17 different women, 36 crazy children, 0 babies in utero
Adventures, Advice and Questions from a group of Mormon women who met in Queens, NY and have now scattered all over the place.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Magic of an Early Bedtime

How you “sleep” your child is as controversial in the world of mothering as breastfeeding and drug use during labor and delivery. So I write this blog with a little trepidation. But I’m not claiming to hold up one kind of mothering approach over another here. All babies and children are different; what works for one is not necessarily going to work for another. But in case you have a baby like my SJ, I thought I’d share the magic I’ve discovered in putting her to bed early.

The consequences of putting my almost-one-year-old daughter to bed at an early hour go so completely against what my (and I think other’s) intuition would tell me that I’m shocked every time I rediscover them—and I just have to share, in case the trick might work for you as well. If you’ve read any of them, you know that “sleep books” will lead you to believe that once you’re “sleeping” your child the “right” way, everything will be easy; there will be no variation in schedule; he/she will sleep well and sleep well always. Once you get past that initial hard part of “letting them crying it out” or “teaching them to self soothe” or fixing whatever it is you’re doing that’s “wrong”, it will be easy. In my experience, this hasn’t been the case. Just like my days vary (sometimes I fall asleep immediately and sleep all the way through the night; sometimes it takes me forever to fall asleep; sometimes I have hours of sleeplessness in the middle of the night; sometimes, even though I’ve gotten enough sleep at night, I’m tired and cranky all day long), I believe my daughter’s days and nights vary, and no amount of “control” I attempt to wield over her schedule will eliminate the individual human factor.

But the one thing that has—so far (I keep dreading the day it stops working)—always seemed to hold true is that if I put her to bed early (6:00 or 6:30pm at the latest), she sleeps better (not always perfectly, but better) than if I put her to bed even a little bit later. Whenever I feel like she’s not sleeping well (she wakes up multiple times at night and won’t go back to sleep without help, doesn’t nap well during the day, protests a lot going to sleep for naps or bedtime), I look at the time I’m putting her to bed at night and realize that I’ve let her bedtime slip to a later hour (even 6:45pm seems to make a difference to SJ’s biological clock; after 7:00pm is disastrous). It’s really hard to get her to bed so early. Often dh isn’t even home yet; having church until 4:30 makes it almost impossible. Or sometimes I rationalize: she’s getting older, she can handle staying up a little later, and I just keep her up later. So I often find myself “adjusting” her bedtime back to where she needs it. And every time I do, the following things magically start happening over several days to several weeks (if I can sustain it that long). She

1) sleeps through the night
2) wakes up later the next morning
3) goes to bed with little to no protesting
4) goes down for naps with little to no protesting
5) sleeps longer during her naps
6) takes two rather than one nap
7) wakes up happy
8) is generally happier through out the day

Obviously, these things don’t all happen at once. But usually within a couple of days, at least one of them has happened. And they happen magically. I say magically because it feels like I’ve done nothing to make them happen. I haven’t let her “cry it out” when she goes to bed or when she wakes up in the middle of the night; she just stops crying at night and stops waking up at night. Or I haven’t “helped” her sleep longer during the day by ignoring her unhappy wakings; she just sleeps longer. It’s really magic.

But let me say again that just because this works for SJ doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for your child(ren). In fact, I’d love to hear alternate experiences. Have any of you had the exact opposite experience? Does putting your child to bed early mean she/he wakes up unacceptably early? Is there another trick that seems to have magical powers for you? Does it feel like nothing works?

Please, do not misunderstand this blog: I am not an expert. I have only a year of mothering experience. And I'm not telling you how to raise your child. I fully expect my next child to be completely different. As it is now, even with my magical early bedtime, I feel like I’m constantly juggling, adjusting, and analyzing SJ’s needs. I never really know what they are or how to meet them. I feel like almost every minute of the day presents a choice, and if I choose wrong, the results could be horrible: like an hour of crying before she finally falls asleep (still happens more often than I’d like—anyone have any other advice?). But I often find myself saying things like, “Wow! She just slept a half hour longer this morning than usual!” or “Wow! That was easy! She closed her eyes and went to sleep when I put her down in her crib.” And I usually find myself saying these things after I’ve put her to bed early. So if you’re struggling with any sleep issues, you just might want to try an early bedtime. The magic might work for you too.


