Saturday, April 21, 2012

Some Thoughts on Toddler Sleep

Children's sleep is different than adult's. As adults, we cultivate sleep, we seek it out, we seek out optimal conditions for it. Or we put it off, trick our bodies, and attempt to control it. After we've slept, we evaluate it, categorize it and discuss it. When it isn't going right, we see doctors who specialize in it to help us fix it. In other words, sleep is something we do.

Children, particularly toddlers, don't view sleep in this active sense. For them, sleep is something that happens to them. It sneaks up and gets them Indeed, the average two-year-old doesn't even get that the bad mood and difficulty completing simple tasks is a result of needing to sleep.

I'm sure this has to do with brain development or something. I suspect that a milestone we never talk about us when the wee little people can recognize physical causes to their unhappiness.

Think about it, you never hear a toddler say 'please may I go to bed' and with a few exceptions, you never see an adult slumped over their dinner plate snoring.

But until the Bug reaches the developmental stage wherein she recognizes her own need for sleep, what is there to do? As best as I can figure, the wise course of action is to create optimal conditions for sleep to overtake the Bug. My goal with this is to make going to sleep not scary, and waking up somewhat pleasant. I try to make sure she's warm and clean and has a full belly, that she's calm and knows she's loved.

This is why I'm suspicious of the entire concept of sleep training. If their little brain isn't ready to actively go to sleep, then all the training does is alter the conditions in which sleep happens to the child. I think if she's warm and happy and not totally alone, sleep will develop comforting, happy associations. If she's alone and crying, it will become a scary thing that sneaks up on her.

So, while parenting her to sleep is time-consuming in the short run, I'm hoping it makes for a happier sleeper in the future, when I can say 'go to sleep,' and it will have some meaning for her.

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