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Sleep Freedom: Letting Kids Find Their Own Sleep Pattern

Sleep Freedom: Letting Kids Find Their Own Sleep Pattern

Editors Note: As Stephanie Waldron points out in this article, it’s important for people (and yes, people includes children), to find their own natural sleep rhythym. As parents we can help our kids with that, instead of forcing a schedule on them. Instead of thinking about how to get kids to sleep,  find ways to guide them towards listening to their bodies.

Ever since our kids were born they have made their own sleep times. As babies I never tried to force them on to a infant sleep schedule. They ate when they were hungry and slept when they were tired. It’s very important to follow the natural rhythms that babies are born with. I believe it causes harm to make them sleep or wake up because of the time on the clock or for a parent’s convenience.

I couldn’t bear to put my baby in a crib in another room so we slept with all of our babies. When they were ready, usually when the next baby came, they would move into their own bed. With our first son we put a toddler bed in our room so when his brother was born we were all still in the same room.

As they grew and moved into their own beds and rooms we didn’t have set bedtimes. We had a loose routine to try and wind down and get ready for sleep. We didn’t make them go to their bed and stay there. They sometimes fell asleep on the couch and we would move them to their bed. When our third child was born she was running around until midnight most nights as a toddler. Over the years the kids started staying up later and later. Their times of sleeping and waking have varied over the years.

Some people think if you don’t make them go to bed and wake up they will never be able to get up or hold down a job. I believe this is false, it is based on fear. All of my kids have demonstrated the ability to get up early for something.

I on the other hand have had a hard time sleeping my whole life and do not do mornings. All of those years that I was in school, I was just exhausted and suffered from migraines. I was forced to get up even though I had just fallen to sleep. I believe it is pure torture to put a child away at a certain time and make them stay there. Why do we have to live on an 8-5 work/school/day, bed by 9pm, up at 6am? I believe that only a small percentage of the population actually thrives on that schedule.

When kids are small we can watch for cues, we can help them calm down. The truth is the child knows better than us that they are tired. Sometimes they get overtired and can’t sleep but I do believe that when they aren’t stifled by an imposed schedule that they can and do listen to their own body.

For example, my 11 year old daughter just went through a cycle where she was backwards, so to speak. She was up all night and sleeping all day, she got turned around and it took a few weeks for her to turn back around. During that time she grew a few inches. She listened to her body; she slept when she was tired, it just happened to be the opposite of the rest of us.

As unschoolers we have the freedom to listen to our bodies and sleep when we are tired. We aren’t forced to get up and go to an artificial environment all day.

“I can’t help noting that no cultures in the world that I have ever heard of make such a fuss about children’s bedtimes, and no cultures have so many adults who find it so hard either to go to sleep or wake up. Could these social facts be connected? I strongly suspect they are.” ~ John Holt

© 2011 An Unschooling Life

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9 Responses to “Sleep Freedom: Letting Kids Find Their Own Sleep Pattern”

  1. Lauren says:

    We have four quite young children (the oldest is 6), and we’ve discovered that free bedtimes really do work for us too. We talk freely to our children about reading the signs of tiredness, and they put themselves to bed!
    I wrote about it here:

  2. Robin says:

    My unschooled kids 15 & 11 dont have a bedtime. But the 15 dd says up so late (4am)and has to get up a few days a week for activities that she has chosen to go to. She is able to get up but I dont believe she functions as well as she could on a good nights sleep and she naps again when its over. Drives me nuts. – Robin

  3. Tara says:

    I very much enjoyed this article. We have a 2 year old and 8 month old and are just begining to make decisions that will affect their learning methods in the future. Just this week my daughter stayed up past her “bedtime” to finish watching a movie with us, at the end of movies we always get up and dance to the music. The three of us, the baby was sleeping, danced for 30 minutes at the end of the movie and I am so glad not to have missed that! It was simply fabulous and she was glowing. Sure we can dance during the day but I can’t help but think this was a special time somehow. I think we all felt that way!

  4. Kim Karko says:

    We are the odd balls! All of us are early risers, naturally. The 3.5 year old still takes a nap with the 2 year old, but that’s because we spend so much time outside playing.

  5. Stacey says:

    While I can definitely respect your view, (my husband is a night owl, and the boys seem to be the same) I also struggle a little. I think kids ARE people…but they’re smaller/untrained people…I believe they do require guidance from us. I am new to this world of Homeschooling/Unschooling…We have 5 boys (9,12,16,17,and 18) and I am homeschooling (for the 1st time)only our 7th grader this year….
    Unfortunately, if the kids never go to bed at night, then neither do I…and I also work. I struggle with bedtime routines though…because I consider that to be the only time I can enjoy some quiet/ME time
    This is alot for me to ponder on…. Thanks for the great post!!
    Stacey´s last post: Where I’m FromMy Profile

  6. Alicia C. says:

    My oldest chose school. He’s 13 and a high school freshman. I can see just how much trouble his body’s sleep patterns are causing him – especially at his age and all of the growth spurts and hormonal changes that are taking place. The best I can do for him right now is let him regulate his sleep when he’s not at school.

    I also have a little one who is nearly 3. I was really struggling with his sleep for a few weeks – until I just gave up trying to control it. For the past week, he’s skipped his nap and he’s been deciding when to go to bed on his own. Amazingly enough, he’s going to bed around 10pm and waking at 9am – pretty “normal”!
    Alicia C.´s last post: Call for Crock Pot Recipes (PLEASE!)My Profile

  7. Flo says:

    I love this article, and I love the way you think about your children! I do NOT believe in giving babies an type of eating/sleep training, but I’ve always just assumed that setting bedtimes is natural when they’re older. I am going to give this a LOT of thought. I also homeschool so it wouldn’t be a problem if she feels she needs to sleep longer in the morning, she’s not a morning person and she also gets headaches. I’m glad I read this.

  8. Colleen says:

    Love it Stephanie! We have always followed the natural sleep pattern for our family too. My 11yo too, got himself turned around in sleep and now that I think about it, he grew a few inches these past months. Yet when there was a week long activity that required him to be up at a certain hour he was able to do it. My oldest used to like to stay up all night and sleep all day. Then he joined the military and had no problems adjusting to their rigorous schedules. It’s a crock to say that if we don’t force proper sleep patterns on our children that it will interfere with their ability to get a job.
    Colleen´s last post: Beached Whales and TastebudsMy Profile

  9. Penny says:

    Great article Stephanie! We’ve always followed natural sleeping (& eating, & anything else) patterns. We have no problem getting up early when it is occasionally necessary, and no trouble going to midnight releases either.

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