Shared Sleep Spaces
Okay… so I can’t say there is too much official “sleep consultant” advice in this blog post. I’m writing this one from the trenches of motherhood.
But, as someone who has lived with two children in 1300 sq ft with their bedrooms divided by the thinnest of walls… I think I am qualified to give a little advice on this subject matter. Most of these I have also lived through as a solo parent while my husband gallivants down in South America for 21 days straight.
Oh wait. That is his job.. And without it we probably wouldn’t be able to afford our PoMo bungalow.
How do you get everyone to sleep when you are sharing a really small sleep space? Maybe your baby is sharing a room with your toddler? Maybe you’re all sleeping in the same room right now while you visit Aunt Stella for the weekend.. Doesn’t sound that fun to me, but hey.. Maybe Aunt Stella is a real hoot!
Okay, back to the task at hand here. I decided it would probably be easiest to write down some of the common queries people have on the subject of sharing a room, and make a few suggestions for each.
Everyone is waking everyone up.
Sometimes, you have got to divide and conquer people. I am a fan of shared sleep spaces, but there are certain times in life where it truly means less sleep for everyone involved. Sometimes dividing the kids into separate rooms, and assigning one parent to each kid, is the best way to get more sleep. Just ask twin parents how they survived that first year, and you are likely to find there is no sleeping parent luxury around them parts!
Can you set up a temporary abode in the living room? Have you looked into the install of a murphy bed? Even if this is a space you go to for a few hours in the night, might it be helpful to have a substitute sleeping space for when things are not going well?
Definitely use white noise to drown out the background noises. When we are on vacation we place three sound machines in our room. One near each of our children, and one by the door the the hallway of the hotel we are staying in. At home, our kids’ sound machines are against the wall they share on either side, and for a while we also had one in the hallway.
I know not everyone is a fan of white noise, but sometimes it is really helpful! Yes it can be habit forming, but if you turn it down bit-by-bit, day-by-day, when you no longer need it, and you will be done with it before you know it!
I do also find people really overestimate how much their children are woken by each other. Many kids sleep right through a fire alarm when they are in their deepest of sleeps! Newborns we know spend about 50% of their time in light sleep, and 50% of their time in deep sleep. By 6 months of age this has shifted to 30% light sleep, and 70% deep sleep. When in their deep sleep most children will sleep through the noises their siblings make, and should be able to sleep somewhat uninterrupted. This is challenging if you’ve got a really difficult sleeper on your hands, but that may also be another argument for the divide and conquer approach.
Kids share the same room, but have different bedtimes.
On this front, you are going to have to role play and set lots of expectations during daytime hours.
Make sure that both children know what is expected of them at bedtime, BEFORE bedtime comes. And I don’t just mean an hour or two before bedtime comes. Take a few days and set these little ones up for success!
Practice the idea of “quietly resting” during the day. Do this lots with stuffed animals. Allow your children a chance to put you to sleep during the day, and model your best quiet resting behaviour. Take time role playing how you want each child to behave at bedtime, and make it a bit of a game without the promise of bedtime looming overhead.
Have a “not so quiet” kid? How can you encourage and entice them? Is there anything they would be intrinsically motivated to do this for? I know, I am pulling at straws here. Maybe have them come up with a morning motivation, and uphold it if they are able to actually rest quietly before sleep time comes. A pancake breakfast comes to mind.. Or a pajama party in the morning.
Do show your child how you wait for sleep to come to you in your bed. Sometimes they just need more modelling, and to know, not everyone falls asleep quickly, but most everyone falls asleep quietly.
Want to “sleep train” the baby, but are worried the crying will wake the older child up.
Choose the “least-cry” option. I know, you are probably unsure where to start with this. I could help with that! But trust me when I say many many many children have learned to sleep through the night with supportive, responsive, parenting, which generally leads to less tears overall in my experience.
Don’t want to feed the baby every time they wake? Leaving them alone to cry is not the only way to “teach” them to go back to sleep without being nursed. You could try a hands-on, responsive settling approach such as; rocking, walking, or patting babe back to sleep in your arms. It may be difficult the first night you try, but if babe does trust you have a plan and an expectation to uphold, you will see that each passing night will get better and better for you.
One child wakes super early, and the other is woken but not yet ready to start the day.
This is one that I have found to be a very difficult juggling act at my own house! Both my kids have really unpredictable morning wake times. They are going to wake up some time after 6 for the most part, but sometimes one will sleep in til 7, or 7:15 am! And there have been many moments where one has ruined the morning for the other.
My eldest knows if she wakes early that she is not to wake the baby. She comes to our room for a morning cuddle, or will sometimes go downstairs to start the day (she’s 4). With this age it is pretty easy to set an expectation, from what I have found. The most important thing is sticking to the boundary that is set, so that your preschooler comes to believe it is in fact the truth!
When Theo, my 15 month old, wakes early to start the day and it is clear he is not going to go back to bed… I jump out of my bed faster than a speeding bullet, and grab that kid even if I am still in my underwear! Haha. I will do anything to not have him wake the preschooler, because if she doesn’t wake on her own she is so incredibly cranky.
What is working for us now is whispering shhh shhh. He is starting to mimic the sound, and copies me long enough just to get downstairs. I have a diaper and change of clothes waiting for him downstairs, so I don’t have to spend a second longer than I have to in the room he neighbours with his sister.
If Theo is waking and I think there is a small hope he might go back to bed, then I usually “trade” bedrooms with Halle. I will put the big one in my bed, and go into the room that is next to Theo. This way I can hear him and observe his cry or babble behaviour, without risking the waking of the older one. Yeah, it is not that fun. But these are the sacrifices we make in the face of motherhood.
So.. I hope that is somewhat helpful. I know there isn’t a solution for everyone here. This is where booking a consultation with me might be most helpful. Custom sleep solutions are what I do. And I would love to help your family navigate a tough transition.
Thank you to Stacie-Lynn for the beautiful capture here. And stay tuned next week for some advice on sleep routines (or lack thereof), around the holidays.