One of my big hopes for my life as a parent was that I would have kids that would be good sleepers, but I realized after bringing both of my children home and managing their different sleep quirks, what I really meant was that I hoped my children would not be early risers. You see, all I’d heard from other parents is talk about their kids waking early, and there being nothing they could do about it. I inwardly recoiled in horror. Might I mother a child who insisted on rising at 5:45am? How would I ever cope? I am not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought that while there are certain things I can’t control when it comes to sleep, I can teach my children to sleep until a reasonable hour. So far, my methods have worked. The first step is adjusting expectations.
When I think of sleeping in, I think of sleeping at least until 10am, preferably noon. I will tell you right now that I can count on one hand how many times a 10am waking time has happened with Zinashi, who is five years old, and it has happened zero times with Elvie. But if you consider that many babies are up at 6am, or, heaven help me, even earlier, reaching a goal of consistent 8am or later waking is the baby version of sleeping in. We have been able to reach that goal with Elvie. Unless there are circumstances beyond our control (neighborhood sirens, an alarm clock set to vibrate that mysteriously goes off at death-metal-concert volume), we are able to manage Elvie’s sleep schedule in such a way that she wakes well after the sun is up.
The key to teaching her to sleep in has simply been to show her that when it is dark, it is not time to be awake. The way I’ve done that is to treat early morning wakings as night wakings. I feed her, change her diaper if she is wet, and snuggle her to my chest until she falls back to sleep. The first couple of times she attempted a very early waking, she tried to fight my efforts to put her back to sleep. The trick was out-stubborning her. She would sit up and smile, and I would reposition her in our usual snuggle-to-sleep hold. She would grin and try to giggle, I would murmur, “Shhhh, baby, it’s still night time. I love you, now sleep,” kiss her face the way I always do when I put her to sleep, and snuggle her back in again. The longest I ever had to persevere was 45 minutes. The second time, it was more like 30. After that, fifteen or fewer. Most of the time now, it takes her usual night waking time of five minutes to settle back in.
Also of note is that we put Elvie to sleep on the later side of the evening. Zinashi’s bathtime is 8:45pm, and that is the time that we settle into have a last sip of the bottle and rock. If we put her to bed earlier, I’m not sure if we could have her sleep longer; it seems she needs a certain amount of sleep each night (around twelve hours), and when that’s done, it would be much harder to put her back to sleep. As it is, my preferred waking time for Elvie falls right in line with the amount of sleep she needs at night.
In addition, it helps that she is in the same room with me, right next to me. I know that this is not for everyone, but what it has allowed me to do is to catch her beginning to wake before she wakes all the way up, Then get her out of the crib, feed and diaper her, and soothe her back to sleep before she is up and yelling for me. There is also the added benefit of her being able to see that everyone else is still asleep. I will sometimes catch her eyes fluttering open to check after I’ve laid her down, and if I avoid eye contact and close my eyes to go back to sleep, I hear her settle herself with one last thump of her left foot, and when I open my eyes again to check, she is fast asleep. Success. Sweet, sleepy success.
Like with anything I teach my children to do, I know that Elvie will check from time to time to see if she still has to sleep when she feels like being awake. If it’s dark, the answer is always yes, and I will reinforce that with the same method I used to teach her to sleep late in the first place. It might be rough for a couple of nights, but for this sleep deprived mama, the eventual result of my efforts will be worth it.