Attachment parenting, Cosleeping, Parenting

Eight approaches for happier sleep

5 November, 2012

Yesterday morning Ramona woke up at 4:30, full of beans. She planted some kisses on our faces, did a morning fart, followed by a belly full of giggles, and began climbing all over the bed. “Awake! Me! Pojo??” Pojo is her word for porridge, she was ready for breakfast and up for the day.

Grumpy is not the word. I was mad all day. Mentally flipping the bird at every stupid email I received, I stomped around the office, grizzled under my breath my whole cycle home. I was reminded what it is like to be deeply unhappy with a child’s sleep patterns.

I spent many of Ramona’s first months feeling this way. She’d take forever to go to sleep at the sensible time of 7 pm and then wake at the crack of dawn. I disliked spending an hour doing a night time routine and getting her to sleep, bobbing up and down the stairs to her throughout the evening, and then peering out of the bed covers at the clock and seeing 6 am shining back at me just a few hours after I rolled under them.

It was only when Ramona was a year old that I realised I wanted to take a more relaxed, less structured approach to her sleep, and since then we have all been much happier. Of course, we still have the odd terrible night, an evening with a wired tot who won’t sleep, or a crack of dawn morning. But on the whole my mind is free of sleep anguish, and that deserves a celebratory doughnut.

I’d say adopting eight different approaches helped me feel much happier about our sleep situation.

  • I got the “sensible bedtime” idea out of my head. The most sensible bedtime for a child is when they are tired. Sometimes, due to a late start or long nap this is ten pm. Mostly for us it is somewhere between 8:30 and 9:30. It took me a while to get this, even 8:30 pm seemed outrageous to me, so I’d try and try and try to get Ramona in bed at The World Will Approve O Clock. Once I let go of this, our evenings got a whole load more relaxed.
  • I decided that beds were overrated. For a year, Ramona took her naps on me in the sling or on the sofa, but always began her night time sleep in bed. Once I realised she was often much happier falling to sleep at night time on the sofa I began to see the benefits. We’ll cuddle up amongst the cushions, then after she has drifted off, while my husband and I read or chat, we can put a film on, or continue the get-together with our friends. Because she is right with us she’ll rarely stir much and then I just take her to bed when we go.
  • We abandoned the routine. Sometimes the bath, songs, story schedule worked. Mostly though, Ramona hated the idea of going upstairs and leaving behind her crate of toys, the lovely people in the lounge and a kitchen of food. She’d be upset about being carted off somewhere else, or we’d end up doing story after story until she was ready to snuggle down. Not making such a palava of bedtime made the transition to sleep so much more natural
  • I watch her cues and set the scene. Sometimes Ramona will ask for “bed”, sometimes she’ll just ask for “mummy milk” (as opposed to “Daddy milk” which is what she she calls dairy! Mahaha…) or sometimes she may yawn, get a bit angsty. At this stage I will put the lamp on, quieten down the house and settle on the sofa with her. This transition is much easier for her mind to cope with!

  • I accepted that kids all have different sleep needs, and they are fairly good at meeting that need if we allow them. Ramona can rarely sleep more than 11 hours at night. If she goes to bed at 7 then that is a 6 am wake up call. ER, NO THANKS! Getting up at 8am makes us all happier but that does mean I have to accept that traditional bedtimes don’t suit us! She still naps for an hour, an hour and a half. But if she has a few short naps then she might go for a number 14 hour night sleep!! I just trust her in all of this and shrug off the concept of a 12 hour night.
  • I accepted our new normal. Once I got used to the idea that Ramona would continue to stir at night, and would continue to need me, my mind calmed down and my new state of contentment really helped! Instead of waking up and thinking “She woke 4 times and she is nearly two!!!” And being appalled at my poor parenting, I now simply recognise that she just has superior survival skills….because obviously, we are built to stir all night so we can respond to danger and stoke the cave fire! Also, perversely, the few times she has slept all night I’ve had a rubbish sleep due to a lack of lovely nursing hormones. Wrong, that is, I tell you!
  • I rejected the “creating good sleep habits” rhetoric. Mainstream parenting advice claims routines, sleeping through, self-soothing and sleeping in a separate space sets our children up for a lifetime of excellent sleep. Erm. There is an MAJOR flaw in this in that we have been repeating this record for decades and we are some of the worst sleepers in the world!!! Nearly 40% of us suffer from insomnia. Mainstream advice is clearly doing something wrong.
  • I embraced a “live intuitively” philosophy. I try as much as possible to let Ramona be self-directed, to eat when hungry, cuddle when she needs it, jump on the bed if she fancies it, and sleep when she is tired. I hope all of this stuff will allow her own gut to be the loudest voice when it comes to making important decisions, that she will be less reliant on the sways of peers and external evaluation. Learning to respond to her body and its need will surely give her a confidence and a wholeness that will give her a much needed resilience. Knowing that I may be suffering a little less undisturbed sleep than others for the big picture, the future well being of my daughter, makes it a tiny, insignificant suffering!

