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My kids don’t sleep and that’s OK

When it was mentioned that we were doing a sleep series and asked if we had any tips & tricks that worked for us, I posted a response that was something like, “Bwahahaha! Not unless you want me to write about how my kids DON’T sleep and how nothing that those books say ever applied to them!”

But you know what? Maybe another mom out there does need me to write about how my kids (now 2.5 and almost 4) never slept through the night as babies. Because not all babies need the same amount of sleep to be The Happiest Baby on the Block, and not all of them need Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child to be a Happy Child. And maybe we should all just stop listening to what someone else tells us how our children should act.

Let me back-track.

For my first child, the ability to sleep for long periods of time probably wore off by about 3 months. He was fully alert and aware of his surroundings by then, and he wanted to par-tay. Not just at night, but during the day too.

Instead of multiple naps throughout the day, he would often stay awake ALL DAY LONG, no matter how much he was fed, rocked, put into a swing, despite babywearing and infant massage and an established routine. Some days, he just wasn’t having any of it when it came to sleep. I once saw him stay up for 10 hours straight at around 6 months old. But he also didn’t make up for his lack of sleep at night. Regardless of how many naps he had skipped during the day, he was up every 3-4 hours all night long.

This went well into his 10th month of life. By then, he was down to waking once a night at 3am, but since I worked until 10pm and he woke up for the day at 5am, this was hardly great. By then, I was also 4 months pregnant with my daughter and starting to have trouble sleeping due to pregnancy discomfort.

Before you start offering advice, let me assure you: I have read that book. Yes, that book, whichever one you are recommending right now that worked great for you. I did a blog post about all the things that I tried and there was not one suggestion I received that I hadn’t already tried or didn’t try after that.

My favorite approach, for the record, was The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems book. I love the way she approaches understanding your child, rather than forcing them to live a certain way.

But here’s the thing that made none of those books work: my son was not crying when he woke up at night.

He would just wake up and start talking, laughing, singing, and calling for us to join in. At 3am. VERY LOUDLY. As in, so loudly that you can’t ignore it because there is a very loud party going on. Therefore, it was difficult to apply “cry it out” theory when no one was crying. It was difficult to soothe when he wasn’t really upset. But it was also impossible to ignore the party. If we tried, he started jumping on the bed, a skill that he acquired by 8.5 months of age. As he got stronger and heavier, that was kind of a safety issue. As the song goes, we couldn’t stop the party.

My kids don't sleep, and that's OK

My son, awake in his crib, after removing the blinds and the window covering during what was supposed to be a nap. He was super proud.

When my next baby came along, she seemed so easygoing. She would nap anywhere during the day and she took regular naps. She didn’t skip naps at all! And for the first few months she even slept well, for a newborn. Not “through the night”, but only waking briefly before I went to sleep and at 3am or 4am. The problem was, she just kept on doing that…and doing that…and just would not stop that 3am waking. No matter what we tried. And she was an angry one!

Now there was an issue with the crying, because my son had just started sleeping through the night in the past few months and I did not want to start him back with the waking up. At this point, I really didn’t even try the books. I’d read them all. I’d tried all the things. The strategy was: keep her as close to me as possible so that when she does wake up, I can get to her before she wakes her brother. Again, like my son, she was an extremely happy child during the day. Possibly even more than he was, even though she didn’t sleep like the books said she should.

And that is the point, really. There was nothing wrong with either of my children, and there still isn’t. They meet and exceed all their milestones. People stop me at church and in stores and tell me that they are such happy kids, and they are!

They are now officially preschoolers and they do sleep all the way through the night. They still don’t sleep the number of hours that other peoples’ children do or that the books say that they should. They go to sleep very late at night and they wake up early, requiring us to buy special clocks to force them to stay in bed. But you know what? That’s OK.

I learned two things from my children’s lack of sleep training:

1) Those sleep experts don’t actually know how many hours of sleep my particular child needs. The recommended total hours of sleep that a baby needs doesn’t always fall within the range listed in a book. Sure, 13-15 hours per 24 hour period sounds great! If you’re keeping your baby up longer than he or she can handle and dropping them below 13 hours because you have things to do and you’re ignoring their cues, that’s definitely a problem. But I’d venture to say that most of us don’t do that.

