Sleep issues are perhaps the thorniest problems parents face for one simple reason: How can parents possibly deal rationally, intellectually or just plain simply with a modicum of common sense about a child’s inadequate sleep when they themselves are sleep deprived? I’m devoting the next three days’ of Mailbag to sleep questions and, for help, I’ve turned to the pediatric sleep guru, researcher, pediatrician and author Richard Ferber of Children’s Hospital Boston.
hi. we have two boys, 18 months and 3 years old, and have unsuccessfully tried twice to room them together, and so are still sleeping on the foldout couch in the LR for about the past year, as we only have a 2 br apartment. when we put them together, the baby seemed to wake up crying, stirring the 3 year old, and then they'd both be crying and need comforting. the other snag is that the little one goes to bed at 7 or 7:30, while the older kid goes a half hour or so later, dep on the day. when they're together, they wake up early - 5 am or so - crying, and the 3 year old comes to our bed while the little one needs to be soothed back to sleep. i think the 3 yo talks in his sleep, waking the baby.
i feel like we've tried every permutation -- no naps for 3 yo, putting them down at the same time, sneaking the older child in once the baby is asleep, noise machines, letting the baby cry for a while if the 3 yo doesn't wake, etc. etc. -- but end up back in the living room when it just doesn't seem to work. my husband says the little one will "get it" eventually -- but they just seem to wake one another up, and i feel like we'll be on the couch forever. and having them together has become a weirdly huge stress -- we lie there in our bed and i feel a sort of stab in the heart when the baby cries.
this is a long way of saying we're stuck in a muddle. is there something i'm not thinking of? some trick? or do kids who share rooms just kind of have to get over it (as i'm guessing might be part of this) and get used to one another? maybe we're putting off the inevitable unpleasantness?
appreciate any help/advice you have.
From: Christine, of Watertown
You absolutely should be able to bunk your boys together and, believe it or not, the problem may be as simple as this: their bedtimes are too early.
Here’s the nitty-gritty:
The typical 18-month-old needs about 11 ½ hours of sleep, according to pediatric sleep guru Richard Ferber. About 9 ½ hours of that should come at night, and 2 or so hours from naps. The typical 3-year-old needs slightly less, 11 ¼ hours, with 9 ¾ to all of it happening at night.
In other words, by putting your sons to sleep at 7 or 7:30, you guarantee that they will wake up sometime around 5 including even on the nights when they sleep in separate rooms. Ferber is director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children’s Hospital Boston.
“What’s most likely going on here is that your boys are not getting as much sleep as you think,” Ferber said in a telephone conversation the other day. "Even when the boys sleep separately, they are getting up early, you just don’t know it." That's because most children are able to amuse themselves in bed for long periods of time. What's probably happening with your boys is that when they are in the same room, that individual reverie is lost or abandoned.
So what to do?
Put them in the same room and adjust both bedtimes so that nine hours later will be a reasonable wake-up time. What’s more, he advises, “Wake them up nine hours later even if they are sleeping.” Start with a 9 pm bedtime and a 6 am wake-up. If they are both still taking naps, the older one should nap no more than an hour and the younger, no more than 90 mins.
By moving the bedtime as late as 9 pm., you are ensuring that they will both be very tired and ready to sleep on the first night that you try this and that when they wake up, you'll be ready to get up, too, so it won't matter that they wake each other.
“On that schedule, let them get used to sleeping in the same room,” says Ferber, who is author of the best-seller, “Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, second edition.” “Then,” he continues, “when things calm down, you can move the bedtime earlier or later, depending on whether you need to wake them in the morning.”
Coming Monday: Their baby only falls asleep in mom or dad's arms.
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