All nighters aren't what they once were

“Most people have pulled an all-nighter — driving across country, cramming for a test, etc. So when you talk about sleep deprivation, most people will nod their heads and think they know what you’re talking about. But they don’t, I mean, not really,” explained Alexis Dubief, a mother of two boys. 

“When you have a baby, this little seven-pound love nugget is immediately the most important thing in the entire world,” she continued.

“You’re constantly obsessing — is everything OK? Is this normal? Am I doing a good job? Honestly, it’s exhausting!”

Dubief and her husband, Yves, moved to Essex Junction eight years ago from California when he was offered a position at the University of Vermont as a professor of mechanical engineering.

Before moving to Vermont and having their two boys — Duncan, 7, and Brice, 5 — Dubief used her technical writing and MS in finance degrees as a software product manager at a subsidiary of Apple computers.

“I was in charge of a cool little software product called Bento that enabled users to create simple database applications on a Mac,” she described. “It was pretty nifty, but sadly was taken off the market so I can no longer walk into a Mac store and say, ‘Look — I designed that!’ Although I can still point at my kids and say that, so …”

Dubief admits that being a stay-at-home-mom — or SAHM for short — is not her natural state.

“I am a terrible homemaker (ask anybody who has been to our home),” she said. Which is partly why she started her website, troublesometots.com.

“This website started out as a way for me to play with Wordpress, social media, SEO, etc. It was an engaging project for me to noodle on when the kids were napping.”

But sleep was elusive for the Dubief family in the early months of their sons’ lives. And that’s how topics on baby sleep and sleep deprivation became the focus of troublesometots.com.

Since she first started blogging in 2011, Dubief is now on target to reach over 1 billion page views this year. She’s also working on her first book “Precious Little Sleep,” slated to launch in summer 2015.

She recently elaborated on her experiences as a tech-loving SAHM who knows an awful lot about sleeplessness and babies.

 

Q: What is it like to be that extremely deprived of sleep?

A: Tired babies cry a lot. They’re fussy. Soothing a fussy baby is exhausting. Getting an overtired baby to fall asleep (much less stay asleep) is a huge challenge… You limp into bedtime ready for a well-deserved break, but your non-sleeping baby is going to continue their non-sleeping ways at night.

While it’s normal and expected for a newborn baby to need a lot of night care, people don’t always realize that this can continue for months or even years. We believe that sleep is this innate thing, like breathing, that children will simply just do but no, it’s a skill that needs to be developed.

If they don’t develop this skill, your newborn grows up into a (insert: 8-month-old, 1-year-old, 2-year-old) who is up every 1-2 hours all night long. The grandparents have gone home and the neighbors have stopped dropping off casseroles — there is no end in sight. You aren’t sure how you got here exactly and you are definitely not sure how and when things will get better.

The pit of sleep deprivation can be dark and deep. And unlike most of our previous experiences with sleep deprivation (à la studying for finals) it’s not a discrete event, it just goes on and on.

And sleep deprivation doesn’t just impact parents; kids who are waking frequently or taking short or nonexistent naps are more likely to be fussy, cry, have tantrums, get sick, etc. So making healthy sleep a focus for parents is not selfish, it’s critical to the well being of the whole family.

 

Q: Why did you start troublesometots.com?

A: I started blogging about kids and sleep because we had a terrible go of it (both of my little dudes had terrible reflux, which made our transition to parenthood unusually rocky) and I learned a ton through that process that I felt I could share with others. At heart I’m a researcher, so digging through baby sleep books and academic research is something I’m pretty comfortable with. Fundamentally, all I do is read a lot, ask many questions, and distill it down into basic ideas that I share online.

I never expected to have any readers. Now millions of people from all over the world visit my site every year. Honestly, it’s thrilling!

 

Q: Why did you want to write this book, “Precious Little Sleep”?

A: In the summer of 2013 a highly reputable book agent reached out to me and we started to go after a traditional publishing opportunity. For most authors this would be an amazing opportunity. I spent the summer researching “traditional publishing” and reached out to many authors (many of them New York Times bestsellers), read everything I could get my hands on, talked to my agent. Eventually I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t the right choice for me. It was too slow, too restrictive, and in many ways they weren’t really offering me anything.

The only reason I could get a traditional publishing contract was that I had a platform (my website) and they felt I could use it to market my book. I felt I could do the same thing, more quickly, on my own. Time will tell if this was a wise or foolish decision.

I still have an agent and she feels the traditional publishing opportunity that I turned down is still on the table. But after a successful Kickstarter campaign last summer, I’m 100 percent committed to the path I’m on.

I never believed I could or should write a book. Nor was I convinced the world needed another baby sleep book. One parenting author I came across wrote, “There are so many baby sleep books, they’re giving them out by the cord. Like firewood.”

So the whole thing really started when the agent called. Could I write a book? Should I write a book? Is this a terrible idea that will end in humiliation and disgrace?

Last September I started working on it, figuring I would see what happened. Admittedly it’s been a slow slog — I write when my youngest is at preschool (which is only a few hours, a few days a week). But it’s come together. I’ve shared it with others and gotten strong feedback. So I keep chugging away at it. And here we are.

 

Q: What’s left in the process before it is available to parents or parents-to-be?

A: I’ve written a 120,000 word manuscript and have gotten great feedback from a highly qualified manuscript editor. Now I’m working to improve the draft I have so that I can send it out to beta readers for more feedback. Does the book cover all the key points? Does it make sense? Is it funny enough? Can sleep-deprived parents find what they need? I’m also working with some local experts on nursing and child psychology to contribute great content, as well as an illustrator, copy editor, interior designer, and cover artist. This is definitely a collaborative project!

My initial goal was January 2015, but June is probably more realistic at this point.

 

Q: How many readers do you have on your website?

A: My site gets about 500,000 page views a month. About half are from the U.S. and the rest are from all over the place (Canada, UK, Australia, China, etc.). Honestly I don’t blog frequently (about 1-2 times a month) but I’m lucky in that my topic is “evergreen.” The posts I wrote last year are still useful to people having babies today. If some new piece of research comes out that impacts something I’ve written in the past, I would go update it to reflect the new knowledge but otherwise they hold up over time.

I also have a lively community of readers on Google+ and a fantastic Facebook group with over 2,500 members (this is separate from my Facebook page). I feel like these guys are my “inner circle,” who are amazingly kind and supportive to each other and also to me. Often blog posts topics come from these people, things they’re struggling with, or effective strategies that they’ve experimented with.

 

Q: Of all the advice you give to parents what is the most important thing?

A: There is nothing you can’t handle. Sometimes we start getting panicky, we lose faith in ourselves.

Don’t. You can and will figure out how to make things better for your whole family. You are infinitely capable of this. Come up with a plan and do it. And remember, there is nothing you can’t handle.

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