These ways aren’t for everyone, I know.  If you are content with the fixed way you do thing, please, don’t change a dot!!! But maybe some of you are like us, and do want to take a more abandoned approach to sleep and parenting, and I hope our story will encourage you to do that. For me, stumbling across other families that did this gave me the freedom I needed to parent this way boldly, and not secretly! I liked these two pages, especially…

This collection of quotes from homeschool families who just roll with it, sleepwise. 

Letting kids find their own sleep patterns

Finding a bit of freedom around this whole sleep situation has been a part of my attachment parenting journey. For me attachment parenting is all about choosing connection, over control.  I am down with boundaries- i.e, I wouldn’t give Ramona sweets before bedish time, or have a massively exciting game of tickles just as she began to yawn, but integral to my parenting is a relinquishment of my need for high control. Allowing Ramona a certain amount of autonomy is important to me, and these approaches to sleep extend that philosophy to her bedtime.

So… *asks timidly, trying to be brave* … what do you reckon?!

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  • Mel Wiggins 5 November, 2012 at 11:23 am

    Fair play to you guys for trying something new – it seems to fit right into your overall approach to parenting which is ace. Levi is a light sleeper so if he fell asleep on the sofa at bedtime we’d have to sit in silence until we were ready to go to bed as well! Haha.

    I like the intuitive parenting style too and really try to be tuned in that way. I definitely have found that a decent bedtime routine has been so comforting for us as a family and helps us feel like we could bring Levi anywhere and follow the same routine as cues for him to know he’s safe before bedtime. I see it less as a control thing (it’s never about control in my heart and I am not sure many parents who are ‘routiners’ are consciously providing routine to control their child – maybe control is a harsh word!) and more of a way of giving him something he knows is constant in his day – tailored to his little needs and personality.

    I’m also not sure conventional methods of sleep routines etc are to blame for our insomnia-ridden culture though. I reckon that’s more down to more socio-cultural factors (over engagement of brains/technology/dissatisfaction/over-consumption etc)?

  • jessk8rado 5 November, 2012 at 6:52 am

    sounds like it works for you and that’s good! as a brilliant sleeper myself (anywhere, anytime, it’s awesome… until you drool inappropriately….) and mother of one awesome sleeper…. and one awesome “awaker” I think it totally depends on each kid x

  • Molly - Mother's Always Right 5 November, 2012 at 7:09 am

    I don’t follow any approach to being a mum specifically, just do what feels right and works well for us. In our case, that’s a traditional bedtime routine of bath, ten million stories and bed, followed by co-sleeping if the toddler wakes up and toddles into us at night, or not (if she doesn’t). I don’t think there’s any particular “right” way of doing it, just the right way that works for you and your family. Our bed is certainly not big enough to do co-sleeping all the time, plus I work from home as well as from the office so need evenings to do work unfortunately. That said, if the way we do it wasn’t working, then we’d change it. As it is, our daughter has a big meltdown if there’s no bath time and often asks to go to bed!

  • Bethany 5 November, 2012 at 7:24 am

    Completely agree, this is awesome. Audrey has always eaten when she’s hungry and slept when she’s tired. Sometimes she naps during the day, sometimes not. Bedtime is usually around 830. Sometimes she wakes during the night, sometimes not. It’s all good. No pressure, no stress, she can easily adapt to changes. I really like this way of parenting 🙂

  • lally Young 5 November, 2012 at 7:48 am

    Yuo have done the right thing, it is better than what my mother told me, which was put them in the cot, close the door and ignore their crying!!! That broke my heart, I did it to please her. But with Willow we have done the opposite, she will follow the eldest one upstairs, hes on his laptop and she is playing with her toys, an hour later he will come down and tell us that she is a asleep in a blanket, and then transfering her is easy, so going up the stairs like creeping Jesus so not to disturb her.
    She always has pink milk [strawberry milkshake] gently warmed and that seems to settle her straight away. She is asleep by 9 normally and wakes at 7.

