Wednesday, April 25, 2012

To Bedtime, To Not Bedtime

 I have had a few conversations lately with friends of mine who don't have set bed times for their children, and have been, not unkindly, poking fun at us for insisting that we have George home and ready for bed at a certain hour. I just thought I'd quickly share an on going experience we are having that has riveted us to having a bed time for our little Bun.

We just moved across state borders, which was both hectic and fun. In CA our 1 year old had weened himself to one nap a day. For the life of me I just couldn't get him to take another one until about 4:30 or 5, which meant, for him, he wouldn't go back to sleep until about 11. He just has a lot of energy I guess! With one nap a day that put him going to bed at 6 or 6:30. He loved it, and we loved it. (Let's be honest, though it wasn't our reason for letting him go to bed that early, it was SO nice to have time together as a couple.)

People have often lamented our social life -- we don't go out a lot because we're at home with a sleeping babe. It hasn't really bothered us that much to be honest, and here is why. We moved the weekend of the day light savings time change, and also changed a times zone. We effectively lost two hours. I'll review our last months sleep schedule for you: George's waking time varied from 5-7:30, he took sporadic and short naps (20-30 minutes, not nearly long enough for him), he wouldn't fall asleep at night, despite his lack of daytime sleep, until about 9:30-10:30 on average, and sometimes as late as midnight.

My son went from being a bright and happy toddler to being a cranky mess. Morale was low in our house. George just does not have the emotional and mental energy he needs to thrive when he doesn't have enough sleep. Keeping up my social life wouldn't really mean that much to me if it meant skimping on his sleep hours because I'd be too exhausted from his crankiness to really enjoy being places with friends, not to mention having him all cranky while we are with friends sort of defeats the purpose for me as well. Life is much better in our household when he gets a long nap in the day, and then goes to bed at his earlier hour of choosing.

For the science behind it, a baby needs much more sleep than an adult, most needing 14-16 hours, or more depending on the age and individual child, including their daytime sleep (see The No Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley for a great discussion on the science behind baby sleep patterns). As we have been experiencing, a child who is sleep deprived will have a harder time getting the amount, and quality of sleep their growing minds and bodies need. Consider all of the development small children are going through, and it just seems to makes sense.

Two nights ago, for the first times since we've moved, George had a good nights sleep, and a fantastic nap in the day time. I am hooked! He was so much happier than he has been in a long long time, and that makes me so much happier. He even sat and sang to himself in his car seat when we had a lot of driving to do that day -- he hates his car seat, so that was a miracle! In our house a well rested child means a happier and less stressful day for the entire family.

What are your thoughts on your child's/children's sleep patterns?


  1. Thanks for posting this Melissa! I have been wanting to send a sleep query out to all of you, because I want to do what is best for Peter and for mama/daddy. And everyone tells us something different!

    Yesterday my doctor recommended we look into "On Becoming Baby Wise." He said it was a miracle solution for his family, and that all his babies were sleeping through the night at 6 weeks.

    Peter still wakes twice in the night to eat --- around 1:00-2:00 and around 5:00-6:00. He takes 3-4 good naps every day. I haven't really been in touch with the literature out there, so I don't know if this is typical, but I figure it's what he needs. The doctor recommended letting him cry it out when I put him to bed -- so long as I know all his other needs are met -- because after one or two nights of this he'll start putting himself to sleep. He also said I should stop nursing him at night, because by now (regardless of his size) he should be able to sleep through the night. Again, this would mean putting up with some tears for a few days.

    But I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be able to bear hearing him cry longer than 2 minutes.

    So, bringing this back to Melissa's question, I'm certain that keeping a good sleep schedule is the happiest road for both parents and baby (at least in this family). But how do you get a baby to stick to a schedule humanely?

