because it can be quite frightening to craft a response. When it comes to babies and children, sleep is a hot topic. Unfortunately, this subject frequently leads friends who dearly love each other to scald and burn one another and even to part ways forever in mutual anger, frustration, and resentment. One good friend made a confession to me when both of our children were not yet one year old. She admitted that although she knew when her daughter hit school age it would no longer matter which parents had let their babies cry it out and which parents had not, at this time in her life it was a deal breaker when making new friends. Differences of opinion in her family about nighttime parenting were also escalating tensions to unhealthy levels. I imagine that many parents, especially mothers, have experienced this first hand. I make a lot of effort not to let this contemporary debate sicken my treasured friendships. I am very candid with friends who agree with me and try to avoid the same conversations with those who I know, or merely suspect, do not concur. So strongly held are religious-like sleep beliefs that we will never change each others minds. Still, as much as I have tried to shield my relationships from differences of nighttime values, I have not always been successful. A couple of my friendships are unfortunately not as strong as I would like them to be. Hopefully, as my friend says, it will not matter much in a few years time and by then we will forget that it ever seemed such a huge deal. We will not even remember what we were talking about.
It is still important to us right now, though. I imagine that my own sleep philosophy encompasses a gentle approach. I also believe that all of my friends and acquaintances see their respective styles as gentle no matter how varied and far apart the methods might seem. Despite how we view and judge each other, we are all doing what we believe to be kindest and most appropriate for our children and for our families. It is okay that we disagree.
I nurse my son at night and at nap time, and most of the time he drifts easily into sleep. There are the nights that take two hours of lying down with him, but fortunately these are now the exception. My little boy’s greatest difficulty with sleep is staying that way. During the day he is aware of every small event happening around him. It amazes me. Nothing passes him by. He catches every word, every action. I admire this characteristic tremendously. It also has a shadow self. As alert as he is during the day, he continues to be at night while attempting deep sleep. Perhaps this somehow relates to the fact that he sleeps with his eyes open? I am not sure. I do know that when he was smaller, the turn of a page in a book or the click of the tab on my nursing bra would wake him instantly. These sounds might still do the same. I do not know because I wouldn’t dare try to find out! Instead I employ every technique I can think of to help him tune out the world around him and to turn off his senses so that he can enjoy his rest. I know he wants to sleep. My son has slept through the night twice since he was born. The second episode occurred recently, and he appeared almost as thrilled as I was to have experienced a full night’s sleep. He also declared, with a look of knowing, that it would never happen again. Oh well. I continue to hope.
To turn off the stimuli in my son’s nighttime world I use a couple of standard techniques. My little boy sleeps with a fan running to create white noise and block out sounds from the rest of the house. At the same time we attempt to keep the house ever so quiet. I have been told that surrounding a slumbering infant with noise will result in a child who can sleep through loud noises anywhere. When I became a mother I had every intention of putting this theory into action. We have lived in both a loft and in a very noisy apartment building. If ever a child were to learn to sleep deeply through a large clamor, it would be my son. This, however, never came to be.
Along with sound, my son has an extreme sensitivity to light. I have attempted to make his sleep environment as dark as possible. He sleeps with all the lights off and I have sewn special covers for his windows to keep out the glow that likes to slip in through the gaps in the blinds. This has still not been enough. Fortunately, I discovered at around the time my son turned one year that he sleeps longest into the night and during his nap when he is wearing a hat pulled down over his eyes. I call it his sleepy hat. He calls it chapeau.
An acquaintance narrated a story to me about some interactions she had with her doctor. Her GP lectured my friend severely about developing healthier sleep habits in her children. Her doctor admonished her, insinuating that it was my friend, the mother, who was to blame for her children being horrible sleepers. Not long after this conversation, the doctor had a baby. Soon, my acquaintance’s third baby was born. With a baby of her own, the doctor’s tone had changed. All the physician now had to say about infant sleep was: “Get them to sleep whatever way you can”. I suppose this is the purpose of the sleepy hat. Retiring the old chapeau and replacing it with a new handmade version today is another great attempt at getting my son to sleep whatever way I can.
If you have a child who is a perfect sleeper, the good news for you is that this quick-to-make hat can also be worn when awake!
How to Make a Sleepy Hat
1. Pick out a natural fiber jersey knit. You will need a width of at least 50 cm/20” and a length of 70 cm/27”.
I made my hat from repurposed t-shirts. As wonderful as it is to make new from old, I recommend using new fabric unless you are an experienced sewer. T-shirts are often made using a twisted grain. As well, the pattern and instructions I am providing are for a solid piece of fabric. Therefore, your finished hat will look a bit different than mine.
2. Pick out a secondary fabric if you want to make an appliqué.
3. Pre-wash and dry your fabric in hot water and dry on the high setting of your dryer.
4. Take a look at the pattern guide. The measurements are for a child with a head circumference of 49.5 cm/19 1/2″. Cut your width of fabric 2-3 cm/1″ shorter than the circumference of your child’s head.
My hat is 32 cm in length. I recommend this or around 2.5 cm/2″ shorter. Remember to place your pattern on the fold and that you will actually be cutting a length of 64 cm/25″.
You are cutting a 1 cm/5/8″ Seam Allowance. *This is where I made an error on the pattern!* Cut an extra 2 cm/5/8″ rather than the 1 cm/5/8″ I allowed for.
The “Fold Line” written in blue is a guideline for where you will fold the hat when it is complete.
I will explain how to cut out the points later in the instructions.
5. Cut out the fabric, other than the points, now.
6. After cutting the fabric, unfold the fabric.
7. If you are going to make an applique, do it now. I traced out stars onto a complimentary jersey fabric using a star from my son’s Tupperware shape sorter. I stitched the stars onto the hat using a machine stretch stitch. If you do not have a stretch stitch option, use a zig zag stitch. Sew your applique on to the right side of your fabric, more than 8cm/3 1/4″ down from the top edge of what will be the right side of your hat. (I actually used the wrong side of the hat fabric to be my right, finished, side). If you look at the pattern guide again, and review all the measurements, this will help you decide where to place your applique.
8. Place the right sides of your fabric together and sew your edge seam. You will have a long tube when you have finished sewing. Use a 1 cm/5/8″ seam allowance. I used a stretch stitch, but a regular straight stitch will work as well. Press the seams open using a pressing cloth.
9. Fold the fabric back in the same way it was when you cut it out. Wrong sides together. Press the fold into the fabric using a pressing cloth. Your tube will not be folded in half with all the seams hidden.
10. Measure down 7 cm/2 3/4″ down from the raw edge(s) and mark on both the inside and outside fabrics. This will be the depth of your points. Divide the circumference of the fabric into four equal sections and mark. Cut the points out as shown. (Your fabric will all be one color, unlike mine).
11. Pin the inside and outside fabrics together as shown, all the way around the points. Pins should be perpendicular to the edges of the fabric.
12. Machine Baste along pinned edges. A machine baste is a long stitch setting. You do not lock these stitches because they are not meant to be permanent.
13. Trim the inside fabric so that it perfectly matches the outside fabric.
14. Starting in the ‘valley’ of each point, pin two edges up to the point. Do this for all four points. When all four points are pinned up, it will look like you have one large point.
15. Again, beginning in a ‘valley’, sew up toward the point. I used a stretch stitch but this is not necessary. If you have a stretch stitch, though, do use it. Stitch up to each point in this way. You will probably have to remove the pins from other points while you sew the point you are on. While sewing you will naturally end up sewing the very tops of your points together. Your hat will now have only one point.
16. Turn inside out and you have your completed hat. Sweet Dreams!
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