My Thoughts on Children’s Sleep Schedule

posted by Andrea | 04/21/2017
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It’s been just over a year now since we hired the sleep consultant to help us get James “on track” with his sleeping and napping.

At the time, James was about 8 months old and sleeping HORRIBLY. Not quite as bad as Nora was at his age, but I knew we needed help because I couldn’t deal with a sleepless child for 3 years ever again!

I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I hired the sleep consultant… and although James never actually slept ALL the way through the night until just a few months ago, I learned so much from the sleep consultant and applied that knowledge to Nora and Simon (as well as to James).

I’m happy to say that for about a year now, Dave and I have enjoyed HOURS of kid-free time every night, thanks to their amazing bedtime routine.

I’ve been asked countless times to share more about how we got our kids into such a great sleeping schedule… but even after thinking through it for several months, I’m honestly not sure there’s a simple 3-step, 5-step, or 8-step process I can share that will actually be helpful for other families.

In my opinion, so much of OUR routine and schedule is very specific to our family’s needs, our daily schedule, and our current stage of life. Our sleep schedule and bedtime routine won’t necessarily be practical (or even possible) for so many other families. Plus, what works for US at THIS exact point in our lives certainly won’t work for everyone else — so sharing specific dos and don’ts just doesn’t sit well with me.

That said, after dealing with 3 years of sleeplessness with Nora, a lot of trial-and-error with James, working with a sleep consultant, and now enjoying more sleep than I’ve had in a long long time, I definitely do have quite a bit to share regarding MY thoughts on children’s sleep schedules.

But first, let me share a bit more about OUR current sleep schedule. 

Our Kid’s Sleeping Schedule:

Currently (April, 2017), our kids all go to bed at 7:00pm without any fuss. In fact, there are many nights when Simon asks to go to bed by 6:30 already!

Unless they are sick or scared by a storm, they all sleep soundly, rarely ever waking up, until 6:30 or 7:00am.

Nora (5) never naps — although we do have her take a short “rest” on Sunday afternoons.

Simon (3) almost never naps — usually once a week he’ll tell me he wants to rest. If he falls asleep, I wake him up after 30-40 minutes so he still sleeps well at night.

James (21 months) takes a 2-hour nap pretty much every afternoon from roughly 1:00 – 3:00pm.

**NOTE: If you want to read more about our specific bedtime routine (baths, snacks, books, etc) I share that at the end of this post.

A Few Reasons This Schedule Works for OUR Family:

As I mentioned above, our routine and schedule is very specific to our family’s needs, our daily schedule, and our current stage of life — which is why it’s really difficult for me to feel confident giving actual advice about sleep schedules.

For example, doubt many families have both parents home by 3:30 every afternoon like we do. And I’m sure most of you think we are crazy for eating dinner at 4:30 or 4:45pm every night! However, these 2 factors are a HUGE reason why we can easily get our kids in bed by 7:oo every night (sometimes even earlier).

Also, our children are all very young and quite close in age (3 kids in 3.5 years). This means we don’t have soccer practices or choir concerts or church activities in the evening hours, so we can easily get everyone to bed early. And since they are close in age, they all need roughly the same amount of sleep.

And finally, Dave and I are both naturally very structured and prefer to be home as much as possible. It doesn’t bother us in the least to both be home for the bedtime process every night. It also comes very naturally for us to perform exactly the same bedtime routine and nightly schedule every single night.

Now… A Few Of MY Thoughts on Children’s Sleep Schedules:

1. Sleep Schedules for Newborns are totally OVER-RATED! 

In general, I think the amount of pressure put on parents to get their newborn babies into good sleeping routines is completely ridiculous. Yes, I fully understand the hell of unending sleepless nights, and I am thoroughly enjoying our current sleep schedule, BUT I also think that periods of sleeplessness are sort of a “given” when we make the decision to have children.

