No Bedtime: What Sleep Looks Like in Our House

My children, 4 and 6, do not have a bedtime.  Nor have they ever been left to cry.   They go to sleep when they are tired, and wake when they are rested.  They have fallen asleep cuddled by a parent every night of their lives.

This is shocking to many parents.  Some even see it as a disservice to our children.  I quite disagree.

My children, 4 and 6, do not have a bedtime.  Nor have they ever been left to cry.   They go to sleep when they are tired, and wake when they are rested.
My children, 4 and 6, do not have a bedtime. Nor have they ever been left to cry. They go to sleep when they are tired, and wake when they are rested.

So what does sleep look like in our house?  It has changed a lot in six years.  When Owen was a baby and toddler, I nursed him to sleep.  Every night.  Sometimes this took hours, and I was resentful.  I thought that I would have from 7 PM to 7 AM “off”.  Instead, I had a child in bed with my husband and I, and spent my evenings willing him to sleep and trying to sneak away without waking him.

Eventually my husband was able to put Owen to sleep, and that took hours too.  We thought kids were supposed to be asleep by 8- and if ours was not, that we were failing as parents.  So my husband spent his evenings trying to get our son to sleep.  Through all of this, Owen consistently fell asleep around 11 PM.  No matter what we tried, or how early we went upstairs.

Slowly, we began to prepare him for bed later in the evening, and still Owen feel asleep around 11 PM.  Though his bedtime did not change, something else did; the evening atmosphere in our home.

Rather than my husband and I “discussing” what we were doing wrong, we started spending our time doing other things- reading books to Owen, enjoying a glass of wine while Owen played on the floor in front of us, or one of us going out to dinner with friends, or hitting balls at the driving range.

Our nights were different, and so our days were different.

The atmosphere in our house shifted.  Though we did not understand it enough to talk about, we were following our child’s natural rhythms.  Things became calmer.  We connected with Owen differently because there was less tension and resistance between us.  We started to appreciate him for who he was, instead of trying to fit him into a cookie cutter mold.

We saw a shift in our child- he was happier, more relaxed, more confident.  He basked in the freedom of being himself.  Our confidence as parents grew, and we learned to trust ourselves and our child instead of magazine articles, or advice books.

I stopped reading mainstream parenting magazines, and turned into my family.

The implications of this sleep-shift reached wider than bedtime.  My husband and I learned to listen to our kids instead of those around us- we made choices that made sense for our family.  Our daughter Sydney joined us when Owen was 26 months, and it was easier.  We never fought with her about bedtime, or tried to convince her to sleep before she was ready.

Bedtime has evolved and shifted in our home over the years.  For a long time we all slept in the same bed.  Sometimes, if a child was sick, or a parent was really tired, we would split into different beds.  Now, Owen is getting older.  He is moving away from the family bed, and he and Kris sleep in one bed while Sydney and I sleep in another.

I have been told that this is a sure-fire way to end my marriage.

Now there is no tension in our house at bed time.  Kris and I do not fight about why the children are not sleeping, or who is doing what wrong.  Instead, we take our kids to bed when they are tired- and generally fall asleep together.  We close our eyes each night happy, snuggling, and connected.  This makes my husband and I- and our entire family- stronger.

Sleep has changed in our house over the years, and I am grateful.  I am thankful not just for our evenings being more pleasant, but for the way it changed our entire parenting course.



21 Replies to “No Bedtime: What Sleep Looks Like in Our House”

  1. I so want to do this, we’ve long known that our children (much like us, their parents) are non-traditional sleepers. However, with work and school that occupies much of our lives, I’m wondering how to creatively think outside the box for this one? Both parents work full time 60 miles from our home, our children both go to school….and therefore, a schedule is born. We know that we have to be at school by 8:20. Therefore, we need to be awake by 7am. Therefore, we have to sleep for a good chunk of time to be able to function. Thereby, “bedtime” is born. On the weekends, we’re much, much more flexible…but I dream of the days when we can follow the lead of our children. And help grow this confidence and knowledge of their own bodies and systems….

  2. Thanks for sharing. I take a lot of comfort from this because in many ways our boy does things his way. Sometimes I question how much we should follow his lead since it is not supported by the mainstream approach to parenting. So often, though, we find that it’s not ourselves that are in conflict with our boy’s desires, but rather our ideas of how we should do whatever is in question at the time. To me it’s such an easier move to make the people involved happy in the moment. It’s a learning process for my husband and I to be sure.

