To sleep or not to sleep…

I never in my life knew I would/could care so much about sleep as I do now.

I think about sleep nonstop these days.

Of course, I’m not referring to my own sleep, I’m referring to Clara’s sleep, or lack-of-sleep, depending on the day/week/month.

Sleep matters because it makes Clara less cranky. It also makes me less cranky. When Clara sleeps well I can get a ton done during the day, but when she doesn’t sleep well… it isn’t pretty. Of course, there are a lot of health benefits of sleep, too, but I don’t need to go into those. Take my word for it, sleep is good for everyone! So, of course, the question always is, how do you convince a tired baby to sleep!?

I own quite a few books on sleep, none of which I’m going to recommend at this point. Honestly, everyone seems to have a different opinion on the topic. I attended a New Moms Group (I loved this group) moderated by a sleep specialist, and she gave some great opinions/tips. Other people have given great opinions/tips. Friends and families all have advice. There are a bijillion books out there on the topic… and do you know why so many people have so many thoughts about this seemingly very obvious/basic subject? 

Because there are no ‘right’ answers and no one-size-fits-all approach.

Take my little family, for example. I’ve been told we have an ‘easy’ baby. I mean, she has an easy-going temperament and loves to hang out by herself most of the time, so I’m assuming it’s true. She almost never fusses except for when she’s hungry or sleepy and for that I am grateful.

The problem is that when she’s sleepy and doesn’t go to sleep she gets really fussy. We’re at that stage (Clara is 4.5 months old) when she just can’t quite get herself to sleep because she’s  becoming more alert and wants to hang out with us instead.* Sometimes she just wants to stare at her hands. I mean, there’s a lot going on in that developing brain of hers and the world is fascinating!

*I mean, we’re interesting people, but we aren’t that interesting. She just doesn’t know that yet.

Anyway, for a while we struggled with Clara’s sleep schedule because she stayed awake until sometime between midnight and 2am each and every night and then slept until noon. Granted, she would wake up a time or two in between that window, but her night was pretty much from 2am-12pm. Obviously, this was not a sustainable schedule.

I had a moment of freak-out in which I was convinced I had ruined my baby forever and she wouldn’t be able to go to kindergarten because she wouldn’t ever wake up in time, and then I decided to just put her to bed earlier one night. I felt like a huge idiot when she just went to sleep (and stayed asleep) at 9pm. I was definitely wondering why I hadn’t tried that earlier.

I guess it can be pretty easy, really!

Onesie from the Etsy shop ‘From Ash with Love‘. I am obsessed with it!**

We still don’t have a consistent schedule, though. Some nights Clara goes to bed at 5:30pm (that was her absolute earliest and I thought she was down for a nap but she just didn’t wake back up until the morning), and some nights she goes to sleep at 1am. 

Is this ‘schedule’ convenient?

Yes and no.

Since she was born we’ve done quite a bit of traveling and visiting with friends and family and basically keeping Clara up past her ‘bedtime’, and she has been a trooper. These events probably aren’t helping her get into a routine of any kind. In these instances it’s nice for us that she doesn’t have a bedtime, because she’s fine staying up a bit later and usually doesn’t get cranky. We don’t always need to stay at home or leave places early to fit her schedule, although we do tend to try to be home in the evenings more often than not to avoid overstimulating her and to encourage an earlier bedtime.

I try not to complain about Clara’s sleeping habits to people, because I want to avoid getting unsolicited advice, but every once in a while I mention that she doesn’t have a bedtime and that certainly starts a discussion, whether or not I want to be in it. I especially love when non-parent friends give me advice because they know of parents who have done ________  (insert any name of a various sleeping method). I mean, I get it, people want to be helpful, but really, comments about what other parents do or what we ‘should’ be doing make me defensive.

We have more-than-a-few friends who tell us we should have had her on a ‘schedule’ or ‘routine’ from day 1. It’s hard to respond to comments like that, because honestly, we just haven’t felt the need for that sort of structure. (Which is basically what I respond with, at which point people look at me like I’m a completely crazy person.)

You see, when Clara was a newborn she slept in 4-6 hour increments, only waking up to eat. She set her own schedule. And now she usually goes to bed early unless something is bothering her or there’s a lot of activity going on, and I think that’s okay, too. I mean, she spends most of her day cheerful and entertaining herself, and if she’s tired enough she’ll start rubbing her eyes and yawning and then I make sure she is in her carrier or crib (when we’re at home) so she can take a nap. Luckily, Clara has the gift of being able to sleep just about anywhere as long as she’s in her carseat/carrier.

But there are still days like the one we had earlier this week when something was bothering her and she barely napped all day and definitely didn’t fall asleep until 1am. It was brutal. Tim and I were both losing our minds and our usually-independent baby wanted nothing more than to be cuddled. It was actually pretty sweet when she finally fell asleep in my arms at 1am. At that point I just kept her in bed with me and she nuzzled there for the rest of the night and my heart was full.

Nights like that night make me second-guess myself. I can’t help but think ‘oh gosh, if she had a bedtime she’d be asleep right now and this would be much easier!’ However, I don’t think that’s true. I think she wasn’t feeling well so she didn’t want to go to sleep, and it’s okay to have nights like this. Some days it’s easy, some days it’s hard. (And I firmly maintain that many parents don’t acknowledge the hard moments.)

When I talk to older relatives and friends about baby sleep habits, they all say to go with the flow. They recommend not reading books or articles and just letting the baby do what the baby wants to do. They all say they didn’t have a ‘bedtime’ for their baby until well after the six month mark. My pediatrician (an older gentleman who we love seeing) subscribes to this line of thinking.

So I’m wondering if this whole obsession with sleep is new. I wonder if we’ve just gotten so busy that we need our babies to go around our schedules. It makes sense, because it’s common for both parents to continue to work after the baby is brought home, and with two parents on a work schedule, the baby needs to be on a schedule so that parents can continue to function in a non-sleep deprived way. I have the ‘luxury’ of being able to stay at home with Clara, so if she has a rough night but sleeps until noon, I do that too, and we both feel better the next day.

I guess what I’m saying is this: If you have a bedtime routine for your baby and it works for you and you love it – that is excellent! If you’re on the other end of the spectrum and are letting your baby do what your baby wants to do when it comes to sleep – I think that’s also great! I doubt either one of those approaches will ruin a child for life. Not all of us thrive on routines, but some of us do, and I’m sure we’ll all fall into one that works for our families.

If you have a newborn and are desperate to figure out a way to get your baby to sleep, read the books and maybe find some great tips. Or better yet, hire a sleep specialist who can work on techniques specific to your family. But don’t feel like you need to have control over this whole thing in the first few months. Give yourself some grace and realize that you’re adjusting to a whole new way of life, and flexibility might just be what keeps you sane. Or maybe more structure will keep you sane, only you can decide that!

This was definitely a post on ‘do whatever you want to do and don’t feel bad about it! We’re all clueless and just trying to survive day by day!’ but I hope it serves to empower someone who feels like they might be ‘failing’ at this whole parenthood thing.

** As soon as I saw it, I couldn’t NOT have this onesie from the Etsy shop, ‘From Ash With Love‘. I mean, seriously, there is nothing cuter than a baby in a milk coma except for a baby in a milk coma wearing a #milkcoma onesie! There are so many other designs for babies in this store that I had a hard time just choosing one! I was pleased that the onesie was Carter’s brand and of super high quality. We machine washed it and the letters stayed on, which I was very happy with. Ashley’s store also has tons of adorable designs for adults, so make sure you check it out. You can use the discount code ‘CLARA’ for 15% off… Just in time for the holidays!


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