When I was pregnant with my first child, I was bombarded by friends, family, and random strangers about the importance of a sleep schedule for my yet to be born baby.
The advice sounded like this:
“Get him on a schedule the moment you get him home from the hospital or you’ll regret it!”
“Give him a proper wind-down routine each evening that includes a bath and lavender scented soap to help calm him. It works miracles. Then use lavender scented lotion to massage him because it will tire him out.”
“Put the baby in his crib awake so he doesn’t rely on you to put him to sleep.”
“Let him cry it out starting at 6 months old.”
“Don’t ever let him cry it out or he’ll grow up with abandonment issues.”
“Read to him for fifteen minutes every night to establish a healthy bedtime routine and foster a love of reading.”
“Rock him every night. You want him to know you’re there for him and will do what it takes to help him send him off to dreamland. Good sleep is essential and so is your mother-son bond.”
“Do not, under any circumstances, nurse that baby to sleep. He’ll never be able to go to sleep without being nursed once you start on that path.”
“Do not co-sleep or you’ll never sleep again!”
“Put him to sleep at the same time every night or you’ll confuse his body.”
All of this information left me overloaded and unsure of what to do.
As a first-time mom I worried that if I didn’t follow everyone’s recommendations to the letter, I would somehow be doing irreparable harm to this innocent baby. So I did what everyone said and I got him on a schedule instantly – regardless of the toll it took on me personally.
We moved like clockwork throughout our day making sure every nap was accounted for and that bedtime was always on schedule. If it meant we missed out on something because it interfered with bedtime or nap time then so be it. I lived and died by the sleep schedule. I became a slave to the routine.
A few years later, I had my second child, and the routine went out the window. It was impossible to get my bouncing baby girl to understand the importance of this schedule I’d worked so hard to establish with her brother. Not to mention, her routine completely clashed with his because of their age difference. So for the first time in years, we kind of just made up the rules as we went along. We were rebels without a cause, and it was liberating. The world didn’t fall off its axis. Occasionally it resulted in a slightly more cranky toddler, but toddlers aren’t known for having sunny dispositions all the time anyway, and my now nine-year-old son seems relatively happy and well adjusted.
Here’s the reality, sleep is important for everyone but so is experiencing life. And of all the parenting decisions I regret, being too inflexible about where my kids slept, how they went to sleep, and what time they went to sleep is at the very top of the list.
I said no to staying up late, I said no to stepping outside the routine, I said no to bed sharing. And now, I wish I’d said yes more because we missed out on some opportunities to make memories when he was younger.
The truth is, you can do both – have a sleep schedule and partake in life outside of a sleep schedule – but that takes being fluid and way less rigid.
You have to roll with the punches and know that your child will eventually grow up and enter the adult world knowing how to sleep. They all do, regardless of how much we worry. All humans require sleep to function and your child will be no different whether you allow them to stay up past bedtime every now and again or give in and say yes to bed sharing on a random Friday night.
I still firmly believe in early bedtimes and that good rest is one of the most important healthy habits you can teach your child but like most things, balance is key.
My favorite book for understanding the importance of sleep and how to achieve success is Happy Baby, Healthy Sleep Habits. Use it as your guide to set up a schedule that works for you, but don’t be a slave to the schedule, and trust your instincts because these are your children and you really do know what’s best.