You’ve read the sleep/wake time guides and you genuinely think they are making it up. Surely no baby sleeps that much. As you rock your baby for the 6000th hour in a row, you wonder what on earth you are getting wrong here. How can everyone else in the world get their baby to sleep but you can’t? A niggling question lurks somewhere in the back of your mind. Am I the world’s worst parent, or does my baby just not need that much sleep? It’s a question I refused to entertain when my first bub was little, despite hours a day rocking a wide eyed, unsleepy child. It was only the birth of my second child and the stark contrast between baby #1 and baby #2 that showed me something was amiss. My second child has normal sleep requirements, and with every long sleep, easy put down and freak out if she stayed awake more than the text book appropriate time, I began to see the truth. That my firstborn is among the ranks of Bill Clinton, Margaret Thatcher and Barack Obama, needing less sleep than most people to have a happy, healthy life. The signs were there all along, I just refused to believe them. But had I known early on, man I would have had a different experience of becoming a new mum! I would have relaxed and stopped believing I was the one messing it up. I would have let my poor baby stay awake when she needed to rather than spend most of her life being put to sleep (unsuccessfully!) And we both would have enjoyed it a lot more.
So how can you tell if your bub is low sleep requirement? In hindsight, these were the signs for me:
- They’re not sleepy when the book says they should be
She didn’t seem sleepy when I put her down and wouldn’t fall asleep after long periods of rocking, patting, leaving her to sleep etc. She didn’t have any tired signs (because I was working hard to get her to sleep before she got tired!) I always just thought I was bad at recognising them and she must therefore be OVER tired but my second child showed me that when kids have tired signs, it’s pretty obvious!
- They don’t fall asleep in carriers or in the car, or in the pram
If my second child is sleepy, the second she’s in a carrier or carseat she’ll pass out. I could count on my fingers the amount of times my low sleep requirement kiddo has fallen asleep in the car or pram. And she never fell asleep in the carrier.
- They have no “witching hour”
People used to talk about ‘the witching hour’ and how crazy their child would get towards bedtime. I had literally never experienced this until my second bub came along. My low sleep requirement bub was just as happy at 5pm as she was at 10am. Suddenly with my second child it all made sense.
- They don’t get overtired, even after long periods without sleep
My happy little low sleep requirement child has rarely been overtired in her now nearly 4 years. These days she often lies in bed for an hour or more after we put her down, singing to herself and telling stories to her toys. When she was a bub she would just lie there happily, awake and looking at the world around her. When my second baby started to show overtired signs I had no idea what was happening! She would be grouchy and crying and basically a nightmare until I could provide even the slightest sleep like environment for her when she would immediately conk out. This has literally never happened with my first child.
- They don’t cry
My super low sleep requirement baby rarely ever cried. She was always happy, engaged with the world, excited to have people around. If we left her in her cot she didn’t cry, if she hadn’t slept for hours she didn’t cry, when we were ready to cry from exhaustion she was bright eyed and bushy tailed. Tired babies cry. Untired babies are pretty content with the world.
- It doesn’t get better
Okay this is a bit of a kick in the teeth for the low sleep requirement baby’s parents but the fact is my nearly 4 year old has always slept less than other kids her age and likely always will. She gave up day sleeps when she turned two and since her second birthday she has not had a day sleep. As I mentioned earlier, we still put her down at a reasonable hour (730) every night, but often she sings and plays for long periods of time until she’s ready for sleep. The good news is that while a lot of my friends’ kids the same age need all kinds of help to get to sleep and usually end up in mum and dads bed before morning, she lies in bed entertaining herself until she’s tired enough to sleep without any intervention from us and once she’s asleep she’s usually good ‘til the morning.
- She can go ridiculous amounts of time without sleeping
It is crazy the amount of time my first bub could stay awake. We had countless nights for her first 2 years where she would sleep about 4 or 5 hours from 7pm until 11pm or 12am, and then was literally awake the entire night without ever even looking sleepy, and she didn’t make up for lost sleep the next day.
- The experts can’t get their heads around it
We failed sleep school at just 8 weeks old. It ended 6 hours in with the nurse crying out in desperation ‘pick her up, rock her, do whatever it takes, she needs to sleep!’ We visited a friend overseas who works in kids health who couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw how our child could stay awake for so long and be happy, engaged and unsleepy. She confessed that she hadn’t believed us when we told her about our child’s sleeping before she saw it with her own eyes. The fact is that most kids aren’t low sleep requirement, so ‘experts’ kind of freak out in the face of someone who contradicts all their norms. I’ve been accused of not giving my child the opportunity to sleep countless times by midwives and mothercraft nurses (seriously, did they think I was playing heavy metal in a neon room as a sleep technique?) I did everything right – dark room, white noise, gentle rocking and patting, strong consistent routine. But if a baby (or anyone at all for that matter!) isn’t sleepy, you can’t force them to sleep.
- Sleeping less than her peers doesn’t affect her at all
As I’ve said we tried everything to get my bub to sleep but she just wasn’t tired. She was super engaged, really happy and has grown up to be a very bright, responsible, kind, caring, low sleep requirement nearly 4 year old. Meltdowns and tantrums are so rare I couldn’t tell you the last time she had one. She’s always raring to go on the next adventure, to climb the next tree, to ride her bike and paint and draw. After preschool she’s keen as beans to go and play at the park with her friends. Sleeping less never has and still doesn’t affect her energy levels.
- You know because you are her parent
If you’ve suspected you have a low sleep requirement baby, articles like this may just confirm it for you. As parents, we are the only ones who know the truth about our kids’ habits and behaviours, because we are the ones who live them out with our kids. And we are the ones who really care that our kids are doing well. The truest bit of parenting advice is that most of the time, if it doesn’t contradict scientific evidence, our guts are right. In our local hospital children’s ER room, there is even a sign on the wall that reminds staff to ask parent’s what they feel is going on in the situation. Parent’s know.
Hopefully this has given you a clearer picture of what it’s like to have a low sleep requirement child, and whether you may have one too. If they’re happy and coping well, there’s nothing to do but wait it out until they’re old enough to entertain themselves during all the extra waking hours (in their rooms of course – mum and dad need a break!!)