Sleep is a big issue in my house. Despite never having read a study that helped me, I am a sucker for any sleep headline. I’ve read all the books, heard all the tricks, probably even listened to your great-grandmother on the sidewalk tell me he should be napping right now, but my first born has never been a big sleeper. A new study is telling me, once again, that I’m doing him a disservice — but I blame our genes.
The author of the study, Reut Gruber, a psychologist at McGill University suggests:
“…even modest changes in sleep — one less movie or video game — can affect the way children react to their world, and that in turn can affect their ability to learn and form relationships with others. Sleep, it seems, is just as important as diet and exercise in keeping children’s bodies and minds healthy. We could have really significant positive and negative impacts on children depending on how we choose to prioritize sleep.”
Let’s ignore the suggestion that I am letting my child stay up to “watch one more movie or play one more video game” and all the judgment that’s implied in such a statement, and just ask yourself: who wouldn’t love their child to sleep an extra hour? That would mean an extra hour of quiet time in the house, an extra hour of bonding time with my husband, or maybe even just an extra hour of sleep for me! I’d welcome this with open arms. If it was only that easy. Sadly, the study gives us no practical advice on how to accomplish adding this extra hour of sleep to our children’s biological clocks.
I’m also not challenging the (admittedly tenuous) results of this sleep study. Gruber explains that children who get less sleep tend to be more emotional, impulsive or sensitive than ones who sleep better. I’m no scientist, but that does in fact appear to be true in my house. However it just seems to me to be genetic. My husband and my daughter are more consistent, regular and stable where my son and I are more emotional, hyper-aware and fluid with our time. They also like sleep while my son and I have trouble settling down. I don’t know if the connection is coincidental or not, but the number of hours logged laying down aren’t likely to change who we are.
I have never been a good sleeper. I can remember watching the National Anthem play before the screen went black and the television stopped broadcasting (ah, in the old days before 24/7 media) nearly every night as young as nursery school and kindergarten. That was probably at two a.m. My parents had no idea I wasn’t in bed and most nights I had no idea why I was awake myself, but I knew I couldn’t sleep. I pulled more than my fair share of all-nighters in college and law school — studying, out at a party, or even just hanging with my other insomniac friends.
When I had my son I got my taste of karma. The universe had given me what I had been to my parents: a frustrating child that hated sleep. Yet suddenly I was convinced it was my fault. I was a horrible failure of a mother who was doing it all wrong. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get my son to nap for the first year of his life (when he learned to walk, he tired himself out enough to rest in the middle of the day). He never slept more than 12 hours in a day, when the typical infant gets 16-18 hours. Now as a 3-year-old, he averages eight to nine hours of shut-eye a night and does not nap or have “rest time.”
I blamed myself day in and day out for 23 months. What happened on that magical day when I was able to let it all go? My daughter was born. From the day she left the womb, she slept…well, like a baby. But not my first baby, those mythical babies they say sleep all the time. She was on a regular structured nap schedule before she even graduated from the “fourth trimester.” You know what I did differently? Nothing. It’s worth mentioning though that my husband is a great sleeper. She got his blue eyes, his round head and his passion for solid sleep. Thank you universe.
So moms, cut yourself some slack. If your kid will sleep an extra hour, by all means, do it. If you think the sleep issues might be genetic, then just let it go. I graduated with honors from college and went on to be a successful attorney. My son can write his name and read most of the words in this post. I think we’ll all be fine. Sleep-deprived, emotional and sensitive, yes, but still fine.