I’ve talked about the “4th Trimester” before… and I honestly think it is completely pointless to waste any amount of time, energy, or stress worrying about a newborn baby’s sleeping habits until at least 4 months old. If you have an angel baby (like Simon) who magically puts himself to sleep on his own by 3 months old, count your blessings. If not, just accept that your baby is like most other babies and needs time to learn how to sleep.

Give yourself those first 3 months as a grace period and try not to stress too much (even though I know it’s brutal when you’re awake all night long).

2. The Term “Sleeping Through The Night” Doesn’t Mean “Sleeping All Night Long”

You know all those parenting books that claim their advice and suggestions will have your child “sleeping through the night” by 6 weeks old? Well, did you also know that the definition of “sleeping through the night” simply means that your baby sleeps for a 6-8-hour stretch of time?

Big deal, they could easily sleep from 8pm – 2am (6 hours) and then be up for hours before going back to sleep for a few more hours. And yes, I realize this might sound heavenly to some of you right now… but the goal of most parents I know is to get their children to “sleep all night long” not for just 6-8 hours.

I have Facebook friends and acquaintances who love to brag about how quickly their kids “sleep through the night” — when they are really just considering a 6-hour stretch as sleeping through the night. So annoying.

If you are a frustrated parent wondering why the books and tips aren’t working to get your babies or toddlers to sleep all night long, my suggestion is honestly to stop reading the sleep specialist’s books. I’ve read many of them and I honestly can’t even think of one I’d publicly recommend on my blog.

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3. Realize that Sleeplessness Cannot and Will Not Last Forever

While the sleepless nights seem to drag on forever when we’re living through them, I think we do all realize (way in the back of our sleep-deprived minds) that our babies will learn to sleep eventually. Sometimes it’s by 4 months old, sometimes it’s not until 4 years old… but I promise, it will happen eventually.

When Nora was a baby, I forced myself to think “big picture” to stop myself from going crazy. Anytime someone asked, “so, is she sleeping through the night YET?” I would respond flippantly, “No, but she’ll be off to college soon enough and then I won’t have to deal with her sleeplessness.”

It helped me to not take offense to the comments or to continually be stressed that she STILL wasn’t sleeping well.

And wouldn’t you know… right after her 3rd birthday, she magically started sleeping through the night. Since then, she has been a fabulous sleeper!

4. Be Consistent and Be Patient

When you’re in the process of trying to develop a sleep schedule for your child(ren) remember that it will most likely take some time, especially with younger children. It literally took Dave and me over 3 years to finally get our kids in a good sleeping routine — and we’re both super scheduled and routine-oriented — don’t lose hope!

Although it’s so tempting to hope for a “magical” book, medicine, tool, or piece of advice that will instantly get our children to sleep faster, better, easier, longer, etc. that’s not very realistic.

It will take time (sometimes lots of time) to figure out the sleeping schedule and bedtime routine that works best for you, your children, and your family. TRY to be patient but consistent at the same time. Do things the same way every night until they become second nature for you and your children.

If, after several weeks, or even a couple months, that particular routine still isn’t working, then re-evaluate — but please don’t give up after just a few nights.

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5. When you find what works for you, don’t feel the need to justify it to anyone. 

There aren’t a lot of “guarantees” when it comes to parenthood — but one thing I can absolutely guarantee you, without one shred of a doubt, is that you WILL be judged by others NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO.

If you co-sleep… you will be judged by someone.

If you let your child sleep in any type of crib, pack ‘n play, swing, stroller, car seat, or bassinet… you will be judged by someone.

If you rock your kids to sleep… you will be judged by someone.

If you let them cry it out… you will be judged by someone.

If you use blankets, bumpers, sleep sacks, swaddle blankets, or any sort of toy… you will be judged by someone.

If you feed your child to sleep… you will be judged by someone.

If you use a pacifier… you will be judged by someone.

If you use medical intervention… you will be judged by someone.

If you DON’T seek out help or medical intervention when others think you should… you will be judged by someone.

The important thing to remember is none of the people who judge you know the full story — they don’t know the “whys” to what you are doing… or ALLLLLLL the other things you’ve tried in the past.