    1. Meredith, there are so many opinions on this because really every family situation is unique and what works for one will not work for another! Some people find that co-sleeping is the way to go and others swear by letting them cry it out, but it really comes down to what works for you and what you feel comfortable with. How is that for a straight-forward answer to the sleep problem? :)

      For me a good sleep schedule is crucial, I just can't function and be the best mom I can be if I am going about my day feeling like a zombie. I actually did use some elements of "Baby Wise" as we started getting into a sleep routine (I say routine because for me a routine is more baby driven and a schedule is more parent driven and for me personally a routine is what works best). The routine that I used from "Baby Wise" was keeping our day in a predictable order - which was, baby sleeps, baby eats, baby has wake time, and then repeat. As far as what time of day and how often those things occurred, I let Jackson decide that, I just made sure that I kept them in that order. Pretty soon we fell into a pretty natural rhythm for our days (and nights). I think you are right on the money when you say you figure that is what Peter needs when he is taking 3-4 naps a day. Babies know their needs and will meet them (with your help) pretty well on their own. Some like a lot of sleep and others not as much, there really is no "one size fits all". I think Jackson was taking about that many naps at that age too. At 2 years old he now sleeps from 8:00-8:00 and takes one 2 hour nap every day - he loves his sleep :)

      Jackson wasn't sleeping through the night (8+ hrs.) until about 3 months, which he started doing on his own. I personally think that 6 weeks sounds a little early, but I have heard of babies that do sleep through the night that early. If they are doing it on their own then I would rejoice, but I also wouldn't force it that early, that is just me.

      I would say read "Baby Wise" if you want to and just taking what you like from it. There is a lot of stuff in there that wasn't for me and that I would guess you may also not agree with. I too have a really hard time with letting my baby just cry it out, which is a big part of their philosophy. However, I found that for the most part this wasn't an issue once Jackson fell into a good routine. For me what worked well was going in to comfort him, without picking him up if possible, and then when he was calm stepping out again so he could learn to fall asleep on his own. But again you have to remember that every baby/mommy(and daddy) relationship is different and you really do have to find what works for your family and that you feel comfortable doing.

      Hope that helps :)

    2. Someone gave me Babywise at a baby shower, and I picked it up in desperation when Sammy was about 2 1/2 months. The best advice from the book is what Lara said, the sleep-eat-playtime routine (though he recommends keeping a strict 3-hour schedule). I felt hugely empowered just by making that one change.

      That being said, I am not an advocate of much of the advice in Babywise (neither are many medical and childcare professionals out there). I find it counterintuitive. We can talk about that another time if you like. The approach has proven successful for some friends of mine, but not without due misery for both parent and child. I am surprised to hear pediatricians still recommending it. I suppose most of it's appeal stems from how quick the change is supposed to take place. That's the world we live in, I guess.

      I don't know that I would agree that Peter's old enough to sleep through the night without eating. He's really not waking that much, and he's still such a little guy. I believe many doctors say at least 12 lbs...

      Neither of my boys have been natural sleepers. The approach that really helped us with Sammy was Tracy Hogg's Baby Whisperer. She falls between the baby-centered and parent-centered childrearing ideas. She advocates respect for both baby and parent and has effective ideas for helping baby learning to sleep. Though I don't agree 100% with her philosophy, her approach rang true to me. I have two of her books "Secrets of the Baby Whisperer" and "The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems." You can get them for $1 each at abebooks. I'd start with the first one and go from there (second contains more troubleshooting). In the meantime, you can check out Incidentally, Hogg recommends a similar routine as Ezzo (Babywise author), but without the time restraint. She calls it EASY: Eat, Activity, Sleep, You.

      Follow your heart on this one. The moms I know who've used a cry-it-out approach seem to have "Type A" personalities and crave the results for the well-being of home life. That's what we all want, but if you can take more time, for baby's sake, please do. Whatever you do consistently is what the child will learn. But the longer you wait, the longer it will take him to change.

    3. I agree with what has been said by both Laura and Nonie. Most especially with following your heart. I loved The Baby Whisperer book with George, it made reading his cues much easier, and he quickly became a good sleeper. (He was a born good sleeper, really. I'm very passionate about napping, though, because a week of poor napping while traveling really did unravel things in a way that was hard to recover from.)

