I’ve already talked about the effects of exhaustion on adults in Desperate Housewife Syndrome and Postpartum Anxiety. Now it’s time to talk about sleep and our little ones. I am often amazed when mothers explain their children’s lack of sleep because their kids, simply, don’t want to go down. If we can establish from the get go that children do not know what’s best for them, then I think we mothers will have an easier time. If I hadn’t read the best book ever while I was pregnant with my first I think I would have fallen for this tricky trick our kids try to pull on us. Oh, I’m not tired. I don’t need to sleep. Look at me, I’m actually super hyper right now. The last thing I need is sleep. I have to potty. I need milk. Oh yes, the reasons and excuses why they don’t need to sleep lasts forever. But, the fact remains. Kids do not know what is best for them, and sleep is best for them.
1) Sleep begets sleep. From birth, the more your babies sleep the more they’ll want to sleep. As the months go by this remains true. I have a 7 month old who sleeps 2 hours in the morning, 2 hours in the afternoon, and 45 minutes by early evening. This is not because he’s odd (my daughter did the same), but this is because his body is used to sleep and now he needs it. And, even better, he wants it. When his naptime comes around he’s fussy and as we walk to his room and I lay him in his bed he smiles at me. He smiles. He wants to sleep! No, I don’t have an alien baby. No, I am not just super special. Actually, of course I’m super special. Who isn’t? The reason for this is because, by routine and scheduling, he has slept regularly each day and now it is a habit. Just because a kid acts like they don’t want to sleep doesn’t mean they don’t need it. And, as the effects of good sleep take hold, they themselves will realize its benefit.
2) Sleep is where the information absorbed during the day is processed and put away for future use. I won’t go too medical here since I studied Liberal Arts, but suffice it to say, all experts agree. Babies and toddlers are bombarded with images, information, activity and new things throughout the day. Sleep is when this information is properly stored and put away. Imagine a student cramming for exams. It may work for one night, but day after day of cramming and the brain just won’t be able to take any more. The student becomes anxious, stressed, irritable and eventually, unable to retain any more information. Why should children be any different? Sleep is important for their neural, physical and emotional development.
3) Lack of sleep makes them irritable, frustrated and short tempered. Then we get annoyed at them, and they feel confused and angry. After all, it isn’t their fault. No child, unless the are sick or tired beyond belief, will walk themselves to bed at their determined naptime on a regular basis. If they don’t see mommy napping then it won’t occur to them. I have seen it firsthand, more times than I can count, that kids who do not nap regularly or sleep enough are not happy campers. They are irritable, fussy, unpredictable and unsettled. And why wouldn’t they be, they aren’t running on a full tank. It’s the same with adults so why would it be any different with children? Sleep deprivation has a compound effect and the lack of sleep has emotional and physical consequences. Wait, you say, what’s the difference in the loss of an hour or two here and there? According to Nurture Shock, a lot. A+ students averaged only 15 minutes more sleep than B students. 15 minutes…
4) It is only for a short time, but its effects last a lifetime. I know it’s annoying to be at home with sleeping babies all the time. I know it’s hard to have a life when all you do is feed your babies and put them to bed. I wrote on that here. But in the grand scheme of life, this is a short season. I don’t want to wish away my babies and make them children yet. I love this stage. They are happy, curious and in awe of everything. Sure it means I am on a tight schedule to get things done outside the house if they need a nap, but you know what? Having happy children more than makes up for that. I know that, in a few years, they won’t nap anymore. Then they’ll drive, go to college, and get married. I want to eat a box of Reese’s just thinking about it. So, for now, I’ll just console myself with the fact that the sleep training we are doing now will benefit them forever. They’ll be in the habit of sleeping well. They’ll operate as efficiently as they are able (to the extent I am in control of that) from a young age. They don’t know now how it will benefit them, but that’s why they need a mom. Young immature minds need older wiser minds to guide them and show them how to make good decisions. If we let our immature children make bad decisions we are setting them up to fail.
5) Children who are well slept are calmer, more focused, better behaved and happier. The difference in behavior with my kids from when they are tired to when they are well rested is like night and day. Behaviors start coming out that I never see, and I understand why so many mothers out there are frazzled and on the verge of breakdown. I put them down for a long nap and put the to bed early in the evening, and they wake up happy campers again. It isn’t me, it isn’t them, it’s sleep!
If your baby or toddler has already rebelled against sleeping all is not lost. Though they aren’t used to it and they will fight it, know that you are the mother. You are in control. You can get back some of the ground you have lost and get your child on a good sleep schedule. They’ll fight it. They’ll cry and most likely scream and pitch fits. But remember, it’s for their own good and for their benefit.