Best Gift I Gave Our Girls: Enough Sleep
If you are a caregiver, helping your children or parents get enough sleep is an important part of the job! You need good sleep too!
Both children and adults need sleep to function at their best.
- Adults need 7-8 hours per night.
- Children need more than 12 including their naps.
- Teenagers need about 9 hours a night as well, but very few get that.
Sleep Deprivation is becoming epidemic and an actual health concern nationally. I will share my own stories, and solutions, around sleep for myself and my children when they were small. Keep an eye out for future blog posts about teens and older adults, also my concern!
Enough Sleep for Children and New Parents
Sleep has always been important to me. As a teacher, I saw how much less kids learned when they were tired. I served on the school Start Time Committee, spending a year looking at options for helping kids get enough sleep by starting later.
By the way, I was a middle school teacher, 7th grade math, so if that makes you question my judgement I just want to get that out there right away, LOL! My classes started at 7:30 in the morning, and we often had meetings starting at 7 or earlier as well.
My final year teaching I was pregnant with our first child. As I looked at my life, getting up at 5 to exercise before going to work, I wondered:
How early was I going to have to get her up, and drop her off at a daycare? How early were we going to have to go to sleep in order to make this all work? How was she going to get enough sleep to have good health and brain development?
I’d heard about sleep deprivation for new parents. But it was worse than I expected. For the next several years, at very least until after our 2nd daughter was sleeping through the night, I was sleep deprived as most new parents are. A surprising fact is that new fathers may be MORE sleep deprived than new mothers. Dr. Michael Breus discusses this and it’s importance in his post Parenthood Isn’t Easy on Men’s Sleep. In reality, our daughter was far better rested those years than I was!
My Big Concern: Brain Development!
Children develop at a breathtaking pace. Every time I see a toddler taking early steps I am amazed to realize that a year ago, give or take, that child had yet to take its first full breath of air, and could not hold his or her head up at all.
But it’s not just physical development that happens quickly! By six months of age, most children have developed to the point of being capable of sleeping through the night. At this point in their lives, and for the first several years, they need more than 12 hours of sleep per 24 hours, including naps, for all sorts of development: physical, mental, and emotional.
What happens if children don’t get enough sleep?
As reported in Dr. Breus’ post Regular Bedtimes for Children Aid Development
“[The Study] showed a cumulative effect of inconsistency at bedtime on learning, for both boys and girls. Girls who had irregular bedtime schedules at 3, 5, and 7 had significantly lower scores on all three test subjects. For boys, this was the case among those with irregular bedtimes at any two of the three ages.”
Establishing a bedtime routine is so important for everyone! Ingrid Pruher, ofBabySleepWhisperer.com shares many tips for establishing sleep routines for children AND adults. In a recent blog post she references the Harvard Business Review article, There is a Proven Link Between Effective Leadership and Getting Enough Sleep. If parenting does not require effective leadership, I don’t know what does!
What About the Other End of Bedtime–Waking up?
Waking up too early was my other big concern, and it remains so. It’s one thing to put your kids to sleep at a reasonable time. Reasonable, to me, meant that there remained time in the evening for me to be me, an adult with an adult relationship and adult responsibilities I still needed to get to before I could go to sleep! But what about having to get them up in the morning before they had gotten enough sleep?
This actually led me not to return to teaching.
It just became impossible to imagine getting our child, or myself, to bed early enough to wake up refreshed at 5 am. But that is what I would have to do to make it to school on time if I had to drop her off at daycare on the way. (Notice how exercise got replaced there? Also not a good idea.)
Being a stay-at-home mom sounded appealing. Keep my kids at home, let them sleep as long as they wanted, then be safe and have a variety of activities and places they could go to regularly like the children’s museum, parks, the zoo, and play-dates. But when I tried it out it was not really to my liking. I realized that I could be a better mom if I had outside work to do, and could have my child (and then children) cared for by a loving person who really wanted to spend full time with them. But daycare would mean them not being at home, and a private nanny was out of the question for expense. So I went back to work, and we got an au pair.
Making Childcare Decisions Based on Sleep
Like most life choices, the best solution for one family is the worst option for another.
Day Care for us meant
- restrictive hours for drop off and pick up
- sending our child to the same four walls day after day after day
- if our child is sick, they stay home and I would have to, too.
A nanny sounded great but I could almost not earn enough as a teacher to afford a nanny. So that was out.
Au Pairs are not everyone’s solution either. They are required to live with you, which means you need the space for them. If you choose one from certain countries they may have good English. However, many au pairs from certain countries arrive speaking almost no English. Either way there are cultural differences and homesickness to potentially handle. While au pairs are young adults, age 18-26, they require attention like any family member. Finally, they can usually only stay for one year, so retraining happens annually.
What we loved about au pairs included:
- The girls got to sleep in until they would naturally wake up. To me this meant that I was doing something really good for their brain development every day.
- The au pairs spoke to them in Swedish (my second language) and in return the girls learned the language as well. (Brain development!)
- The cost of an au pair was less than daycare by the time we had two children, and not much more even when we had one. (Both were less expensive than a private nanny.)
- We direct the au pairs to take the girls on regular social and educational outings, and not be stuck in the same four walls. (Brain development again!)
- If a child was sick, we could still work as the au pair was home with them anyway. (Life/work quality)
- Au pairs can work up to 45 hours per week, but this can include 6am in the morning, or 9pm at night, or all of Saturday afternoon, whatever we chose! We had regular date nights all through the girl’s’ childhood and rarely paid a babysitter. (Life quality!)
This is a long list of benefits, each of them important, but I kid you not that the SLEEP factor of having au pairs for childcare was one of the best aspects of all. (P.S. I feel blessed to still be in touch with the majority of young women who were our au pairs!)
There are many aspects to quality sleep, but one of the most important is number of hours. I agree with Ingrid Pruher, Dr. Michael Breus, and others who insist that a regular bedtime is important. Establish a good sleep routine, and follow it every day even on weekends. As a caregiver of children, it is your responsibility to make sure they get the sleep they need. If they are going to get up for daycare, then they need to get to sleep that much earlier so they are ready to go, and so you can get the sleep YOU need as well!