  • Kelly Innes (@domesticgoddesq) 5 November, 2012 at 9:44 am

    You are brave admitting what many thousands of others undoubtedly do but don;t talk about because it is ‘not as it should be done’. My kids go to bed when they go to bed. They sleep, they wake up. Sometimes you never hear from them, sometimes we play musical beds. I also shout at them (two week half-term is really hard), feed them chocolate and ask their opinion on things. Everyone does- or should do- what’s right for them. It makes for a happier house and a more content child. After all, isn’t that what we all really want?

    • clare 5 November, 2012 at 10:09 am

      hurrah and thank you!

  • Gill C (A Baby on Board) 5 November, 2012 at 10:37 am

    So refreshing to read this. Infant sleep is such a contentious issue really, and there’s so much information about on what’s ‘right’ and what you ‘should’ do. And it’s so easy to get stressed and upset, especially when you’re tired! I pretty much knew before I gave birth that me and the parenting / sleep ‘gurus’ wouldn’t get on and didn’t want to follow any of them, so we felt our way around and evolved naturally into a pattern that works for us. I’m a firm believer in doing what works for you and the baby. Loving your work 😉

  • ranzipan 5 November, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    and no!

    Yes, because: a) bedtime routines don’t “work” for us – he wakes up more frequently all night when “put to bed” rather than laying sleeping on my lap until I go to bed b) he falls asleep when he wants in the day – so why not at night!? c) the best nights sleep are the ones we get when we both fall into bed really late at night after no bath, no stories, no teeth :shame:

    No, because: 1) I want some child free time each day, selfish or what!? and evenings are the only time this is possible 2) I am slowly getting more and more run down by all the night wakings and something may need to change… I wish I had a tribe to support me and no 12.5 hour shifts to go to, but that is not the case :/

    Great read as usual!

  • raych 5 November, 2012 at 1:30 pm

    A really intetesting read.i know lots of people that allow their children to decide when and where to sleep&know it can work,but also can leave the children feeling overtired&ratty.i definitely think families work best when they do what feels right for them and then sometimes things that have always worked change&they will need to Mel we opted for a bedtime routine.taylored to our tinies,but with the emphasis on winding down&being a constant in their day.on the whole it the moment it is something i dread each evening.i would love to start each day feeling fresh&energised but sometimes a few hous of very broken sleep does the opposite!my kids just arent keen on sleep!they wake up everyday full of energy but i have yet to find out their secret!Xx

  • lulastic 5 November, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    Thanks for your responses, sorry not to reply to each thoughtful one- we are poorly in be and my mind is quite foggy!
    Really loved hearing your experiences, and of many other mums doing similar things. I genuinely don’t know many Real Life souls who does it this way, so thank you for sharing 🙂

    @Ranzipan- yep, I am hearing your desire for child free time! And also for uninterrupted sleep! I think I just really disbelieve there is a way to have it all. For me knowing the long term effect on Ramona’s well being of avoiding sleep training and the short term benefits for me (er, basically a lie in) make it worth it. It isn’t perfect. But it gives me enough peace.

    @Mel – Of course, not all parenting choices are about control. And I am absolutely not saying people who do routine are doing it because they are power trippers 🙂 I would be fairly sure it is because it works for them- I did try to get across in this post that if you are content with what you do then perfect 🙂 But, on the control thing, alot of mainstream parenting advice is about control. And also, if I am honest, sometimes when I search behind why I want Ramona to do something, it can be about me needing to control that thing, in order to fit in with norms/ my own expectations etc. Naomi Aldort is pretty amazing on all of that.

    @Raych- OOF If only we knew the secret to kids and their never ending morning energy!! I too use to read the evening bit… hope it starts to feel less wearying soon.


    • Mel Wiggins 5 November, 2012 at 4:05 pm

      I’ll have a good read at that thanks lovely. I know you don’t think routine parents are power trippers!:)

      I still think it’s ok to sometimes want your child to do something/not do something in order for it to fit in with what you’re doing/your expectations etc. I don’t think it’s less loving or dampening of their spirits (it is if you’re a bossy mummy and overpower them with constant do’s and don’ts) – they often crave us to show them what to do, how to make a good choice, what not to do, right (at least I really see this with Levi)? And we all need to figure out how to live fairly together – not always getting our way – them included.