  3. Beautiful. 🙂 This is what we do, and I always wondered if we were the only ones! lol We’re both night owls, so it wasn’t surprising our son is a night owl as well. Even as a newborn, he rarely fell asleep before midnight. Now he’s 25 months and he goes to bed between 11 and 1 every night. Happily, and we go to bed as a family. And most nights mom and dad can sneak back up for some time of their own and still get plenty of sleep before he wakes up 10-12 hours later! He’s starting to show interest in sleeping in his own space, but he still wants cuddles in the early morning hours. We have no complaints, we cherish this time. <3

  4. I can now do this with my daughter, as she will actually sleep for more than a few hours at a time. Knowing I will get more than 2 hours at a stretch has been so nice. Being home allows us to go down when she wants,and wake when she wants. The time shifts once in awhile, so it is harder for me to fall asleep when we go from 11 to 8, but it works out over a few days. The only hard part, is figuring out the best time to go out for errands and such. I try to work with her schedule, but it is sometimes a challenge.I like to take her out non- grouchy!

  5. We have struggled with bedtime for years and I see what your point of the post is…. And we have resorted to something similar with our girls, ages 3 and 5… But what if they go to sleep late, yet still continue to wake up early, like at 7am? My girls only average about 8 hours of sleep a night, and let me tell you, it’s NOT enough sleep for them. We have major behavioral issues from chronic sleep deprivation, they can be so hard to handle. I’ve even considered taking my 3 year old to a pediatric sleep specialist bc she just won’t sleep, even after no naps. We’ve resorted to melatonin even though I hate using it, I feel we have no choice. I’m sure you know what it’s like to have tried everything but nothing else works. Still just hoping they outgrow it eventually!

  6. I just wrote a blog post about how the time change doesn’t really matter to my kids 🙂 We’ve always parented this way, and I have grown kids so I can see how it’s worked out just fine for them as adults. When they needed to stick to a schedule (choosing to go to high school, work, then college) they were able to adjust without any problems. Also, my marriage is great (we just celebrated our 23rd anniversary) and we co-slept for many, many years. There is more than one way to raise happy, well-adjusted kids, and I’m glad that I’ve followed my heart.

  7. My girls are 4, 5, 7 and 8 and they don’t have a bedtime. They go to bed when they want and know how to be quiet and respectful if someone else is wanting to sleep. As we also live in a small motorhome, we have all become masters at sleeping through noise and disruption!
    I find that we go through cycles together. Sometimes we’re all up late — 11ish or even later. Other times, we got to bed around 9. The girls sleep in if they’re tired and wake up early if something interesting is happening.
    It works for us, it works for me. I wouldn’t have it any other way!
    Here’s my link to Freedom in bed-times:

  8. We went through this same thing, when our E was a little guy. For the first few months, he fell asleep at the breast, even while we watched a movie and we would all move into the bedroom around 11pm. Then, he stopped falling asleep at the breast and DH and I started trying to find ways to get him to sleep. Because E woke up at 5am,every morning, we felt it was important to get him to sleep between 5 and 6pm,because all of hte books said that he should be sleeping at least 11 hours at night, at this time. We fought him on this, rocking him, shushing him,singing to him, until our arms felt like they were going to fall off and our backs ached,yet he would wake constantly, sometimes minutes after we put him down to sleep and would wake multiple times until we both came to bed with him and moved E out of the crib for the night. I asked friends who had kids, who all said things like-you need to start him on solids so he’ll sleep longer(he was only 4 months at this time and we were fiercely against solids before 6 months), or that we needed to just allow him to cry-it-out,another thing we were fiercely against. We paid $100 or so to a baby sleep “expert” who told us to do things that we told her we weren’t going to try, or else she just didn’t listen to us when we explained how our son was (high-need). It wasn’t until we started just laying down with him, holding him through all of his sleep nursing him to sleep,but then staying there with him, that’s when he started to sleep better. Once we realized what his needs were and stopped reading books on how he “should” be sleeping-ie, alone, in a crib, put down drowsy and and allowed to fall asleep on his own, etc and started listening to our son, that’s when things got better. We all sleep better because of how we do things now, we’re all more connected, DH and I fight a lot less (we fought so much about getting E to sleep) and we’re all much happier. Listening to E and meeting his needs had been easy for us in every way except for sleep,but now we really listen to him,with both ears and our hearts. It’s so much better now

  9. I just can’t figure out how to do this. I need to be up at 5am for work & wife is with them all day. Boys, 6 & 3, the 6yo is ok on his own but the 3yo still wants us to hang out with him. Maybe in another year. 🙂

  10. I could have written this! When our first baby was born, there was so much stress and tension surrounding sleep. With our second, it has been so much easier simply because we knew what to expect and are more flexible. We were a late-night, go-with-the-flow couple (especially when it came to sleep!) before kids and it translates well to a family with two littles… once we let it.

    Honestly, it makes me reconsider the idea of public school and lots of other things. So much of our societal norms are built against our natural rhythms.