Just smile, nod, and go on your way — I promise, your life will be SO much better!

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6. It’s often easier to include future children into a current sleeping routine. 

I always joke that we never had any type of bedtime routine or sleeping schedule until Simon was born — and HE put Nora on a schedule!

It’s true though — despite our best efforts, Nora never developed any sort of sleeping schedule until Simon naturally fell into his own sleep schedule around 3-6 months old. A few months later, Nora FINALLY slept through the night for the first time ever (age 3 years, 1 month!) and we started creating a bedtime routine for both kids.

When James came along, even though he wasn’t a great sleeper, we already had our routine in place and it was SO much easier to simply include him into our current routine than develop a new routine from scratch.

I’m positive that when our 4th baby comes along later this year, it will be that much easier to include him or her into our current routine as well. Of course, it will take time, but it will happen eventually!

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7. Remember that babies and children are people too. 

Think about nights when you just can’t sleep — for whatever reason. You know you feel tired, you know you WANT to sleep, you know you’ll be tired the next morning if you don’t sleep… but you just can’t sleep.

Or what about when you’re sick, stuffed up, or just can’t get comfortable? What about when you go on vacation and sleep in a different bed? What about when you don’t have your same pillow, the same room-darkening shades, the same noise maker, etc.? All of these seemingly small things can play a huge role in our ability to sleep well at night.

These situations are very frustrating for adults (at least for me)… and they are equally as frustrating when they happen to children and babies.

We’ve had nights when Simon comes down time and time again because he can’t breathe through his nose. He whines and cries and just can’t get comfortable. And Nora has had her share of bad dreams, restless legs, and other situations that keep her awake even though she desperately wants to fall asleep.

Most recently (over our Spring Break vacation) James insisted on falling asleep in between Dave and me in our bed. It only took him 5-10 minutes to fall into a deep sleep and then I’d transfer him to his crib where he slept soundly all night long. James has NEVER ever slept in our bed (or really even with either of us) so I have no idea why this happened on our vacation but it did! When we got home, he willingly went right back to sleeping in his crib with no issues.

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I could potentially keep going, but these are the main thoughts I wanted to share! 

And just so you know, even though I currently get 7-8 straight hours of sleep at night, I am not too far removed from those horrible sleepless nights that I don’t realistically remember the gruesome details!

Just 4 months ago, I was waking up every night with James… and in 5 more months, I’ll be up at night with another newborn. So I certainly think (hope) my thoughts are relevant for the parents in the thick of sleepless nights.

The important thing for me is that I’m no longer super stressed or worried about when my baby will “sleep through the night” or what I can do to get them to sleep.

My babies will sleep eventually… in the meantime, I will scale back, do less, sleep whenever I possibly can, and learn to function on less sleep!

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17 comments

  1. Shelley

    05/22/2017

    I totally agree! I have children ages 7, 5, 4, 2.5 and 8 months. I haven’t slept in 8 years (joking but not joking). I was so stressed with my first as I was desperately trying to get him to sleep but he wanted to nurse every 1.5 hours for the first year. He finally slept through the night (for real) right before I had his brother and we started putting him to bed at 7pm. All our kids now go to bed 7/7:30pm and have naps or quiet time. My baby is still not sleeping through the night and though I would really like the sleep, I’m thankful I have the perspective to know that she will eventually and for now, I should enjoy the night cuddles. I don’t worry about what experts say and I try not to be so rigid in my mind of what I would like that I miss the joys of having littles. Your realistic, humble approach is really refreshing! Congratulations on your 4th! Having lots of children close in age is a blessing!

