Thursday, August 2, 2012

How Sleep Happens Without Bedtimes

Sometimes when I've said we "don't have bedtimes," people have imagined chaos until midnight or later until exhausted kids eventually crash.  I wanted to explain a bit of what we do at night.  We don't have set bedtimes, where kids are in bed at a certain time of night, no matter what.  We do support them, provide information, and create a sleepy environment.  To me, that is different from saying "8 o'clock is bedtime, lay down and sleep."

We have done different things at different times, depending on the ages of the kids, what shift D was working, the time of year, how much we need alone time, and what was working for their individual personalities at that time.

Most often, we have done a loose routine of dinner, clean up, play until they're looking/acting sleepy, put on a movie, and they fall asleep while watching it.

We have also done routines of dinner, clean up, play, read books/watch movie, then lay down in bed with them until they fall asleep.

If we need to go somewhere in the evening, my kids aren't phased by staying out late.  They will fall asleep at someone else's house or in the car. 

A few things I keep in mind:

1) The important thing is *sleep* not bed, and sleep can happen just about anywhere.

This is how they fell asleep the night I wrote this post.
2) It has to be working for the whole family.
If dad has to get up early for work, his sleep is more important than their noise.
If mom is an introvert and needs that alone time, that's important. It doesn't make sense for tired kids to be cranky while mom needs to be alone. BUT if the kids are actually night owls, then maybe mom needs to find a different time to be alone.  I get my alone time at different times- sometimes when D is home, I sneak away.  Sometimes during the day while they are busy playing.  Sometimes at night after they have gone to bed.  Sometimes in the morning before they wake up.

If a kid is usually ready for sleep at 8, there's nothing wrong with doing a bedtime routine that gets them to sleep in bed by 8. But if they are still jumping around at 8:30, you might want to rethink that. Don't be stuck on 8 just because that's typical for kids that age or what your mom did for you or simply because it's convenient.

3) Provide information.

"We need to get to bed early tonight, because we've got to get up early to go to the museum with grandma."
"Mommy and daddy really need to be alone for a little while tonight."

4) Support them and create a sleepy environment. Turn lights off, sound down, snuggle and stop talking. My 6 year old talks non-stop sometimes, and I have said, "I'm done talking now." When I have kids who are clearly tired, but still jumping around, I've said, "It's time to relax now. We can watch a movie, read books or go to bed, but we need to be still." Then I help that happen by snuggling, rubbing their backs, etc.

5) Sleep patterns change with age, season, and what is happening in our lives.  That's even true for many adults.  If you are the type of person who has had the same routine for 20 years, this might not make sense to you, but try to understand.  Sometimes I go to bed at 10 and get up at 6.  Usually I sleep more like 11 or 12 to 7 or 8.  Sometimes, I'm more of a night owl and sleep from 1 or 2 till 9 or 10.  Kid's sleep needs change as well.  Work *with* them, rather than insisting on the same thing every day. If a routine is working for everyone- great! If it stops working, do something else.

6) It's really important for them to learn to listen to their own body's signals for sleep.  This takes time and patience, but it is really cool when a 4 year old says, "Mom, I'm tired and need to go to bed."  If you've started out attachment parenting and letting your babies sleep when they are tired and wake when they are ready, it's easy to just continue this as they get older.

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