    Great post! I’m sure it will be very reassuring to many new parents.

  11. My kid NEEDING to sleep with me…. I probably can’t explain it right but, in a way, that would scare me. Do you ever worry about a day when your kids may be alone? I would love to be by my kids side 24/7, but the parent in me has to “prepare” them…. I mean, that’s so important. Anything can happen in this life. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. My kids being independent is important to me. My kids being OK without me is, well, OK! Of course it takes time. I NEVER read a parenting book – other than health concerns – I know that every child is different. Different needs. I am here for my kids – they know that – I remind them every day. The days go fast and before you know it they are having to manage in this world …alone ….. I hope to help my kids grow with independence -because the worry that fills my heart every. single. day. wondering if I am doing this job the best way for my kids as they get older in this crazy world scares the heck out of me…..

    • I am a cancer survivor. I do not feel the need to make my children into adults in case I die. Oh, that is a heartbreaking thought. When people marry, they do not marry alone! They marry another- and share a bed, and cuddle. We have been wrongly led to believe that properly preparing child involved being cold and distant- so that they become independent. What I have learned is that the opposite is true. Security, attachment, and trust are what prepare children for whatever comes their way in life.

  12. My husband and I were just discussing how when my son was born, we passed him back and forth, never putting him down, snuggling him all the time… until my husband returned to work! After that, my son naturally became a part of our bed and we haven’t changed a thing in 2 1/2 years. He also naturally has a nap during the day and naturally goes to sleep between 9 and 10 and night…late for many peoples standards but perfect for him. My son can sleep soundly with us but also does fine falling asleep anywhere else! People are all in such a huge rush to “rule” how our kids eat, sleep…live. And in such a rush for things to be “orderly.” LIFE is not orderly. Ever. Not sure why people set those expectations on something as precious as their sleep. Sleep cycles change constantly..”setting” a time seems so hard handed.

    For myself, I am lifelong insomniac and feel like sleep is something that just comes and goes for me. My parents always made me “go to sleep,” leaving me sitting in bed for hours, doing nothing but waiting to sleep. I have found many more productive things to do with my time in the latter parts of my life, but never wanted to be heavy handed about sleep (my son fortunately sleeps like my husband, who can fall asleep anywhere and minutes after he lies down.)

  13. We also don’t have a set bedtime, when the kids are tired I lay down with them and go to bed, generally around 11pm or so, we tried establishing a “normal bedtime” when my daughter (now 4) was younger and didn’t work out, it also left myself and my husband frazzled, stressed and more exhausted. Bedtime comes when my kids are ready for bed, not a minute sooner, we are ALL much happier without a “real” bedtime!

  14. Ok. I love the idea of family bed but can someone please explain to me a)what to do when one parent has to set an alarm for 5am and b) what happens to your sex life? For these reasons alone my son sleeps in his own room even though my husband and I love to have him in our bed where everyone sleeps better. (Usually happens on the weekend mornings).

  15. Before I read this I had a ton of things run through my mind, mainly kids NEED sleep. Then I read it and it was exactly what’s been happening in my house since I had my son a year ago. I admit some nights I wanted him to please go to sleep so I could have some me time, but when that happened I would just let me husband watch him while I unwound with a nice bath or something else. I at first was making all kinds of excuses thinking people would judge me but eventually I just said, “this is when he sleeps” eventually his sleep pattern changed and can now be put down between 815-9. I do believe once he enters school he will need to be on a schedule of some sort or face the consequences of lack of sleep. I know I don’t like to function on limited sleep and I’m sure no kid likes to either. Hopefully our routine will set him up in the future and sleep won’t be a battle.

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  18. We finally do this! I used to sit on the couch just listening to my daughter wail at bedtime every single night so stressed out.. When my daughter turned two the regression got worse. I didn’t think it could. At bedtime she would cry for two hours and finally pass out then she would wake up on the hour every hour until 6am. The stress of her crying was hard on me. When she would finally go to sleep I would feel sad not relieved because she was so upset. So I gave up. Now she goes to sleep with me and my husband. She usually falls asleep in my lap around 9 or 10 so when I am ready for bed around 11 or so I just take her with me and we sleep ALL night until 8 or so! It is amazing. No more stress at dinner wondering how the night is going to go. Now she hangs out with me and her Daddy and plays while we watch a movie or just chat. No more screaming and crying and she sleeps completely through the night. The stress is finally gone. Some nights after she falls asleep if I just want some space I will put her in her own bed and she will not wake up till morning. That works too. But no more bed time pressure. When she is older she will go to her own bed and sleep at a normal time. We have many years of school days to look forward to when she will need a strict schedule. I am going to let her enjoy these few years of freedom of no responsibilities and be our baby.