What is it like to have no set bedtimes?

I’ve had a few conversations recently about bedtimes and how long children sleep, and people always seem to ask me when I get time to myself (as if the time spent with the boys was not “proper” time). Without going into too much detail and dragging up our history again (yes, we did try sleep training with our first, it was horrible, don’t do it, I will regret it always, and the poor child kept waking up anyway, I wouldn’t even train a dog now) I just wanted to share what an average day (and night) looks like for us, sleep wise.

We all wake up when our body tells us to, occasionally we do have appointments and things to do early but with plenty of notice the boys are ok with being woken up by me. I usually wake up first, closely followed by Isaac (Martin wakes up some time before us to do his yoga) so I get my “me” time early in the morning. Reuben wakes up a lot later (we are now averaging 10am) and that’s fine as Isaac has some time alone with us to read books, play or just sit next to me with his iPad while I have breakfast and check my emails.

Reuben hasn’t had an afternoon nap since he was 2 years old (barring extraordinary occasions), he wakes up and hits the day at breakneck speed, generally wanting to make something complicated. Our days are quite intense and Isaac half of the time will fall asleep in the afternoon, I don’t “put him to bed” in any way, he will ask to go to bed or fall asleep on the sofa. So Reuben gets his own time with me or Martin. If Isaac has a nap I would tend not to wake him up, most people recoil in horror at this: eek it’s 5pm and he’s still asleep, he’ll be up ALL NIGHT! What does happen is that we all go to bed together, anytime between 10 and 11pm, I used to get up again after they had gone to sleep, now I’m too tired and don’t bother, I tend to read and watch things on the Iplayer during the day when they are doing similar things themselves.


Isaac in bed in the Kentucky

If Isaac has not had a nap he will ask to go to bed round 8pm, so then me and Reuben will probably play a game together or watch a film. I found that regardless of the times involved, the boys both sleep 12 hours a day. Other parents have told me that this is not always true for all children, so I won’t make any sweeping statements, this is just what happens with us.

Doing things this way means that we need to be all strangely synchronised, without artificial bedtimes we follow our body clocks more, and now that the boys are 3 and 5 they finally no longer wake up in the night so we are all rested when we wake up. I have also noticed that I am living my life in the here and now more, I am not waiting for the elusive moment when I am alone to do the things I love, I do these things anytime, sometimes it’s not possible but I persevere and they find a place in our day. I can read, write, draw, maybe not play guitar or sing as much as I’d like but I’m working on it, and I’m hoping to start an online business again. And of course we travel as much as we can!

The only drawback that I can think of is not having much time alone with Martin, we try to catch up in the mornings when the boys are still asleep, but as our families do not live nearby and we tend not to leave the boys with friends and babysitters, our last night out was maybe 2 years ago!

As for beds, we all sleep together!! It’s lovely. Oh and when we travel the “pattern” is the same so there is rarely any disruption to the boys’ sleep. What can I say? It works for us. 

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2 Responses to What is it like to have no set bedtimes?

  1. We’re working on our bedtime thing and have become much more relaxed over the last couple of months. The eldest three have no set bedtimes, which is easy, as they are well able to understand when we (the parents!) want space, they don’t disturb anyone sleeping and they manage to lie-in when they need to. They probably actually go to sleep earlier now than they did when they had a set bedtime (you can set a bedtime, but you can’t force a child to go to sleep!)
    Our youngest is usually persuaded to get into PJs & go upstairs for a breastfeed when she is getting tired (about 7pm). During this time, I also ask the other two (7 & 9) if they want a story & if they do, they get ready for bed and come into our room as well. They’re not usually really ready for bed at this time, but this is the bit we find tricky. DH really wants to be alone (or with me) downstairs in the evenings & not being disturbed by the little ones. They don’t usually disturb us with this arrangement, but I don’t think they are particularly happy about it (because it feels forced).
    When we are camping, it is so much easier! With the outdoor space, the younger ones can just play until they’re tired and DH & I can enjoy a campfire together, or with friends. Our youngest usually appears when she wants a breastfeed & goes straight to sleep – sometimes during the day, if she has had a late night before, and sometimes she keeps going til the evening.
    I also worked out that however we do it, my youngest always sleeps for about 12hrs in a 24hr period.
    Sorry for the long rambly comment! :-)

    Juno August 10, 2013 at 10:05 pm Reply
    • Hi Juno, thanks for your really interesting comment. We just got back from camping and I found that the boys were both asleep by 9.30, possibly because they didn’t have their iPads ;-) but I must confess that the earlier bedtime and no technology made no difference to their moods and behaviour at all (contrary to popular belief)!! Although it was nice for me to spend an hour in the evening reading undisturbed.

      Fran Rao August 14, 2013 at 11:19 am Reply

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