Most of us want our children to sleep as much as possible so that they can grow in a healthy way. We put them to bed at a fairly consistent hour and we provide the things they need to sleep safely and soundly. It’s just that some of them don’t need the maximum amount of hours, and some of them barely even reach the minimum. My babies were both super happy and healthy and meeting all their developmental milestones. That number in the book was just a number, and I shouldn’t have let it stress me out so much.

2) My attitude about my own sleep was the problem, not the amount of sleep my children were getting. By the time my daughter was a few months old, I had a running tally in my head of each increment of sleep that I’d had in the past 24 hours. 10:30-midnight, 1am-3am, 3:30am-5:30am…hm, that’s 5 hours of sleep. Oh wow, I’ve only had 5 hours of sleep! Mentally knowing the number of hours of sleep I got became an obsession, if I’m honest. Then I heard a mom at my church talk about what kinds of things we let our minds dwell on and I realized I’d been dwelling on something that I couldn’t even control.

As soon as I let go of my internal tracking and just slept when I could and allowed myself to accept whatever I received with a grateful heart, my whole outlook changed! I wasn’t storming around the house angry every morning because of how many times my daughter woke up. I could be a much better mom when I stopped defining my day by what happened last night.

A note on sleep deprivation: I attended a conference a few weeks ago where postpartum mood disorders were discussed, including postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. I realized that sleep deprivation at the level I experienced for 3 years with my children is a huge risk factor for PMAD. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms as a result of your children not sleeping, please seek help immediately. You are not crazy!

Postpartum Support International has a warm line with a real person that you can talk to 24/7,

please visit their web site or call 1-800-944-4PPD.

Now that my children are both well past the baby stage, I frequently look back on those years and think about what I would tell a first time mom so that she can avoid my mistakes. Here is what I would say about sleep: it’s not everything. Yes, it’s good for you to have sleep and your baby needs sleep.

But no one is allowed to judge you based on when your baby sleeps through the night. You are a good mom. Keep trying.

You are a good mom.


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8 Responses to My kids don’t sleep and that’s OK

  1. Tiffany H. November 6, 2013 at 12:41 pm #

    I love how honest you are! More moms need to hear that about some babies instead of beating themselves up if their kid does not fit into the normal mode. My two have different stories than yours but similar results. Neither has ever slept a 12 hour night, nor do I expect it. But the sleep deprivation for mom can sure be a problem!

  2. Monica November 6, 2013 at 3:01 pm #

    Mine defied all the advice too…she’s 17 months and she still does. When she was a newborn I swear she never slept, just “rested her eyes” lol…I tried everything, including creeping away like a stealthy ninja, and failed. They’re little individuals…one of the best pieces of parenting advice I ever read (and the primary one I try to take above) is to ride the horse you’re on. I try to remember that, that she with all her insomnia and stubbornness and wonderfulness is the little soul that I was given, and the only one I want. Even if it means that I only sleep 4-5 hours for the rest of my life.

  3. LoneStarDad November 6, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

    While I respect the opinions contained in this article, I completely disagree with them. I don’t think there are any shortage of experts who will deny the benefits of healthy, uninterrupted sleep. Yes, you read all the books out there, but did you apply any of their methods? Did you have a method from day one, or did you check out these books after an issue had already developed?

    Our 9-month-old daughter sleeps through the night, and not because we are lucky or because we read that book or because we applied some methods we read in that book after having sleep issues at 3 months of age. She sleeps through the night because we worked tirelessly at maintaining a consistent schedule from day one. It was (and still is and will continue to be) extremely difficult and exhausting, so I can’t help but to be a little offended when I read articles like this, or worse, people say, “Your baby sleeps though the night? You’re so lucky!” It’s not luck, it was hard work, is what I want to say, but I usually smile and nod my head.

