Google+ Authentic Parenting: The Fragmented Night: Unschooling Sleep From Birth (rerun)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Fragmented Night: Unschooling Sleep From Birth (rerun)

This post was written as a submission to Enjoy Life Blog CarnivalFor July the topic is: burning the midnight oil, unschooling sleep and sleeplessness. Posts from seasoned and new unschoolers are welcome. Deadline is June 28

My daughter slept for six hours in a row tonight! Isn't that amazing! It has happened before, she has even slept longer stretches than this, but it has been a while now.
This actually means I must have slept about 5.5 hours, because I went to bed a little later than her and got up when she got up.
My daughter is two.

For a lot of people, this is extremely shocking. More so because she only went to bed at 10PM.

There were times we did worry about her not sleeping enough. Times where we were tempted to believe the scheduling discourse, the putting her in a crib to have her sleep through the night ideas. How could we not? We've been bombarded with this silly reasoning since the day she was born:

  • can't let her fall asleep on the breast
  • can't have her in bed with you
  • have to get her to sleep through as quickly as possible
  • have to put her to bed as soon as she shows 'signs' of fatigue
  • babies have to be in bed by 8PM
  • put them down to sleep

My smart girl never took any of that bullshit, luckily. From day one, she made it pretty clear that sleep would only occur on her terms. So she is still sleeping with us, she sometimes falls asleep on the breast - although this is becoming more and more infrequently. She asks to go to bed or take a nap when she feels like it, sometimes this is 7PM, sometimes it is 11PM. She doesn't sleep through. She is not night weaned.
She slept in my arms on many occasions, and still does sometimes, up until she was one year old, she flatly refused to sleep alone.
While all this is very natural to us, this is not the way it goes in most families. Most people actually think we are nutters, with the way we treat her sleep. But all we do is trust and respect her, give her options, what's wrong with that?

Are we unschooling sleep? Maybe... Probably - in the sense that we don't fall for those obsessions about sleep anymore. It seems only logical to have her listen to her body from a young age. Maybe if we had learned it, we wouldn't suffer from exhaustion and burn-out half the time.

Image/ Leon Bazille Perrault - Mother With Her Sleeping Child



  1. Hear hear! I've had more negative comments from people on this subject than any other of my parenting choices, but it feels like the most natural thing - why change it?

  2. We unschool sleep toooooo! whooohooooo to see other mama's who follow the natural patterns of sleep.
    And to further justify it all, my 5yo and 20mo, both sleep in till about 10:30 every morning. That is worth everything in the world to me and them. Even though they fall asleep around midnight most nights, we all get to sleep in.
    I never thought my husband would be on board with this way, however he was born and raised in Mexico and co-sleeping is how he was raised, along with most of the Mexican culture. It's normal for them to co-sleep and unschool sleep! How awesome is that!

  3. That is pretty awesome, Sunshine! How far we have drifted from human nature, it keeps amazing me.

  4. Did you ever have a nap routine with her or was it always sort of dictated by the baby?

  5. The title of your post is intriguing. How is that "unschooling" sleep? My daughter slept when she was tired and awoke when she was ready from birth and that was 18 years before I'd heard of "unschooling". Even after she started school she chose her own bedtime.

  6. @ Sarah: no we never really had a nap routine, although she did sleep with me after I had lunch for the first nine months of her life.

    @ Bob
    We were actually doing this before we heard of unschooling too. Why then would tgis be unschooling sleep? I guess in the way that we're not scheduling sleep in the way the institutionalized world would like us to. In the way that we resist all the discours about putting them down for naps and having them sleep on their own and having them in bed at that or that time, wo they are ready for the real world, so when the time comes to go to school they are already schedules

  7. I think a lot of parents don't get that their children are individuals with minds of their own since the day of their birth. My daughter is almost 16months old. From the first day on she made it very clear that any ideas we or any book we clung to had, would not apply to her. She miraculously slept through at 7 weeks (from about 10 o'clock till about 6 or 7). She slept with us, or in her cot, or in my arms - whatever was comfortable. I sang and rocked her to sleep, or sometimes she fell asleep while drinking. We give her what she needs, when she needs it. Most nights she will go to sleep between 8 and 9 and the last few months we have had teething, middle ear infection and sudden cold fronts that have made it virtually impossible to get a full night's rest.

    And still we give her what she wants.

    I have my routine and method, like and dislikes when going to sleep. I don't feel it is fair to impose what I like on her, or to force her into a way that I think is best. She is still wonderfully tuned in to what she wants for the most part and there are tell-tale signs that mommy needs to take the reigns. But it's her life, her mind, and she is allowed to set her own standards.

  8. My child sleeps about 12 hours a night, but it's his OWN schedule. We never "sleep scheduled". We always followed his cues as to when and where he wanted to sleep. BECAUSE he sleeps so well through the night, many people "assume" that we've always had a sleep schedule and it drives me nuts when they ask what "schedule" they should use to get the same result. They are left quite disappointed when I tell them that it's about following THEIR cues and letting them sleep where they are comfortable, whether that be in your arms or *gasps* co-sleeping, instead of their cribs. My little man actually likes his crib, but goes through phases every now and then when he only wants to sleep with mommy. Fine with me!!!

