Listen To Your Smug, Sleep Training Friends. They're Right

by Maria Guido

Experts say earlier bedtimes make kids healthier and happier

There is no shortage of parenting advice out there and you’re probably sick of all of it. But if you can muster the patience to withstand a little more, I’d like to give you parents-to-be a bit of advice: listen to your smug, sleep training friends.

I don’t often give parenting advice because my parenting style is something I like to call “default parenting.” Default parenting is when you try all manner of parenting fads, fail at them, and just do whatever you can. By default. But of all the bits of parenting advice I received, there is one that I am really bitter about not following: I never sleep-trained my kids. And I paid for it dearly with my sanity.

This sleep training failure is resurfacing again thanks to an article I just read called “In Defense Of Absurdly Early Bedtimes.” As if anyone needs to defend that behavior. As if all of us wouldn’t rather be chilling alone on the couch instead of dragging our parenting duties into the wee hours of the night. Melinda Wenner Moyer is a science writer who also writes a parenting column for Slate. She’s consistently made her kids go to sleep by 7:30, and she’s happier for it. Not only that, research suggests her early-to-bed kids are more focused, well rested, happier, and even smarter.

She analyzes several studies to make the point that yes, it does matter how early kids go to sleep[related_post]. “Four nights of going to sleep an hour earlier made 8- to 12-year-olds more even-keeled and boosted their short-term memory, working memory, and attention skills compared with kids who had their bedtimes shifted later by an hour,” Wenner Moyer writes. ‘Another study found that 2-year-olds who had early bedtimes were, at age 8, 62 percent less likely than those with later or inconsistent bedtimes to have attention problems and 81 percent less likely to have aggression issues.”

“Not only do kids tend to sleep more when the lights go out sooner, but they also may get a greater proportion of restorative sleep, too. Early kid bedtimes are also great for parental sanity. Sipping a glass of wine in silence? Snuggling up with your spouse to watch a grown-up movie for once? It’s really quite lovely.” Oh, is it lovely? No shit. Do you think I want to be struggling to get my child into bed when I could be drinking a goblet of wine and watching Scandal, uninterrupted? You’re probably thinking, calm down. No need to swear. Five years without a night of uninterrupted sleep and zero personal time in the evening will tend to make one a little edgy, okay?

[shareable_quote]That adorable infant whose cries you can’t bear to hear will turn into a toddler wreaking havoc on your house and sanity every night.[/shareable_quote]

Which is why I’d like to tell all of you who think you couldn’t possibly be strict with an infant’s sleep schedule to reconsider. That adorable infant whose cries you can’t bear to hear will turn into a toddler wreaking havoc on your house and sanity every night.

My first child was still sleeping in a pack-n-play when he was three years old. Why did I have a three-year-old falling asleep in a pack-n-play, you ask? Because he essentially had to be in jail or he would wander around his room endlessly. People think I am exaggerating when I tell this tale – I assure you I’m not. I put my child to bed at 8:00 every night, and every night he would talk to himself for roughly two and a half hours.

He’s five and still does it. His toddler sister is an earlier sleeper because I was so exhausted by the time she was born that I said “OH, hell no” the first time she indicated that she was not interested in an early bedtime. Her cries did not break my heart the way her brother’s did, because I knew what was coming if I didn’t buckle down. But it doesn’t really matter that she’s a better sleeper, because when one child refuses to sleep it kind of effects the whole house.

I remember what it was like to be a parent the first time around. The first time I tried the cry-it-out method with my then four-month-old, I ran to the room whispering “I’m sorry” into his ears as he choked through sobs. And I never looked back.

I’ve always been good about admitting when I’m wrong. This is one of those times.

There’s a ton of research that proves earlier bedtimes are better for children. Give yourself a head start by developing an earlier schedule when they are infants. You’ll be so much happier later, when you’re watching Orange Is The New Black uninterrupted instead of reading Goodnight Moon for the 10th time.