  • I am a believer.

    I remember once Carrie told me: Sleep begets sleep. Whenever her kid showed signs of being tired, she went down for a nap...so that could mean 1 nap, it could mean 3, but she always went down at her early bed time too....

    So I have adopted that philosophy with my kids too, and it works.

    My kids go down around 7 and wake up a little before 7. I have tried to put them to bed later in hopes that they would sleep in, but they continue to wake up at that early time, so I get cranky kids. Isn't there a saying: Early to bed, early to rise?

    It's true for my kids.
    posted by Blogger Kage at 3/19/2007 05:41:00 AM  

  • So I'm a brand new mommy--3 weeks now--and at this point I'm still in survival mode, not really trying or worrying about a schedule. When do you think is a good time to start trying to get them on one? (Yes I read the baby wisperer and I know that she says "start as you mean to go on" but I haven't found that to be too practical in these early weeks).
    posted by Blogger miggy at 3/19/2007 05:58:00 AM  

  • Miggy, there are probably as many answers to that as there are readers on this blog! But here's what worked for me - when DS was about 2 months old, I started getting nervous about a schedule, because I was heading back to work at 3mos and I was petrified I would have nothing to tell the babysitter that would be of any help! So I started keeping track of when he ate and slept, and at around 2.5 mos a rough pattern started to emerge. I just took that pattern and ran with it, and after a couple of weeks it was more of a schedule.
    posted by Blogger marian at 3/19/2007 06:24:00 AM  

  • sunny, I'm really glad to hear you've found something that is working for you and your daughter. I think when my DS was about that age, we had a standard bedtime, we'd put him down, he'd hang out in his crib for a while (sometime a LONG while, but always quietly and happily) and then would fall asleep and sleep until a decent hour. It's been a little too long, and I had a very tramatic sleep period from age 2.5 - 3, so that obliterated all my memories of sleep up until that point, so I'm a little fuzzy on the details. But it's VERY SATISFYING to feel like you've got at least one element of life with your babe under control!
    posted by Blogger marian at 3/19/2007 06:27:00 AM  

  • I think sleep is crazy! I thought I had it all "worked out" until last week my awesome sleeping 2 1/2 yr old decided he no longer would take a nap!! He had been taking one decent (like 2 hrs or so) nap a day, now- unless it's accidental nap in the car, I can't get him to go to sleep! I am SOO sad! WHen I have tried his "normal" routine, he just freaks out on me, screams like a crazy person and will NOT go to sleep! (I made him "try" last week one day for my own sanity for an hour and he screamed and tantrumed the better part of the whole hour!) I thought I knew what I was doing in that department- now I am feeling lost again!
    posted by Blogger Rachel H at 3/19/2007 07:00:00 AM  

  • Sorry if that was too much of a sleep tangent! I just needed to vent! And any ideas are welcome.
    posted by Blogger Rachel H at 3/19/2007 07:02:00 AM  

  • hey Rachel H--

    what about not stressing over a nap but instead try quiet time. Dim lights in room, must be on bed but can look at books, etc. for at least an hour. This gives you and son a break and he might drift off when tired, too.

    I just hate fighting about sleep.
    posted by Blogger a spectator at 3/19/2007 08:44:00 AM  

  • I believe too.

    Often, the earlier I put DS down, the later he gets up. His normal bedtime is 8, and he wakes up at 7:30. He then takes a 2 hour nap in the afternoon (he is three.) If he doesn't nap, he goes to bed by 7. We've even done 6:30 bedtimes if he's too ragged to continue.

    But if he goes to sleep late, say 9pm, he's more prone to waking up in the middle of the night and then rising too early. Overtired kids don't sleep, which is a vicious circle.