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  2. Tina

    04/24/2017

    Hello Andrea. Thank you for sharing all your experience and different situations you lived with your kids. I think it really helps to see, what others have tried and survived. My first one slept 11 hours when he was 2 months old and I never could understand, what the others where complaining about with their newborns. Along came no 2. She took 6 months until she slept through the night, but always went to bed fine, also after feeding. Three years later came no 3. She really gave me a hard time and for months on end I was sleeping half of the night in a upright position with ohropax (this thingies you put in the ears), because she was screeming all the time and this way I knew that she was fed, had fresh diapers on and could not have any problems with reflux and she could feel me. (But I really got a sore butt and back pains…) But after 1,5 years, it was finally over (after the teeths were also here). Well, and now I have no 4. She keeps me company every night until 10o’clock. And this just.wears.me.down. because I have no kids-free-time to get bigger projects done or to just get my thoughts sorted. My husband is away from sunday evening until friday evening, so I have to manage myself. Because of this I can’t cut down on the napping time after lunch – I just need to nap myself. But my babygirl is now 1,5y old. I hope, she will finally fall into the same sleep rhythm as the others, which go to bed by 8o’clock. But when I read, that your husband is home by 3:30 and then takes over some of the kids duties: I must confess, I’m a little bit jalous… 😉 But I loved your article, especially pt 5 and the sentence where you say, that nobody really knows the full story and what else you have already tried. Thank you for sharing!

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    Andrea Reply:

    OH MY WORD! I honestly can’t even imagine Dave being gone everyday AND everynight all week long — you are a saint and an amazing mother!
    And yes, with 4 children, I’m certain at least one or 2 of them would be stinkers about sleeping — sorry to hear the last one is giving you such trouble.

    Everyone always told me “they grow out of all their bad sleeping habits by 5 years old” and that sounded so horrible to me when Nora was 1 and 2. Thankfully, she grew out of it by 3… not sure we would have kept having more if it took her until she was 5 🙂

    Good luck with your sleepless babe… and hang in there. You are doing amazing — and honestly, I don’t know many (if any) moms with 4 young children and a spouse who works away from home all week long. It doesn’t sound like you have family close by either. I wonder if it would ever be possible to hire a babysitter for a few hours in the afternoon or even a morning some day — just to give you a little break. You NEED a break!

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    Tina Reply:

    Dear Andrea. Thank you so much for your kind words! Sometimes it just helps to hear from an outsider, that one is doing a great job. This evening my baby girl went to sleep with the others, so there is hope. 😉 But as she is a real charmer all day long and plays happily by herself, I still think I can’t complain too much… I wish you all the best for your no 4 and that it will find into your family sleeping rhythm soon! Tina

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  3. SJ

    04/21/2017

    Hi Andrea,

    Thanks for your article, very well said! I have a 2 1/2 year old and 4 1/2 month old and have come to the conclusion that although sleep is wonderful that it’s much better if I think of it as not an essential element of my life in this season! 🙂

    Plus, on the odd occasion when I get to sleep more…. I can actually feel worse as my body has adjusted to having less sleep at the moment! 😉

    Thank you for highlighting that children and babies are PEOPLE too- it amazes me that people asking the questions (e.g. are they sleeping through the night) don’t consider this as well as the reasons (e.g. are they sick,scared, needing reassurance, going through a developmental phase/learning or just a child wanting their parent! etc).

    I also wonder why the question gets asked so much, especially as many adults themselves may struggle to fall asleep and/or wake up and they know how to ‘resettle’ themselves (e.g. read a book, make a cup of tea, etc)!

    Have been thinking about all of this ‘sleep pressure’ which seems to be around for some reason and recently and found an article you and other readers may find interesting in terms of what sleep looks like for families in other cultures http://www.incultureparent.com/2011/08/the-wests-strange-relationship-to-babies-and-sleep/

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    Andrea Reply:

    Wow, thanks for sharing that article — it was a great read!

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    SJ Reply:

    No worries at all 🙂

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  4. Alicia

    04/21/2017

    I wrote a post NOT about getting a baby to sleep through the night, but how to get MORE sleep as a mom with a newborn…for just this reason!

    All of my boys were VERY different sleepers. Babies (and kids) are going to do what they’re going to do. And usually the more we push, as parents, the more babies/children will do just the opposite! Plus we end up just stressing ourselves out in the end, for very little gain. Not worth it in my opinion!

