Today I try to help a friend of mine who can’t seem to put her baby to bed earlier than 10 pm. It started just a few weeks ago and she is frustrated to lose her free evenings, and also worried that her baby might not get enough sleep, because he wakes up at the same time as always. Is it really a problem? What can she do?
Sleep needs study reference: Iglowstein, I., Jenni, O. G., Molinari, L., & Largo, R. H. (2003). Sleep duration from infancy to adolescence: reference values and generational trends. Pediatrics, 111(302), 302–307. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.111.2.302
Hello everyone, it's Anna. Thank you so much for tuning in today. You are listening to The Baby Sleep Project Show: the place to learn about baby sleep and sleep coaching.
Hi everyone. Today, I will answer a question from a friend of mine who has three kids. So, her son is a year and a half, and she also has two daughters who are seven and nine years old. The girls go to bed at 8:00 PM and fall asleep pretty easily, but she cannot manage to put her son down to sleep before 10:00 PM. So her son falls asleep while breastfeeding, and that is okay with her. So she doesn't really want to change that, or at least it doesn't bother her. And all three kids wake up between 7 and 8 AM.
Another piece of information was that her son ideally naps from 12 to 2 PM, but this varies, especially now that the girls didn't go to school, because the schools were closed because of, because of the pandemic. And also, she also told me that her son is very sleepy before the nap. So sometimes it's really difficult to wait until 12 PM for him to take the nap. So she thinks that her son would need to go to bed earlier. He barely sleeps nine hours at night now, and she worries that this might not be enough. Also, this is very difficult for them, I mean the parents, because they barely have any free time in the evenings.
So I can definitely relate to her problem, because time after the kids go to bed is so precious for me. I guess she can relate too, right? And that is when we can talk with my husband, sometimes we have dinner together, sometimes we order food or watch a movie. Sometimes we even have some secret parties when we invite our friends over after bedtime and we sit on the terrace or the balcony, sipping wine and talking. And, I wouldn't want to lose this precious time either.
And, and especially now, because now comes my favorite time of the year, when the sun is still up after bedtime. I mean that feeling when the kids are all tucked in and I go sit on the terrace and it feels like I still have plenty of time, like all the time I need, before I will get sleepy, before I have to go to bed myself. And that feeling is just, just divine. Especially if I go out, I mean, this year obviously was not the best for going out, but I used to go to the swimming pool after bedtime, or even meet some friends in a nearby pub. And I love that feeling. When I walk on the streets, the sun is still shining and I know that my kids are all asleep, safe and sound. And it feels like, like freedom for me.
So I can really understand what her problem is with, with this very late bedtime for her son. And I know that some families practice family bedtime. So family bedtime is when the whole family goes to bed together, or at least at the same time. Usually families who sleep together, so families who practice co-sleeping do it more often, for obvious reasons, because it's just easier. Most of the time the adults have less, the adults sleep needs are less than the kids' sleep needs, of course. So the adults wake up earlier in the morning. Well, I am not a morning person. I actually used to sleep until noon before I had kids, but I can very well imagine that waking up at dawn when the kids are still asleep can have a very similar kind of feeling to my late night freedom time.
Unfortunately family bedtime would not solve my friend's problem because her son sleeps only an hour or maybe two hours more than the parents. So even though if they went to bed together, that wouldn't mean that they would have more free time. I mean, the parents wouldn't have more adult time. We actually call this adult time. And when the kids come out of their bed to, you know, say something, or come up with excuses and we just tell them, sssh, this is adult time. You just get your glass of water and go right into your bed because this is our time.
Okay. So let's look at the data now. This little boy is 18 months old, goes to bed at 10:00 PM, wakes up at 7:00 AM. So that is nine hours of sleep at night. And he also sleeps two hours for his nap. So according to the National Sleep Foundation, toddlers, and they mean from one to three years of age, the recommended total daily sleep for toddlers is from 11 to 14 hours. So this little boy sleeps on the lower end of this range. And the National Sleep Foundation also says that it may be appropriate to sleep at this age range from 9 to 11 hours.
