I’m Only Sleeping…(I wish!)

I have learned in recent years that I need sleep to function as a halfway nice person. So I place a high priority on sleep around here. In fact, one reason I am usually so skinny is that when given the choice between sleeping or abating my hunger I am much more likely to choose sleep. I even tell people that the main reason I choose to homeschool is so I don’t have to get up early in the morning. I have also learned a few interesting things about kids and sleep in recent years:

1. Every child is different.

My oldest is the sort that was and is running (physically, mentally, and verbally) all day long. She would never sleep unless I was laying there with her until she was about 2 1/2. It didn’t matter how deep asleep she appeared to be, if I tried to leave the bed she would be awake within five minutes. Otherwise she could sleep through anything and would sleep for twelve hours straight at night. So I spent many nights reading books by night light while she slept. My second daughter has generally needed less sleep and has been an early riser.

The other difference is that my oldest would never go to sleep voluntarily, even now. She has always tried to negotiate “one more” snack, book, game, story, or show to put off going to bed. My middle one, though, has often told me from the time she could talk when she was ready to go to bed. And her routine has always been fairly simple: a few books, lights out, back scratch, and snuggle. We’ll have to see how #3 handles bedtime when she stops sleeping 20 hours a day.

2. Putting kids to bed is like space travel; there is a small window to achieve the best results.

This window of opportunity is the line between the child being tired enough to fall asleep and being so over-tired that they become hysterical. This window can close faster than you think. It can help to have a consistent bedtime (or routine-starting time), but you never know what unexpected activities or naps a day may bring making your child more tired or less tired when bedtime rolls around.

In the words of Mad-Eye Moody, what you have to have to navigate through this window is “Constant vigilance!!” You must pay attention to the signals your child may be sending. My oldest DD would get even more hyper than usual when she started getting tired (which I didn’t think was possible). My middle DD gets destructive (or lately I should say more destructive); when she is getting tired she is more likely to start hitting, throwing things, and intentionally making messes. So depending on whether she has had a nap or not, I always gauge if her bad behavior is just a result of disobedience or a need to sleep and act accordingly.

3. Just when you think you have a child’s sleep needs figured out, they will change.

I had a big reminder of this when DD#2 turned two. We had been rolling along with fairly consistent nap and bed times. Then suddenly, she stopped taking a daily nap. I would spend about two hours fighting with her every afternoon to have her only go to sleep about ever third day. And up to that point, she would drink a cup of milk and then either fall asleep on me at night or tell me that she was ready to go to bed and then go straight to sleep. Well, she started fighting me at night, too. So that’s when we started a new routine that included reading a few books and that settled her down.

Now, here I am with DD#3. Like I said, she is still mainly sleeping all the time. She wakes up to eat every few hours, but then usually drifts back off when she has her fill. She has about three longer awake periods. I try to encourage one of those to be just before everyone else’s bedtime. We pretty much stay upstairs all night long; we just get up every three hours or so to change her diaper. I know that over the next few weeks and months her sleep needs and patterns will change, and I will have to adjust and try to adjust her accordingly. Which brings me to…

4. There is only so much that you can adjust a child’s sleep habits.

This kind of goes back to item #1. Every child needs a different amount of sleep depending on their age and their individual body. Some kids are heavy sleepers and some are more sensitive to light and sound. Some kids are natural night owls and some are natural early birds, just like adults. Sometimes you can try to tweak a child’s schedule by shortening, lengthening, or removing naps or putting them to bed earlier or later or waking them earlier or later. Sometimes this will work and sometimes you will just end up with an extra tired and cranky child and a stressed out self.

On a side note, I often wonder how many schooled children are misdiagnosed with ADD and mis-labeled as having behavior and learning problems due to lack of good sleep. After extra activities and tons of homework, they get to bed late and then have to turn around and get up so early. Besides crankiness, lack of sleep can lead to lack of concentration and focus as well extreme hyperactivity or sluggishness. There’s a reason that sleep deprivation is used as a torture device. Just one more reason to homeschool in my opinion. My girls can sleep deprive themselves when they become parents, until then I’m going to do everything in my power to make them less aggravating.

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One Comment on “I’m Only Sleeping…(I wish!)”

  1. Laura Witten Says:

    You hit this one square on the head. DS and I have been going through what your #2 did when she hit age 2. I thought no child could be this difficult, but looks like you’ve got one just like him. 🙂 Nice to know I’m not alone in the daily nap & bedtime battle….I can’t imagine how bad it would be if we weren’t consistent!

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