    I absolutely remember being sent to bed at 6pm by my parents when I was 4-5. It could have been light outside, we were still in bed.
    posted by Blogger Azúcar at 3/19/2007 08:49:00 AM  

  • I am a believer in "sleep begets sleep" and protecting early bedtimes and naps. My sleep book is "healthy sleep habits, happy child" because it goes into great detail on the science behind sleep needs, patterns, and capabilities for every age.

    that said, I have a 6 month old with a 6pm bedtime(average sleeper), a 2 year old with a 7:30 bedtime (decent sleeper but pops out a lot before sleeping and wakes far too early) and a 4 year old, with a 7PM bedtime (atrocious sleeper due to special needs, bedtime is 6PM during daylight savings.) With my oldest, we have observed extreme problems when we push bedtime just minutes later. But nothing has worked to make him sleep in the morning. we're just used to being woken at 5 now, even little sis, unfortunately.
    posted by Blogger cchrissyy at 3/19/2007 09:06:00 AM  

  • I also believe sleep begets sleep. My life changed when my little guy started sleeping through the night at about 2 mos., because he also started taking longer naps during the day and was generally happier. I believe early bedtimes are the key, although it has made it harder for me and my DH to go anywhere at night. Usually we just invite people over so we can put the baby to bed in his crib, at his usual time.
    Miggy, I am also a new mom (my baby is four months) and I tried to get my baby in a routine (less restrictive than a schedule, I say) from the get-go. Of course, it didn't work until he was about two months old but trying made me feel like I had a bit on control or was at least pretending to know what I was doing.
    posted by Blogger Natalie at 3/19/2007 09:11:00 AM  

  • I'm a believer, too!

    My kids are in bed by 7:30PM (majority of the time --there are always exceptions, and it mostly revolves around travel, MOVING!, family visiting, etc., but for the most part, this is what we do). They usually wake up around 7 or 7:15AM. Oh, and they are ages 2, 4, and almost 6.

    rachel H.--My kids stop taking naps around 2 years old. Not my idea! All three of them just decided, on their own, at the same age, to quit taking naps. So, I don't force it. I also think it's because we're such sticklers for bedtime, they don't need them anymore. Which is weird. I still need one! :)

    I would wait until your babe is a little older, too. I think marian is right on about that one, because most babies create their own schedules. With my new baby, the night time schedule is now right on spot, but the daytime one is a little hairy; mostly because he's got 3 older siblings I'm running around everywhere... :)
    posted by Blogger Cheryl at 3/19/2007 09:21:00 AM  

  • Another question- What would you "early to bed" people say to a child who screams when you "try" to put them to bed early. Mine are 2 and 5. They have pretty late bedtimes, like 8 and 9. Now, for us this has worked because I am literally working on projects until 1am or later on a regular basis, so having them sleep in till 8:30 or 9 am is essential for me. I admit the early to bed thing has always been intruiging, but I won't do it if my kids wake up earlier.
    posted by Blogger Rachel H at 3/19/2007 09:27:00 AM  

  • rachel-
    You've got something that works for you...and if your kids are just as okay with it as you? Well, then, keep doing it! No worries. :)
    posted by Blogger Cheryl at 3/19/2007 10:08:00 AM  

  • Those of you with babies/toddlers who sleep according to plan are very fortunate! Yeah, it can be a lot of work, it takes persistence and consistency. And when that all works and brings the desired results, it is a blessing.

    Maybe I have a tough case baby in this area, maybe I'm crap at implementing the various methods, but sadly, this is still a sore issue after 2 years. When he DOES actually sleep more than a four hour stretch, it is because he didn't go to sleep until 11 pm or later. If he goes to bed at 6 pm he'll wake up at 4 am, after waking up a couple times between then.

    And yeah yeah, I've read all the advice, the different books and have tried pretty much everything. Yeah, his pediatrician has checked him over, blah blah.

    If you can get your baby to be a good sleeper and receive decent sleep for yourself now and then, count yourself as very blessed.
    posted by Blogger Squiddy at 3/19/2007 12:59:00 PM  

  • Squiddy, I do count myself very blessed to have a good sleeper and I don't know that I have done a lot to "create" it in her. I'm bracing myself for the exact opposite in my next one.