  • Gilly 5 November, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    “I accepted our new normal” Thank you for this post, it’s really encouraged me about the sleep choices I’ve made. My baby is only 3 months old but I found acceptance to be key to getting her to sleep well and for me to have a break while she does. She’ll only nap in my arms or in the sling in the day, takes an hour to two hours to feed to sleep at night and then she sleeps well. She does wake to feed throughout the night but goes right back to sleep. Once I accepted all this I relaxed and we’ve been getting along quite happily. I know that she’ll change her habits when she’s ready, I don’t want to spend my time fighting to make it another way.

    • Anna Hewitt 6 November, 2012 at 12:29 pm

      Gilly I could have written that, my 16 week old has EXACTLY the same sleep habits – so nice to hear someone else with the same experience!

  • Susie 5 November, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    Really interesting and thought-provoking read. While perhaps not for everyone it did reassure me that the fact I’ve relaxed about being woken at night and am (mostly!) confident in our choice to then co-sleep. We do have a relaxed routine around bed-time, but then I guess you too have a relaxed routine, just not what is written in some text books about bath, story-time, bed, and I do think that generally a household is much happier when there is mutual respect for the fact you are all individuals with varying needs, including respecting the needs of the littlest one and their ‘right’ to not necessarily fit in with the ‘recommended’ strategy! Thank you for helping to restore a bit of my confidence in my choices as a mum!!!!

  • Valerie 6 November, 2012 at 2:43 am

    This was a timely post to read because I have been floundering lately. As my son (14 months) gets further away from the 1 year mark, the more guilt and concern I have been feeling about his middle of the night nursing, which is “not NEEDED” (or so says most of our society). Well, what, then am I spoiling him? Is he maniplulating me? Is he “faking” it at 2am when he acts hungry exactly like he does during “reasonable” hours?! I don’t think so. I know him and I know he needs to nurse still. Why do “experts” say such things? 🙁 It puts such undo pressure on parents. I was FINE getting up with him for months and months, knowing this is ok, this is normal – he needs me. Now at 14 months I think, Why is he up? He should be asleep. He doesn’t need to eat. What am I doing wrong? I LOVED what you said: **I try as much as possible to let Ramona be self-directed, to eat when hungry, cuddle when she needs it, jump on the bed if she fancies it, and sleep when she is tired.** Samuel does do these things when he needs to, and I HAVE to start trusting it again, the way that I did before his first birthday. I want to enjoy the middle of the night again, and let him do as is natural for him to do. Thank you SO much fo this. I’m going to have to re-blog it for future reading in case I feel pressured again! 🙂

  • Valerie 6 November, 2012 at 2:44 am

    Reblogged this on Atlantamomofthree and commented:
    As a reminder that children will eat when they’re hungry and sleep when they’re tired.

  • lally Young 6 November, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    I agree with all the above comments, I dont think you are ever to young to be self-directed. We have done this with Willow and she is far more happy and content. I couldnt give her a stuctured rountine if I tried. I did with the boys and now they are teen nightmares!!!! Plus a childs body clock is slightly different to an adult one. Plus I think it gives them a sense of self care even though we care for them. Rammona will grow up fine as will the new little one. Dont give into peer pressure, I aint anymore.

  • eliminationcommunication 6 November, 2012 at 3:08 pm

    You should see peoples faces when I tell them my 3 year old does to bed at 11:30pm! We get the occasional grousing about going to bed but it is just grumbling. A meltdown is extremely rare and usually related to total exhaustion. My 8 month old sleeps when he pleases. The couch is also our napping and sleep station. Why move when all is quiet!? I am not a routine person and there is just no way I’d want to put in that much effort every day, I’ve got enough to do 🙂 My girl rarely sleeps more than 10-11 hours in 24 hours hours including a nap.

  • heartandvision 6 November, 2012 at 7:41 pm

    Thanks for your thoughts – exactly what I needed to read tonight! That is exactly the approach I am currently taking. As Valerie commented: children will eat when they’re hungry and sleep when they’re tired.

  • val 7 November, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    I did the whole ‘supernanny’ type bed time with my oldest son, although there was no supernanny then, since he is 23, it was what my Mum and Gran passed on, from the Dr Spock era I suspect. I have to admit it was mostly torturous and it went against my nature, but I persevered because it is what people said I was meant to do. Skip forward 20 years to my now, 3 year old son and we are so much more laid back. We have co-slept (safely) since he was born and it has REALLY suited all of us.