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes, I’ve written a post like that too — we can’t control our babies but we can control (most of) our own schedule and try to get more sleep whenever possible.
    That said, I’m still dreading those horribly sleepless first few weeks after the baby is born when Nora will need me to be up early with her to get her on the bus. Sigh… I can do it!

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    Alicia Reply:

    You can do it! When my youngest was born, my oldest was in first grade. It was tough, but we found a new “normal”! This is also when I learned to stop stressing about getting my baby to sleep and just focus on the bare essentials. Lol! But yes, I’m not looking forward to that again either. I will have TWO in school, yikes! We can do it! 🙂

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    Andrea Reply:

    yeah, I’m just hoping her bus doesn’t come too early!

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  5. Sarah

    04/21/2017

    This is great advice, Andrea! I read so many parenting and sleep books for our first boy… Which only led to anxiety and frustration that nothing was working. Most of the formulas were not helping with our specific issues, leading me to feel like a terrible mom.
    Second pregnancy, I had less time, and even less desire to read any advice at all! Amazingly, our 2nd little guy has been a great sleeper (well, great for a baby ), eater, and is developing just fine without all the input. Best part? His mom is much less anxious about every little thing and can enjoy life more. Lesson learned: trust the mommy intuition God gave me.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this!

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    Andrea Reply:

    in my opinion, parenting books always lead to anxiety and frustration! haha 😉

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  6. ShellyL

    04/21/2017

    I think your thoughts are spot on. Newborns cannot or should not be expected to sleep “through the night” whatever that means. Many of our FB friends and acquaintances are exaggerating or outright lying when they say their babies slept through at two weeks or some such nonsense. Now, personally, I am a dedicated co-sleeper. I slept with all three of mine, against the advice of my pediatrician. She used to say I did “everything right” except that, jokingly. I strongly believe in co-sleeping, for me, but I wouldn’t say it is right for everyone. It is simply what worked for me and my parenting style. Most parents don’t prefer to sleep with their kids and that’s ok too. Kudos to you and Dave for figuring out what works for your family.

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    Andrea Reply:

    yeah, I hated sleeping with Nora (I slept in a bed in her room, with her in the bed also) but we have friends who just love sleeping with their babies.
    I honestly don’t really see the “safety risk” that so many people talk about — but I’m a light sleeper can would never be able to roll over onto a child without immediately waking up 🙂

    Do what works for you and everyone in the family is happier — that I know for sure!

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  7. Nicole

    04/21/2017

    My daughter (also named Nora!) is 3 and still naps every day for 2 or more hours. She isn’t a good sleeper at night – and often takes a long time to settle down at night, which is a problem because she shares a room with her 5 year old brother who likes to settle right down and go to sleep.
    In your experience, would getting her to stop napping maybe help?

    Thanks for your blog! It’s awesome and I’ve drawn much encouragement and inspiration from it since I started reading a couple months ago!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Well, obviously it will be a bit of trial and error, but about 6 months ago, Simon (always our best sleeper) started having lots of trouble going to bed at night. He usually laid right down and fell asleep immediately… but at that point, he would whine, cry, and protest for up to 2 hours before we finally calmed him down. However, we had a couple days in a row where we were gone and not on our “normal schedule”. It was the first time ever Simon didn’t take a nap, and he immediately went to bed and fell asleep both nights.
    That was when a light bulb went on for us — and we started limiting his naptimes to 1 hour. We saw an immediate difference in how quickly he went to sleep at night — however, I want to reiterate that before that little period of restlessness, Simon was always a fabulous night time sleeper.
    If your Nora has never been a great night time sleeper, I’m not confident this would work for her (at least not as quickly as it did for Simon) but as I always say “it really can’t hurt to try”. The worst thing that could happen is she gets really tired and cranky after a couple days and you go back to the naps. Also, I would say don’t drive anywhere late afternoon or early evening because she’ll most likely fall asleep in the car and your plan will be ruined 🙂

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