    I completely agree that there is no “normal” and that numbers in a book are not applicable to everyone across the board. But some standards of health are pretty consistent across the board: eating fruits and vegetables is good; getting a full night’s sleep is good, etc.

    Oh, and another thing, just because a child is hitting their developmental milestones does not mean everything’s fine. I’m sure there are kids out there that spend all day playing violent video games and still hit there developmental milestones, that doesn’t mean that it’s in their best interest.

    In my opinion, this article reads like a justification for losing control of a child’s sleep schedule. I think a better article would be: My Kids Don’t Sleep and I’m Doing My Best To Correct This Problem.

    P.S. – In no way am I implying that parents of children with sleep issues are “not trying hard enough” or “not good parents.” I understand that this is serious issue that a lot of really great parents deal with. I am just expressing that it might not be a good idea to dismiss sleep issues as: “Not all kids are the same,” or “experts don’t actually know how many hours of sleep my particular child needs.”

    Experts are called experts for a reason. Yes, you are a good mom. But your kids need sleep.

  4. Lauren R November 6, 2013 at 5:25 pm #

    Thank you for sharing. And I’m sorry on behalf of the comment above me. I can’t believe how ugly it was. My daughter tended to be more like your kids and we went so far as to hire a sleep consultant to help us so I feel confident we “worked really hard” (not sure what that means exactly) to get her all th e sleep she needed. Sleep is no longer a battle for us, praise God.

    I also learned from a mom at church that you do what works best for your child. It infuriates me when people act like you just need to do exactly what they say and you will get the same result. Babies are not formulas nor should they be!

    Again, thanks for your input. This is a perspective often missed when it comes to sleep discussions.

  5. LoneStarDad November 6, 2013 at 9:42 pm #

    I wish I knew how to delete my comment from earlier. I’m embarrassed that I did that. I had a bad day and went on a terrible rant, but that’s no excuse. I apologize to Jenny and everyone who read it for my disgusting tone. People who write articles like this are promoting open dialogue and rational discussion and I poisoned it with narrow-minded ugliness. I’m struggling with lots of parenting issues and have no right coming across like I have it all figured out. I know nothing. Once again, I apologize for my earlier comments.

    • Hollie November 7, 2013 at 1:31 am #

      That was very big of you, @Lonestardad.
      I’ve landed on “if I don’t want the blame when my child DOESN’T do behavior X, then I can’t take credit for it when he does.” My kids are great sleepers, and I think that they get some of that genetically (MAN, can I sleep!), some is environment (white noise! lovey! blackout shades!), some is parenting (low-junk diets and lots of outdoor time!) and some is luck. And sometimes I pretend I can’t hear the party going on in the next room, ha ha ha.

    • Katie Smith August 1, 2017 at 6:44 am #

      I know this post is old but I’m so impressed that you were willing to see it from a better perspective. It gives us opportunity as parents to believe in ourselves when we feel defeated or less than. We all have bad days and have said things we often don’t really mean or regret. But rarely do people try to make a mends or just simply admit fault. We are human and fall short daily, but if we are open to being empathetic and understanding than we should openly forgive as long as it’s genuine. I hope what ever was going on in your life at the time got easier. I hope you know that being a parent is the hardest job in the entire universe and it is something we will always question our abilities in. Often asking ourselves if we are doing enough as our children’s parents. If you love your children abundantly and are trying hard, than you are succeeding reguardless what the sociatal standards tell us, apart from health etc. but anyone with common sense understands my point. There is no box, we need to throw the box out, there are individual, unique children with individual needs. Ty for your vulnerability, you left me with a smile.

  6. Jill January 30, 2015 at 11:00 am #

    Thank you for this. It is wonderful to know that I am not alone. I have an almost 2 year old (in 3 weeks) and have literally tried everything. Even as far as seeing a sleep medicine doctor and having a sleep study done at 19 months. (Rest-less leg syndrome was the diagnosis btw). He has LONG nightwakings (mostly 2 hours) and has for a year. Like yours, he doesn’t generally cry so its not a sleep training issue. I dwell on his sleep and have for 2 years. Its a terrible feeling.

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