Having worked with parents over the last ten years, I have gotten a lot of great questions about childhood development, health, and of course sleep. However, you can’t help but feel that sometimes parents hold back and aren’t willing to ask certain questions. They may fear judgement, or the answer itself!
Here are the three questions I feel parents are afraid to ask about sleep:
“I feel like I should know this, but what time should my child really be getting to sleep?”
Most parents are totally shocked by just how early their children should be getting to sleep. Depending on what part of the world you’re from, people have a very different attitude toward bedtime for kids. I have worked with families from India, Spain, and Russia who put their children to bed 9, 10, or even later. Some families stick to a really early time, like 6ish.
Even among family members, there can be debate. Your mom put you and your siblings to bed at one time, but your mother in law put her kids to bed an hour earlier. All these differing opinion can cause a lot of confusion! How are you supposed to know what to do?
Here’s the scientific answer:
Babies and children under 8 have a natural dip in their circadian rhythm right around 7pm. It’s only since the modern age (electricity) that parents have been putting their kids to bed later. Before the invention of the light bulb, kids went to bed when it got dark. Now, electricity keeps it “daytime” in our homes as long as we want it to!
At around 7pm, you might notice your child getting drowsy. Many parents don’t recognize these signs and get the kids to bed later. What happens? The kids start to become overtired, and when kids get tired, they become hyperactive. Try putting a hyperactive kid to bed — chances are that they will push it off even more if they can!
Get your child to bed as close to 7pm as possible. Their growing brains will thank you later 🙂
Am I a selfish parent if I want to get some sleep?
I think a lot of parents feel guilty that they would even consider making their own sleep a priority. Parents have been taught to believe that sleeplessness is just part of the job description. You’ve made the decision to raise a family, and “rough nights” are expected. Wanting anything else makes you a selfish parent, or some would want you to believe.
However, I am happy that you’re concerned about your sleep as well!
Well rested parents mean happy parents, and happy parents means happy kids. If you sleep well, you can be a more attentive and caring parent, not to mention a safer one. A parent who is sleep deprived and drowsy is not going to be on the ball. Sleep is vital for everyone’s health in the family. And if mom is getting the rest that she needs, and Dad is getting his 7-8 hours (I hope!) it means that the family is ready for whatever the next day brings.
Am I contributing to my child’s sleep issue? Is my child’s poor sleep my fault?
Here’s my frank answer: parents resort to drastic measures so that they can get their child to sleep as fast as possible, so that they can get to sleep. Sometimes, that means that babies and children learn that they only way they can fall asleep is being rocked, cradled, or bottle fed to sleep. Sometimes the tactics you are using as a parent to get your child to sleep are contributing to your child’s dependency on you to get some rest.
So yes, sometimes parents can contribute to the sleep issue.
Does that make you a bad parent? Absolutely not.
Parents are expected to know inherently what to do when their baby is fussy, crying, or not sleeping.
But how are parents magically supposed to know what to do?
Some things in parenting are instinctual, but a lot of things aren’t. And that is okay.
The day you become a parent, you are solely responsible for making sure that a new human being is fed, clean, and surviving! There’s no manual that goes along with it. There’s no “one way to cure it all” because every baby is different. What works for one, may not work for the other.
I am in no place to judge ANY parent for the decisions they have made around their child’s sleep. No one is in any place to judge a parent. But, I know that parents are facing challenges each and every day.
The good news is that if your child does have sleep problems, it’s just a matter of teaching your little one healthy, independent sleep habits. As long as you are consistent, it’s only a matter of time before your baby has figured our how to self-soothe and get back to sleep.
Sleep training is a matter of empowering and educating parents to help their own children.