    Miggy, I remember asking the very same question about when to start trying to get my baby on a schedule. Like Marian, I can tell you what worked for me. The first few weeks and months, I concentrated on her feeding schedule more than her nap schedule, making sure that she was eating frequently enough to gain the weight she needed (every 2 1/2 to 3 hours in the beginning--man! I'm glad those days are over!) but not so frequently that she was just snacking at the breast all the time. I made sure each feeding was as full and as long as possible. And then (following the EASY advice we've heard elsewhere on this blog, "Babywise" gives the same advice), I TRIED to keep her awake for a good amount of time after she ate, so that she wasn't just slipping into napping from eating, but rather, napping when she needed to. (Nursing is like a drug the way it make babies drowsy, which is sometimes very useful!). It's taken a long time for me to feel like I really do have a schedule with my baby, but at least in those early months I had something to focus on, some "goal" in an otherwise chaotic existence that I completely recognized was out of my control.

    But no matter how much I try, every day is still different. I knew a woman in my last ward whose kids (nine months and 3) INVARIABLY slept from 1 to 3 EVERY day. Unbelievable. Maybe with two, it's different. But naps in my home fluctuate a great deal.

    Rachel H, I would have no idea how to get kids who are used to going to bed late in bed for an early bedtime. Dd is just used to being in bed early and so far doesn't mind spending time in her cribe alone too much. And trust me, I don't think I would put my kids down early if it meant they got up earlier, but the opposite is true so far, just like azucar said: if dd goes to bed by 6:30, she'll usually sleep at least until 5:30 (still way earlier than I would like) but often until 6 or 6:30. If I put her down at 7 or later, she'll get up at 4 or 4:30 and often not go back to sleep on her own, and then she's still up at 6. It it's a lot later than 7pm, she'll wake up by midnight and then almost every three hours after that. I'll take a 5:30 waking time over that any day.

    But obviously every child is different.

    And apparently I didn't need to worry about creating too much controversy . . .
    posted by Blogger sunny at 3/19/2007 02:51:00 PM  

  • When DS was born I was of the philosophy that he will let me know what he needs (if I'm willing to take the time to figure out his signs/language). Personally, I can't imagine putting him down that early but that is because I am NOT a morning person. He generally sleeps from 8pm - 8am. I guess this may change once he's in school. I do think that when you put babies to bed early it gives you more "you" time (or DH time). But I have also noticed that my friends who put their kids to bed super early have a harder time doing evening activities (BBQs, ward dinners, etc.) Although, I guess it could make dates easier if you just put the baby to bed and hire a babysitter to come over and sit in the house with her. I guess there are always challenges no matter what.
    posted by Blogger Beth at 3/19/2007 03:08:00 PM  

  • Beth, for the first couple years we found our crazy-early-bedtime kids to be very limiting. We couldn't go out to dinner, we couldn't go to ward parties or even have dinner with our parents, because we HAD to be home by 6PM.

    But now, we're used to it. So we don't go out, we enjoy being home together with long quiet evenings. And when there's a ward dinner, one of us goes and sits with friends.
    posted by Blogger cchrissyy at 3/19/2007 10:26:00 PM  

  • Part of the reason "sleep begets sleep" works so well is because it keeps the kids from getting wired - like can't go to sleep because I'm too tired wired. Our 8 month old goes to sleep around 7 pm and sleeps until 6 or 7 the next morning. It's the greatest thing. If he gets tired before that, ok - to bed.

    I'm all for early bedtimes. And as someone else pointed out once, it helps when the start school. They will be ready to get up in the morning and get going.

    Even with the early bedtime we still go out and do things. We just put him to bed when we get home. The next day can be a little hairy but he usually takes better naps to make up the difference.
    posted by Anonymous Amy at 3/20/2007 03:31:00 PM  

  • I totally agree with you Sunny. THe "sleep begets sleep" comes from the Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child book that someone already mentioned here. That book and the Baby Whisperer are what formed my personal child/sleep philosophies.

    I also believe in the early bedtimes, because I need that time in the evening to myself (because dh is rarely home before 8pm). Many times it's 9 or 10. So getting the kids to bed early is required to maintain my sanity.