  9. I love this! My baby sleeps, well... when she sleeps. Sometimes she takes a nap at 5 in the afternoon then to bed at 8. The next day she may take two naps and go to bed at 6. I don't go to bed at the same time nor do I get up at the same time. Somedays are more physically and mentally demanding and rainy days in the house, not so much.

    I babysat a CIO baby for 3 months. I was informed at 10, not before or after, to put her down for her morning nap. And, if she cried, to turn off the baby phone. I couldn't do that. She slept when she did (usually me babywearing her). But, the mother got upset b/c the baby would then scream for 30+ minutes when she was put to bed for her 1 pm afternoon nap. She told me on more than one occassion getting her to sleep AT ONE was very difficult. She screamed for at least 1/2 hour or more.

    Well, maybe she wasn't ready for bed!

    what I love about AP parenting, is I don't question my parenting skills for a moment. I don't feel any guilt or jealousy at what another parent does. Parenting is free flowing.

  10. LOVE THIS! We have always approached sleep without negative emotions, battling or stress. It makes no sense to me why anyone would force an infant/toddler/child to bed.

    I wonder if, similar to the way adults ignore their bodies cues about eating and other day-activities, if many adults also ignore their cues about sleeping. Do people force themselves to take sleep medication? Or do they lie in bed staring at the ceiling for hours? I hope not, it sounds horrible.

    Over here we sleep when we are tired, we wake when we are not. And human comfort is always a roll away in the bed lol.

    And I agree with Mama B! DD started "sleeping through the night" around day 3 after birth. I quickly learned to answer sleep questions vaguely b/c people assumed we forced her onto a schedule, gave her a "formula top up" or let her CIO. Sorry, no!

  11. Guggie, of course adult humans ignore their bodily needs of sleep. Most of us are programmed to nap, yet how many adults do that? Plus we schedule our adult sleep according to things like work and school. And - as you suggested - that does cause people to pop sleeping pills and drink loads of coffee etc etc
    But we should bare in mind that it is a vicious cycle to break, as with food, people have been corrupted from birth to follow external cycles, and these are very tricky to break.

  12. Amen! My son is 2.5 and sleeps when he sleeps. It drives people (and, admittedly, sometimes his father and I) absolutely NUTS. But I know that he's learning to trust his body and his needs and I'm happy with that.

    He still nurses to sleep at naps and at night and I can' probably count on my fingers the number of times he's rolled over or fallen asleep not at the breast. He didn't "sleep through" until he was two - and that doesn't really take into account that he usually half-wakes to nurse in the morning and then falls back asleep again.

    I might be tired...but who cares? My son is getting what he needs. <3

  13. You are all so selfless. I try and try to live up to these standards, but here I am, exhausted after struggling over sleeping with my three year old, but unable to sleep myself because of my anguish over yelling at her.

    Unfortunately, I have to work regular hours, so I don't have the freedom to sleep at other times, and I am just fatigued.

    I wish I had the patience and presence of mind to do this. And the support I need to do it.

  14. I love this. I have had so many people get on to me about my daughter's sleeping habits. I let her decide when she wants to go to sleep. She tells me night night and gets her blanket.Some days she takes naps, some days she does not. I'm happy to know I'm not the only one.

  15. this is so great! never thought of it as unschooling sleep, but it really is. my pie's sleep changes constantly, and I find that the thing that makes me the most exhausted, frustrated, and even sometimes resentful is WISHING IT WAS DIFFERENT. I have made this choice, I think it's best for me & my baby & my family. this is how it is. i can live with it and be flexible or i can wish it was different and be miserable.

  16. @Anonymous: I'm so sorry this has to be this way for you. But at three, you can already give your child some liberty to staying up in a safe room. You could also look into getting someone to watch your child in the morning in the weekend, so you can sleep out
    Big hugs and all the best to you!

  17. Sleep has been a dealbreaker for me in terms of consensual living and unschooling. My children have both, from birth, kept themselves awake long past the point of their own exhaustion. I wore them in the sling as much as I was physically able and tried to sleep when they slept. Laying down with them usually meant screaming. As they became more mobile and didn't want to be in the sling, it meant they would also become violent, or stumbly, or just ill. It also meant, that at some point they couldn't go to sleep because they would have whipped themselves into an absolute frenzy and could not shut down physically, mentally, and emotionally enough to doze off. I ebbed and flowed with whatever they were going through; sometimes they stayed up late, sometimes I enforced earlier bedtimes, sometimes we slept together, sometimes apart. Sleep was and is so hard in our family, I do whatever is necessary to ensure we all get the most we can. Sometimes that has meant making the decision for them. I should say that I cannot function on too little sleep for long; I become ill; I get migraines; I snap and have little capacity for creative solutions. I guess it is hard to imagine if you have not lived a scenario where allowing the kids to follow their own cues on sleep creates health and safety issues for the whole family. We recently figured out that many of our sleep issues are connected to gluten sensitivity, so it's possible that with future children, I would keep them gluten-free from conception and could manage to be more consensual about sleep from birth.


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