  • Ms Xpat (@MsXpat) 19 November, 2012 at 12:29 am

    After months and months of waking every two to three hours with my son. I eventually gave in. roughly when he was 1 1/2 yrs old to co-sleeping. However we do it for ‘half; the night. We cuddle on sofa, when he drifts off, he goes in his bed. When he wakes and wanders into our bedroom with pillow and sometimes duvet I, just make space for him in the middle. He may sometimes ask for milk, other times he just drifts right back to sleep. Funny thing is I’ve not got so used to him being with us, on the rare occasion when he sleeps through the night, I keep waking up to check him. And if I wasn’t heavily pregnant I’d enjoy the cuddle much more.

  • Hollie Hylands 13 January, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    I am always inspired by your posts and grateful to have stumbled upon them. As I don’t know anyone in ‘Real Life’ who share my approach on parenting, reading your blogs is like popping over to a friends for a nice hot cuppa. It always leaves my heart a little warmer and me a little less eager to justify my reasons for doing things a certain way. (Something I find myself doing often, justifying my approach as it doesn’t always fit in with ‘What The World Agrees Is Socially Acceptable’) I’m working on that!

    In life as with in parenting I simply wish people would ask more questions as to why things are a certain way. Who does it benefit? Is it necessary? Do you enjoy it this way? Do you want to change it? Life seems too often concerned with conforming and our little family are trying to make OUR way based on what works for us and enriches our lives. It’s is sometimes a lonely path and we are eager to meet other like minded people and parents who simply – ask more questions.

    Sure there are days when I wonder if we are doing the ‘right’ thing (for us). However then I look at how contented our little baby is, how beautifully natured she is, how she adapts to change and I dismiss this notion of right/wrong entirely. Our approach works for us and for her and that really is all that matters 🙂

    • Lucy 13 January, 2013 at 2:14 pm

      Oh, what a lovely comment. I LOVE your collection of questions! If only we had the courage more often to do this.

  • Kate 27 April, 2013 at 10:14 pm

    So glad I found this post, this is exactly our way of doing things, but I need to learn to not feel guilty about it. It so works for us!

  • Jo Argent 17 October, 2013 at 6:09 pm

    I couldn’t agree more

  • Jem 17 October, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    #1 slept best on my lap on and off the boob til I went to bed until around 12 months when she start getting unsettled in the evenings but was cranky and tired all the time so we started an upstairs bedtime routine.

    #2 only liked sleeping downstairs til about 4 months and so we did the same thing again, albeit with me getting lots of early nights because I was paranoid about the SIDS thing (not supposed to be left alone under 6mo bla bla)

    We do have a bedtime routine – it’s probably the only routine we do really have – but as a WAHM it’s 100% necessary if I’ve got work to do AND it also means that they both generally wake at the same time every morning which allows us to fit in our get-ready-for-preschool/work/etc morning stuff. Neither kid objects to the routine and we don’t have half the bedtime troubles I see moaned about on social media!

    If we were off galivanting around Europe you betcha I’d not give a crap when they went to bed. 😉

  • Leslie Kendall Dye 21 January, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    One morning after our electricity vanished, I noticed how the humming sound went away and the absolute silence by candlelight on a cold winter’s morning made my daughter and I fall asleep, one warm body on the other, in a matter of minutes. We fell asleep by one candle, which I blew out when I realized she was out. Now we have never had routines, I am just too much of a “free-spirit” and too “disorganized” to bother. I hate them and rebel against them and always have. (except when it comes to being a ballet dancer and an actor, then it all reverses in my brain – fascinating, but a digression.) ANYWAY, the point is, since that morning, after 8 30, we turn off all the electricity in our house. Anything my daughter or we can do by candlelight is allowed. Painting, eating, drawing, reading, block building. All these things become magical and eventually sleep inducing by candlelight. She still has a late bedtime, it is just who she is, and she still sleeps cuddled between us when we join her in bed, but the candle rule has helped calm us all before bed and it is the closest thing to a routine we have!

    • Leslie Kendall Dye 21 January, 2014 at 7:05 pm

      Ergh, I meant to say “my daughter and me.” I guess I do have rules and boundaries and grammar is one of them! 🙂

  • Cecelia 24 January, 2014 at 2:52 am

    ‘palava’ …. love that word. 🙂

  • Anna 27 January, 2014 at 10:48 pm

    Just revisiting this post (after a crazy week of sleep). Isn’t it funny how it takes that first child and all that time to have confidence in your own intuition and also in your own child? It took me ages to put down the books and just *be* with my daughter, and listen and learn from her. It all became less of a struggle after that!

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