Last weekend, I was surprised to look in my rearview mirror and see my very active 4-year-old, who has recently given up on naps almost entirely, fast asleep in his car seat on the way to the store. And when he woke up cranky in the parking lot, I unbuckled him, held him close for a moment, and he fell back to sleep in my arms.
For almost two hours, my busy big guy slept curled up against me, while I snuggled him and thought back to when he was a baby.
"I would do it all again in a heartbeat: morning sickness, back pain, labor, birth, breastfeeding, car seats, day care, ear infections, teething, tantrums, stitches, projectile vomiting, the works," I thought. A big part of me would love to have another baby—to do it all over again and make my son a big brother.
And yet, there is a big thing that gives me pause.
Lack of sleep.
I need my sleep so badly. Exclusively breastfeeding while working full time wore. me. out. Being up in the middle of the night with a screaming teething baby who only wanted Mama made me feel like a total zombie. Even now, when my son wakes up with a nightmare or croup, or I stay up too late studying, sipping a glass of wine in the tub, visiting with friends or folding laundry, I sometimes feel like I drag for a few days afterward, wading through molasses with neurons firing at half speed.
So would I sign up for two years of sleepless nights all over again?
I could never stomach the so-called cry-it-out method. It absolutely is not for me. But no judgment here—I believe everyone needs to do what is best for his or her individual family and individual children. Sleep is a very personal thing, and parental philosophies fall all over the spectrum. It is personal, it is political, it is cultural.
I know lot of people out there might sneer to hear that my 4-year-old sleeps with me most nights, but if that is how we both get the most sleep and the best sleep, then that is what we are going to do for now, because getting enough sleep makes me a better parent.
Whether or not you let your littles crawl in bed with you at the end of the day, here are several ways to make bedtime smoother and get more sleep with kids of all ages.
Gentle Bedtime Parenting Ideas:
• Avoid heavy meals and exercise in the evenings.
• Lower the lights as the evening progresses to boost melatonin production.
• Create a calming bedtime routine and stick to it.
• Avoid television and other electronic devices after dinner.
• Give kids a bath with a few drops of calming essential oils such as lavender.
• Read family bedtime stories.
• Play quiet, calming music.
• Have a going-to-sleep-first contest.
• Share sleep with your kids in the same bed.
• Create a calming bedroom space where your kids feel comfortable.
• Take a night walk.
• Allow older kids "flashlight time" in bed with library books.
• Have a family lullaby sing-along.
Bedtime Stories for Bigger Littles
• "Interrupting Chicken," by David Ezra Stein (Candlewick, 2010, $16.99)
• "Sleepy Book," by Charlotte Zolotow (HarperCollins, 2001, available used from multiple sources)
• "Dr. Seuss's Sleep Book," by Dr. Seuss (Random House, 1962, $14.99)
• "Sleep Like a Tiger," by Mary Logue (HMH Books, 2012, $16.99)
Foods That Encourage Wakefulness:
Foods That Encourages Sleepiness:
• whole-grain crackers with peanut butter or almond butter
Bedtime Books for Babies
• "Sweet Dreams Lullaby," by Betsy Snyder (Random House, 2012, $6.99)
• "A Book of Sleep," by Il Sung Na (Knopf, 2011, $6.99)
• "Time for Bed," by Mem Fox (Red Wagon Books, 1997, $6.99)
• "Good Night, Gorilla," by Peggy Rathmann (Putnam Juvenile, 1996, $7.99)
Sample Sleep Routine
- Play quiet games.
- Dim the lights.
- Pick up toys.
- Take a bath.
- Brush teeth.
- Eat a small, healthy bedtime snack.
- Use the potty.
- Put on pajamas.
- Read four books.
- Sing three songs.
- Snuggle or give a back rub.
Books for Adults
• "Nighttime Parenting," by Dr. William Sears (Plume, 1999, $15)
• "The No Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night," by Elizabeth Pantley (McGraw-Hill, 2002, $16.95)
• "The No Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers: Gentle Ways to Stop Bedtime Battles and Improve Your Child's Sleep," by Elizabeth Pantley (McGraw-Hill, 2005, $16.95)