Monday, June 17, 2013

rise & shine. {#SurvivingSummer}

Honest to goodness, folks, I do believe we are on to something here, and I can hardly wait to share. I've been holding off a bit, convinced maybe it was just a fluke, but I think it's the real deal. (And as an added endorsement, Theresa has been testing it out, and it's been working over at her house as well. So 2 out of 2 mothers recommend it. Heading to the patent office now...)

Anyway, a bit of background... I read Nurture Shock a few weeks ago. Fascinating book. It's a bit like Freakanomics but for parents. One of the chapters that struck me the most dealt with sleep. And while it's nothing new that sleep is important, I think I didn't realize just how important it is, especially for children. 

Most of us know good sleep is essential for us as adults (my favorite health tip: sleep more!), but because of how kids are wired, it's exponentially more important for kids to get ample sleep. {Here's a great summary of the chapter if you haven't read it already.} 

This idea struck me: "It’s possible that characteristics such as tantrums, moodiness, disengagement, impulsiveness, depression are actually just symptoms of sleep deprivation."

Huh, this sounded a bit like our house. Towards the end of the school year, we were dealing with a lot of bad attitudes, hysterical crying, endless sibling wars, and rule breaking. Honest to goodness, I was positively dreading summer vacation.

I was beginning to suspect my kids were a tad bit sleep deprived, but I wasn't sure how to work through this during summer vacation, that time of year when the sun rises early, the days are filled to the brim, and the neighborhood beckons well into the evening hours. After all, summer nights are some of the best parts of being a kid, and I didn't want my big kids to miss out.

And while I wanted to give them the opportunity to stay up a bit later, especially now that they're getting a bit older, I really didn't want to start my day at 6:30am with tired, cranky kids. I wanted them to relax into a summer routine featuring a more laid back bedtime and a less frenzied morning time. 

And then I had an aha moment.

New rule, kids: your wake-up time determines your bedtime. 

Based on what's best for my kids at the ages they're at, we are basing our timelines on 11 hours of sleep per night. This might seem like a lot to some, but the recommended guidelines for 6-8 year olds fall in the 10-11 hour range. I've also lived with my kids long enough to know that is an ideal range for them. 

So a 6:00am wake-up equals a 7:00pm bedtime. A 7:00am wake-up equals an 8:00pm bedtime. 7:30am = 8:30pm, 8:00am = 9:00pm, and so on. I prorate to the nearest half hour. Dylan and Ella both have clocks in their rooms and are learning to reference them themselves.

Mady still has bedtime as usual, roughly based on her wake-up time and whether or not she got a nap that day, so I'm guessing this is an elementary school age type program. But I think, no matter our kids' age, it is important for us as parents to make sure we're regulating the little ones' sleep, even if we can't hand over control to them like we can with the big kids; we can certainly get creative.

A couple reasons why our new rise & shine routine might just be brilliant... I have successfully transferred responsibility to them. I don't get bent out of shape about what time they wake-up in the morning because I know (and they know) it gets reflected in their evening bedtime. They also feel a bit empowered, and in turn, respected (which is huge at the ages they're at) because some control has been handed over to them. It also means Matt and I get a break at some point in the day, whether it's in the early hours or the evening hours. 

I asked Theresa what she's observed so far in her boys, ages 6 & 8 (who it should be noted have started sleeping in until 8:30am!?). Her response: "Sleep... it gives my boys permission to sleep in. Instead of viewing it as a bad thing, viewing it as something good. It teaches them to roll over and snuggle in. Life is not a race/rush. It encourages them to relax. They are realizing they aren't missing anything, and it is the beginning of self-love, something they can transfer to adult years... you need sleep at every age."

So there you have it. It's working. And it's working with very little effort on my part. I thought maybe I'd have to jot down what time the kids woke up in the morning so I'd remember by nighttime, but there is no need. They know, and they remember exactly what time they should be in bed. And in the morning (and through out the day), my kids are pleasant and reasonable and obedient. I am honestly a bit shocked and have to check several times a day to make sure I'm still in the right house.

{I should add that going hand in hand with our new sleep initiative, we are also being very diligent about clearly stating expectations, follow through, and consequences after a period of time where we had gotten a bit loosey goosey. Basically, we're parenting harder, but I think less often if that makes sense. The added sense of responsibility (and confidence) from our new chore system doesn't hurt either!}

Further evidence (as if you're not already convinced!)...

The kids sometimes ask to sit all three in the back row of the van. Mostly I say no thank you to that. We can barely get to our 5-minutes-away destination without fighting when we're out of reach of one another. You can only imagine what would happen when we're in finger-poking reach. The other day, because things had been going so well at home, I said yes. And guess what? They chatted and shared and helped and imagined and laughed the entire way to the chiropractor without one squabble. I just about drove off the road in my disbelief.

And then a few days ago, the girls asked to play Play-Doh, something else I would usually say no to (see what a fun mom I am?!?). But I said yes this time and they played quietly for two hours. It was going so well, I feel asleep on the couch to celebrate. And then they picked it up all by themselves. True. Story.

(And conversely, we got a bit behind on our sleep over the weekend, and it was a disaster. Much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.)

This is night and day difference, friends, to what we were doing before, in the Land of Not Enough Sleep. We cried hysterically off and on through out the day, picked fights with each other, and used lots of Not Nice words. My hope has been renewed. Summer vacation can actually be FUN, not something just to be survived. When provided with enough sleep, our children are sweet, enjoyable little people, not scary, moody monsters.

Operation Rise & Shine. It's working for us, I'd love to know if it works for you too!


  1. I totally agree. When my kids are rested, they're a joy to be around. 9 times out of 10, when my baby cries, it's only because she's tired. Sleep is so important for all of us and establishing healthy habits for our kids is really important!
    Sharing this on my personal Facebook page because I think Moms sometimes forget how important this is.

  2. Awesome. We still do 11 hours at our house, and I know it's the only reason things go as well as they do, even with just one kid. I really like the idea of letting them set their own hit the hay times based on when they wake up. It'll be nice not to be the bad guy/ bed time nazi. We'll be trying this on weekends.

  3. Haven't I seen that tiger somewhere before in the last couple decades?


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