So I would say that he's in the maybe appropriate range or at the edge of the maybe appropriate and the recommended daily sleep. But let's not forget that the age range for this recommendation is from one to three years and he's at the lower end of this range. So he's a year on the half. It means that he should be on the upper end of this range because sleep needs gradually decrease over time, especially in the first few years of life. So even if 11 hours could be in the recommended range, if you want, but for this age, I would say it is not.
So what does the "maybe appropriate" range mean? It means that it may be appropriate for certain individuals whose sleep needs are less than the average. And how do you know whether you're a kid, is that kind of person? Basically you look at the kid and you see whether he, he or she looks sleep deprived, right? If he looks sleepy most of the day, if he's whiny, then you can assume that he doesn't have enough sleep. So that means that he might not be in this group of kids, whose sleep needs are lower than the average.
Okay. So I like the recommendations of the National Sleep Foundation, because they clearly state that the recommended total daily sleep is a range. And there's a range below and above that, that may be appropriate. So I liked that it's not like a strict one hour or two hour range for all age groups. But I even like more, the Iglowstein study that I have already cited many times in this podcast, I will put the citation in the show notes. So it was a 2003 study, and they asked the parents of 452 children, how much their child slept.
So what do they have? At 18 months the average sleep was 11.6, so a little bit more than 11 and a half hours at night, plus a two-hour nap. So that is 13.6 hours for the whole day. Okay, so this means that, my friend's son naps the average, exactly, the average two hours. So probably there is no problem with that, but he sleeps more than two hours less than the average. So the average was more than 11 and a half hours, and he only sleeps nine hours.
So how does nine hours compare to the rest of the kids in this study? So we have one useful piece of information in this study, which says that the two percentile was 9.7 hours. 2 percentile means that only 2% of the kids slept less than 9.7 hours. So this means that if my friend's son sleeps nine hours, that might be even less. So he might be even a more extreme case than the 2% of the kids. And that is, statistically speaking, not likely. This means, this is actually good news, because this means that an earlier bedtime might be appropriate for him. An earlier time, not only would benefit the parents, but also the kid. So that is a win-win situation!
So let's see, how could we manage an earlier bedtime in this case? So the question is, why can't he fall asleep, right? And I think there are four possibilities in this case. And so I have four tips to fix this problem. First possibility is that there's something in the environment that makes, that makes it difficult for him to fall asleep. Second possibility is that he is not tired enough, and so it is difficult for him to fall asleep. Third difficulty is the opposite that he's too tired. And the fourth possibility is that the breastfeeding sleep association makes it difficult for him to fall asleep. So let's look at these possibilities one by one.
So the environment. So as you know, our environment sends all kinds of cues to our brain to signal that it is time to sleep. And this time of the year, when the kids go to bed, it's still, the sun is still up. So if you don't have good shades or blackout blinds, then it might be very difficult for kids to fall asleep. And for some kids, it's not enough to just make the room darker or even completely dark before bedtime. So let's say since he falls asleep while breastfeeding, I assume my friend makes the room darker before she starts breastfeeding. And then he, she hopes that her son would fall asleep on the boob and then she could put him into bed after that.
But it might not be enough! For some kids, the sun is such a powerful signal that they need more time to wind down. So, my first suggestion is that even though they, I know that they have good blackout blinds, but my suggestion is that after the girls go to sleep to go to the baby's room and make it completely dark and do everything in their bedtime routine, whether it is changing nappies, putting on a sleep stack or whatever, if they have a bedtime story or a lullaby as a sleep cue, but do everything, all of this in the dark. A small nightlight could be switched on, but it should, everything in the environment should signal that it is nighttime. So it should be quiet, cool, and dark. And rather than just do the last part, the breastfeeding, in the dark, let's do everything in the dark. And then maybe this process may be longer. So make the bedtime routine at least half an hour so that the kid has more time to adjust to the darkness and to accept that it's bedtime. So that was my tip number one.
