There was once a time when sleep was sacred in our house. The world outside our four walls ceased to exist while the eldest napped, at home in her bed, while adhering to a carefully choreographed ritual of various necessities prior to sleep.
Our days were painfully planned around naps, between which were small bursts of time for short playdates, quick errands or brief Skype calls to grandparents.
No second was wasted during these hours – every minute was precious.
Like so many others, we felt caught in the “nap trap” (kudos to the mommy blogger who succinctly identified this parenting phenomenon).
Three years later though, and things are very different.
It’s a juggle these days between balancing the eldest one’s need to get out of the house, the little one’s need to nap inside the house, and my own need to fulfill everyone else’s need.
Something clearly has to give and unfortunately it’s the littlest who generally makes the most sacrifices.
I’m ashamed to say there are days when she’s lucky if she gets to sleep at all in her crib during the day.
Concerned about the untold damage I could be doing by insisting she adapt to our way of life and learning sleep anywhere, anytime, I attended a talk by local sleep guru Julie Miller of Mountain Dreams Family Sleep Consulting on the topic of healthy sleep habits.
Sleep, Miller explained, is incredibly important for us all, especially little ones who use it as restorative time for their brains and bodies. Without it they can become an exhausted, anxious, short-tempered mess and tantrum easily (hands up if you’ve been there!).
A lack of sleep, I learned, can also affect how they interact with one another and can impact their developmental milestones [insert mommy guilt here].
Achieving the ideal nap scenario all the time can be challenging. So Miller suggested an 80/20 rule, with 80 per cent of naps happening while lying flat in a crib.
“Not sleeping in a car seat,” I wrote in my notes. Followed on the line below, in underlined bold capitals, “Must try harder.”
Our own personal ratio of 50/50 on a good day, it seemed, needed a few modifications. And our downfall of regularly snatching snippets of morning sleep in the car had to cease.
But how to keep the little one awake long enough to get to daycare and back again so that she could sleep in her own crib?
It was time to shake things up:
#1: Set off earlier in the morning so that the little one isn’t on the edge of falling asleep when we hit the road.
#2: The eldest is in charge of keeping the little one awake during the journey to daycare.
#3: On the journey home, the windows will be down, the wind will be blowing and we will stop if necessary to get out for a blast of even more fresh air should the little one be giving in to car-seat-sleep.
I feel my popularity with the littlest might take a hit for this!
Good nighttime sleep is also vital, explained Miller. As is a bedtime routine and lights out at a reasonable hour.
And then came the golden nugget moment – saying no to activities that lead to sleep deprivation.
I’d previously worried that not taking our children to fireworks displays, late-night parades and evening activities was depriving them of an experience. But hearing from an expert that it was OK to put your child’s sleep first made me feel so much better about being caught in the “nap trap.”
The captivity at home, it seems, is only short term. The gains from good sleep (I hope) will last a lifetime.