      And I agree, I don't know if I would think Peter was big enough to expect him to sleep through the night. George was really a natural sleeper from the start. I don't remember at what age he started doing this, but he started sleeping straight through until 4-4:30am. I was on track to wean him from this feeding actually. He was a big baby and ate very well during the day, so from what I'd read and discussed with others, he didn't need that feeding. I noticed though, for George, his stomach was growling by that time, and I didn't feel right not letting him eat when he was obviously hungry. I didn't mind one waking a night -- for me, that was doable, and felt better to my mind and heart.

      You'll make good choices for Peter, Meredith. You are very intuitive, and you educate yourself. That is a hallmark of a good parent, I think.

    4. That is what makes the most sense to me too. My pediatrician (who is a die-hard naturopath) mainly was advocating the sleep-eat-play schedule when he recommended the book. Though he did think Peter should be sleeping through the night now. But I payed close attention to Peter's behavior the last two nights and I KNow he was hungry each time he woke up.

      My main question is how you get your babies to sleep happily without feeding them to sleep? Although I know many good mothers who do nurse their little ones to sleep and love that time with them, I would like to shoot for the sleep-eat-play schedule (if only for future babysitters' sakes).

  2. Also Melissa, you look like an angel when you sleep. George and Joe are close seconds...

  3. Great post Melissa! I too am a big stickler on protecting nap time and bed time. If Jackson doesn't get his sleep our days can be very unpleasant :) A happy toddler and a happy mommy is definitely worth missing out on some social opportunities.

  4. I have enough to say about all this that it deserves its own post. For now, I will say: Bedtime, Bedtime, Early Bedtime! If babies go to bed late, they miss out on the best quality sleeptime, which means they can't be at their best, which probably means Mama isn't either. And if Mama ain't happy, well, we all know what then... It becomes a domino effect of household difficulty, just as you've outlined. And unfortunately, no amount of nutrition can counter the effects of ill sleep patterns.

    I'm with Lara: be a stickler about naps and bedtime. Don't give in to babies and toddlers who don't seem to want to sleep. They need it.

    I do recommend you find a good sitter so you and Joe can get out. Sitters (like babies) are very trainable. Be specific in your instructions, even have someone over to go through the motions with you one night. Despite what you might think, they can learn to put George to sleep, and he will get used to one or two of them. Some of my best sitters have been 13-15 years old. I also think it's invaluable for teenage girls (even boys) to learn to help children and earn some $$. And though an early bedtime seems to serve the same purpose, it's a breath of fresh air to get out alone.

    1. I can see how that verbiage might confuse people, but we've actually gotten a sitter and gone out several times. Mostly our life style just fits us perfectly, because Joe and I are both home-bodies. Even so, we have tried more than once to get a sitter since we've been here, and weren't able to find someone to sit at our place while George is sleeping. What is with teenagers having lives these days?! (Just kidding! :) There are a few people I was hoping for, but they have seemed uncomfortable with George when he cries, I hope no one would blame me for not wanting to leave him with someone who is uncomfortable with a crying babe.

      And good news, since we visited last George's sleeps have been infinitely better than they were. So grateful!!

    2. I'm glad to hear that. It seems like your friends were accusing you of not being able to do things with them because of George's bedtime. But a child's social time does not coincide with an adult's. I definitely agree that kids should be in bed in the early evening, so if adults want to get out, it seems natural that they would get sitters for their sleeping kids (your friends included). Kids socialize best during daylight hours.

      I'm sure you'll find the right sitter. Once you get to know more young couples, you might find some stellar recommendations. Then, of course, there are always aunts and cousins to draw from in that area, you luckies... :) Once George is in his happy routine again, I bet he'll also be more comfortable if you need to be away.

      So glad to hear things are starting to improve! I understand that moving in itself can be pretty hard on little ones.