Q&A: Bedtime #1

The hilarious Holly writes:

"I have a question, simple really.

My 6.5 month old sleeps really well.   She sleeps with us, usually with a boob in her mouth, all night.  I work during the day, and my husband stays home.  Because they have the luxury of sleeping as late as she wants, she's gotten into the terrible habit of staying up really late.  Last night I fell asleep on the couch as she played with her piano until 1:30 AM.  Sometimes she falls asleep between 9 and 10.  But I never know if that's just going to be a nap or the real thing. Any ideas how to scoot her schedule up a bit?  Seems so simple...but isn't proving to be."

As I see it, you have to make a decision. Do you really want to have her on a bedtime routine and regular bedtime, or are you OK with the floating time? Because, despite what your MIL will tell you, it's not a bad thing to have a kid with a floating bedtime, as long as it's OK with you two. (You and your partner, that is. Not you and your MIL.)

It sounds like you really want her to go to bed at a consistent time, though. 1:30 just sounds brutal to me, and I don't have to show up perky and alert at an office every morning. So the bad news is that you're going to have to bite the bullet, decide when you want her to go to bed, and just do it.

There are two elements here. One is the bedtime routine, and the other is her sleep sweet spot. The routine is relatively simple (which you know, but I'll say it here anyway). 30-40 minutes before you want her to go to sleep, start the routine. We did bath, jammies, two books, then singing to sleep while we nursed. Other people do other variations, but the point is to do the same thing every night. (A side benefit of this is that once you have a rock-solid routine, anyone can do it, just using a bottle instead of a boob. Or you can do it in any location. We never worried about getting El Chico to bed on vacation, because as long as we could do the routine he'd go to sleep anywhere.)

The sweet spot is harder to determine. It sounds like she's not going to be a 7 pm down-for-the-night girl. So the trick is to figure out whether you could get her to go to sleep at, say 8, and then wake up for a little nightcap around 11 pm but then go right back to sleep, or if that's an impossible dream. If you wait until 10, her sleep cycles might be shifted so that she wakes up for her topper feed at 1 am, which is really not what you want.

So I'm going to say that you and your partner should experiment and keep a log (doesn't that sound scientific? I mean write it down on the back of an old envelope) of when she naps during the day. That might give you a clue as to when a good bedtime would be. For example, if you guys notice that she always falls asleep at 3 pm, no matter what happened earlier in the day, and sleeps for an hour, then try putting her down at 8. (I'm using the logic that 2-3-4 is as good a starting point as any.) See what happens. If, when she wakes up 3 hours later, she goes right back to sleep, then you've hit the right spot. If she still wakes up to play, then try putting her to bed at 8:30 instead. Repeat.

It's all a guessing game at this point, but most kids do have an optimal bedtime that's specific to them. El Chico's was 8:30, but El Pequeño has to go down between 7 and 7:30. If we miss that window, then he's up 'til 10.

So play around with it, but be intentional about it, and see what happens. Then report back with your findings.