Okay. So tip number two and three are the opposites, right? So my tip number two was that the baby is not tired enough. And the other possibility tip number three is that he's too tired. So how is this possible? So basically there are two kinds of kids in this regard, I think. The first kind is who falls asleep easier, when they are tired, right? And most adults are this kind, but some kids react, in the opposite way to tiredness. So some kids, when they are too tired, they get overexcited, they become hyper. The usual term we use is that they become overtired, and they just can't fall asleep at that state. And it makes it very difficult for them to wind down and to calm down and to fall asleep.
How do you know whether your, your baby is the first kind, or the second kind? Well, it is quite obvious for most kids, because those kids who get hyper, if they are older, they just run around, shout a lot, scream a lot, they throw tantrums. So sometimes it's very obvious. But I know that my friend's baby is quite the calm and quiet type of child. So maybe it won't be that obvious in his case. So if you're not sure how your child reacts to overtiredness, whether it makes it more difficult or less difficult for him to fall asleep, then you should experiment.
If you are experimenting with schedules, then the number one rule is to fix as many variables as you can. And luckily there are not too many variables in this case, since this little boy only naps once a day, right? So the variables that the parents can fix are the wake up time, starting the nap, starting the bedtime routine and, lights out. So when you are experimenting with your schedule, I suggest to wake your kid up every morning. I know that it's really harsh and really difficult to do, but you don't have to do it all the time, maybe for just a week or a few days, until you figure out what's best for him. So wake him up in the morning and then you start experimenting with the nap.
So if the problem is that your kid is not tired enough in the evening, then you should push the nap earlier. So this way you make the second wake window, the wake window from the end of the nap until bedtime, you make this wake window longer. And at the same time, of course, you try to put your kid to bed earlier and see if it works. The other possibility if you, your kid is too tired and becomes hyper and that's why he cannot fall asleep. To fix this, you should push the nap later. So that way you make the wake window shorter. So that way you make the second week window shorter. And that's, that way your kid won't be that tired and may, may be able to fall asleep easier. Okay? So my suggestion is that fix your wake up time and experiment with different nap times. For a few days push the nap earlier, and for a few days push the nap later and see whether you can put your child to bed earlier than 10:00 PM.
Okay. The last possibility is the breastfeeding sleep association. So I know that it is not a problem for my friend to breastfeed her child to sleep, but this sleep association can have a negative effect on falling asleep. How? So after a certain age, some kids figure out that while their parents are there while they fall asleep, in this case, the mom is there and is breastfeeding the baby to fall asleep, but after they fall asleep, the breastfeeding stops and the mom goes out of the room, right? Because that's when she wants to do her stuff. That's her me-time or his or her time.
And some, some kids figure this out and they don't want this to happen. And that's why they kind of, they start fighting sleep. They don't want this to happen. And so they know that their mom won't go out the door until they are not asleep, because it's their job to put the baby to sleep. So they won't to leave until the baby's asleep. So they will try to make this longer. They try, they will try to make falling asleep longer. And the only way to fix this is to break this breastfeeding sleep association. So once the kid learns to fall asleep independently, and he won't be afraid to fall asleep independently and he will be competent in this regard, once this happens, it won't be an issue whether the mom is inside or not. And if the mom leaves anyway, and the, and the baby has to fall asleep independently, then there would be no reason for the baby to try to fight sleep.
This is the last possibility, and I hope this is not the case, because I guess my friend would not want to sleep train her son. And so if by modifying the schedule and the environment, she cannot fix this problem, then the other possibility without sleep training, the other possibility is that just to fall asleep together. And then in this way, maybe her son wouldn't fight falling asleep. And of course you can say that, that would kind of defeat the purpose, because then they wouldn't, the parents wouldn't have their parent time in the evening, but, but if they choose this possibility to fall asleep together with their son, maybe their son would sleep longer and then they could have their parent time in the morning.