    Rachel H, as for the "rest time" don't think your child will just transition into it easily. Of course they will want to stay up and have "fun" with you instead of quietly entertaining themselves. My 4 year old accepts her rest time each day now, but we had some knock-down, drag-out days when she had to figure out that there were no other options. And at first she would fall asleep about every other day. Now it's about every 3rd or 4th day that she need the extra sleep.
    posted by Blogger TftCarrie at 3/20/2007 07:45:00 PM  

  • Miggy - have you read Baby Wise? You are definitely going to be in survival mode for now, but try writing down the times your baby eats and sleeps and you might be surprised to see that you are already on a bit of a schedule/routine.

    I am lucky in the sleep dept (so far). My 11 month old has been sleeping through the night since about 9 weeks. HEAVEN the first night your baby sleeps through the night. I agree that early bedtimes are good - but early in my house means 8 or 8.30. I am NOT a morning person and I love that my son sleeps until 8.30 - sometimes 9. Make sure if you decide to commit to a 6 or 6.30 bedtime you are fine with the limits it puts on your social schedule. Going out to dinner, to friends house, when/if they see their dad at night - will become a lot harder.
    Also, a question - do any of the 6 or 6.30 bedtimers have a problem with #2,3, etc going to sleep at the same time?
    posted by Blogger Melissa at 3/20/2007 10:28:00 PM  

  • Melissa, I'm assuming by #2, 3 you mean the second and third child? Can't really comment because I don' thave those yet. But I know my sister puts all three of her kids (ages 18 months to five) to bed around 7. The two older ones "read" in bed (with like 8-9 books each!!) until they fall asleep. Of course, keeping them in bed took a lot of teaching and reinforcement. But I think it works for her.
    posted by Blogger sunny at 3/21/2007 06:22:00 PM  

  • Please be very careful with Babywise, it's not written by or associated with any licensed medical professional and has been linked to the diagnosis of failure to thrive in some infants following the strict outline.

    The best thing to do is to listen to your heart.
    posted by Anonymous Betts at 3/21/2007 06:47:00 PM  

  • Forgot to include linked article re: babywise from Salon.com
    posted by Anonymous Betts at 3/21/2007 06:51:00 PM  

  • I followed Babywise and didn't feel that it was a strict routine. Rather, it taught me that the baby should be in a rhythm (eat, waketime, sleep) and that the parent needs to be aware of the child's needs -- not be a slave to the clock or feeding the baby every time she fussed. I know from Internet reviews that Babywise is controversial, but I can't figure out why.
    posted by Blogger Joni at 3/23/2007 07:52:00 AM  

  • I ditto what Joni said.
    posted by Blogger Beth at 3/23/2007 06:55:00 PM  

  • Wow, Betts, that article against Babywise is harsh!! I read the book a year ago when dd was born at my older sister's recommendation. And while I'm very willing to admit that I'm no expert and I'm not about to contradict the advice of the qualified medical professionals quoted in your article, I'll just offer my experience: I followed the Babywise suggestions about feeding when dd was first born and she not only didn't "fail to thrive" she ate so well her pediatrician accused me of lying. When we brought her in for her first weight check after leaving the hospital, she hadn't lost any weight. The pediatrician was so amazed that she literally didn't believe that I was only breast-feeding. She thought I had to be supplmementing with formula because no breast-fed baby (according to her) maintains and gains weight that well. All I was doing was trying to make sure that every time I put dd to the brest she ate and ate well and as long as I could get her to go, rather than just "snacking" and falling asleep, and then wanting to eat again in 20 minutes, which is Babywise's suggestion. It worked for me. But I certainly didn't deny her food when I could tell she needed it, and I didn't feel that the book was encouraging me to do so.

    However, I haven't really found the book helpful since then. And I never had any intention of reading Babywise II (although, I don't know why--perhaps just because I only found the first few chapters helpful).

    Anyway, that was my experience. I hope no one would accuse me of "disguised chid-hate" because I only fed my daughter every 2 1/2 hours. Interestingly, my mom thought I was over feeeding. She kept saying, "I guess I starved you kids when you were babies, because I only fed you every four hours!"
    posted by Blogger sunny at 3/27/2007 03:36:00 AM  

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