Of Sleep Experts and Atypical Sleepers


There’s an infant and child sleep equivalent of Godwin’s Law:  As the online discussion on sleep grows longer, the probabality of someone mentioning Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child approaches 1.  It’s one of those parenting books that has devoted a loyal and hard core following ready to swear up and down on forums across the internet how it changed their lives.

As a young parent with a baby who liked to rock and roll and day and party every night, I figured I’d try a few of the ideas.  Not his version of sleep training, which is one of the harsher methods, but his ideas on sleep windows and super early bedtimes.  As soon as 6:30 rolled around and Frodo’s eyes began to look a little glazed, we’d whisk him away from whatever he was doing and put him to sleep, after which he’d sleep beautifully.  Until he woke up.  At 10 p.m., ready to party.

And then there was the whole putting them to bed drowsy but awake thing.  There was only one problem with that:  Frodo didn’t get drowsy.  He had two settings:


So much for that.

And then he turned 6 months old and the experts declared it was time to set him down in his crib and let his cries sooth him off to a peaceful, 12-hour slumber.  Except that for Frodo, being left to cry is about as soothing as a Yoko Ono record (I found out later there is a name for people who get worked up by crying: tension increaser).  I already knew how that one would turn out-hours of crying himself hoarse and concerned neighbors calling the police.  So I passed on that one.

And then I’d read about how all you have to do is keep things calm at bedtime and toddlers will naturally wind down and fall asleep within half an hour and I’d walk into the bedroom after our soothing, quiet bedtime routine and there would be Frodo, turning on the radio and jumping up and down on the bed to KISS.

I still don’t have any answers.  While a lot of the basic stuff makes sense for everyone-calming bedtime routine, consistent sleep and wake times, no screen time right before bed, etc.-there’s a lot of stuff that just doesn’t seem to work for some kids-kids with sensory issues, kids with delayed sleep phase disorder, even just kids with spirited temperaments.

I think of my husband, who as a kid used to lay awake in the dark past midnight, unable to sleep. I think of my son, a sensory-seeker and intense, active kid who for a long time just couldn’t settle his body and mind down.  According to the books I should have just left him to work it out on his own, but my gut told me he needed more help.  And now, at two and a half, he is much calmer at bedtime.  He not only falls asleep in a quarter of the time he used to, he even falls asleep on his own (with me close by, but on his own).  I still don’t know if I’m doing it right-he still doesn’t sleep through the night, never really has.  But my gut tells me to go with his unique personality, not try to shoehorn him into a one-size-fits-all approach.

The one and only sleep book that did help me was Sleepless in America by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka (the same author of Raising Your Spirited Child, which is also fantastic).  Instead of developing a single method for all kids, she talks about how different temperaments affect sleep and how to modify your approach to sleep based on your child’s temperament (she doesn’t mention specific issues like ASD, SPD, etc., but a lot of the advice applies, since many of us fall into the spirited category-active, persistent, intense, etc.)

That’s not to say that the sleep experts don’t have valuable information and advice-they do.  But I think that when it comes to sleep, like so many other things, sometimes the best thing to do is know your child and trust your gut.

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One Response to Of Sleep Experts and Atypical Sleepers

  1. suburp says:

    I have to say our sleeping story was rocky in the first years and bedtime is sometimes stretchy and bouncy as a rubberband now. I have seen A LOT if praise for melatonin from parents of autistic kids but am not keen at all to medicate. My son is 8, and he needs to be rested for school of course but I prefer just to do some of the reasonable things (no screen time before bed but talking, cuddles and reading, obviously no caffeine ever, not too heavy late meals etc) and I let things take their course. There is no drama, no loud words, he is just up a good while, that’s true, but he needs the time to settle and process his day. So there. He is lying in bed. He moves around, sometimes calls me for some random, but important question.. I feel the less I stress about it, the more he relaxes eventually and gets to sleep. I have discussed it with my pediayrician, he agreed he gets enough rest & sleep like this. Kids are not all the same..as you say. You’ll find your way. 🙂

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