This week I have been reading “Nurture Shock” by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. It is a book exploring the latest research and new thinking about children. I was happy to see the chapter on sleep, “The Lost Hour” that shows the importance of sleep for children. There are also chapters on lying, praise, race, siblings, etc. I am sure that I will be posting on this book again.
The research shows that children in the U.S. get (on average) an hour less sleep than they used to. This hour translates to a reduction in academics of up to 2 grade levels. Sleep is crucial to children’s physical and mental well-being.
I emphasize this for several reasons. It is a lesson we have learned the hard way in our family. It is a common practice in unschooling families to not have set bed times. I do not agree with this. Activities, homework and television are three sleep stealers that are so prevalent in our society. By not sending my children to school, they don’t have homework. (Okay, so it’s all homework, but you know what I mean.) We do not have cable or satellite (we do watch movies), and so we do not stay up late watching TV. We restrict activities that would interfere with dinner and bedtime. Most families I know have evening or afternoon activities that they do that conflict with dinner-time and push bed time. We rarely will do anything that keeps us out after 5pm. And we don’t sign-up for activities during that time frame. (The exception is activities for Beauty Mom or Big Dad which begin after dinner.)
At our house, sleep has been hard won. In the beginning, we had intended to be an attachment parentingfamily – co-sleeping with the Jor Man when he was born. We got one of those expensive co-sleeping side cars and ended up just keeping him in bed with us. He nursed, like clock-work, ever two hours, on the hour until he was two. This wasn’t a problem because nursing and sleeping when he slept was what I did – and all I wanted to do.
Then came the Campster. I nursed Jor Man through the entire pregnancy, and was still nursing him when Campster was born. Not all day, but certainly first thing in the morning and last thing at night, as well as any time he hurt himself, or wanted comforting.
We decided that all four of us sleeping in one bed wouldn’t work. But we didn’t want Jor Man to feel that Campster had exiled him. So Big Dad and Jor Man moved into Jor Man’s newly painted room, and Campster and I stayed in the master bedroom.
It should have worked. Only it didn’t. Campster nursed every 20 – 45 minutes around the clock. For the entire first year. Really. At that point, I was so sleep deprived and depressed that I could not function. Big Dad had me see a psychiatrist, thinking that I had post-partum depression and needed meds. The shrink was very nice and simply wrote me a prescription for sleep. He said I needed at least 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night. (To clarify, I think co-sleeping and Attachment Parenting are wonderful if they are working for you. They weren't working for us, and for a long time we were not willing to deal with that. You have to be flexible!)
I won’t go into all the details of how we eventually worked that out. Let’s just say that it was a long and nasty process. But, eventually, I was getting some sleep.
Jor Man did not like to go to bed. Bedtimes were a nightmare. And he would wake the Campster. It wasn’t until Sher Bear came along that I put my foot down and said – this house WILL get some sleep. Someone gave me a copy of "The Happiest Baby on the Block" by Dr. Harvey Karp, and that really helped us get her to sleep well. Hurray!!
Big Dad missed spending time with the kids, and wanted to be playing with them late into the evening. They stayed up because they were wanting to please daddy. But the truth was, everyone was exhausted. I finally convinced him to insist that they all get about 12 hours of sleep a night. In order to do this, we had to not be afraid of our children’s unhappiness. By that I mean that children crying is not necessarily a bad thing. If they are warm, fed, and dry – they are okay. Perhaps they are unhappy because they don’t want to go to bed. Tough. They can be unhappy. It won’t kill them.
Now Sher Bear goes down at 7 am, Campster at 7:30 and Jor Man at 8:30. They all sleep in until at least 7 am, sometimes 8. J
Wish you were here!