Our older daughter went through some phases in which bedtime was difficult, and gave up naps before I was ready for her to, but has been a pretty good sleeper overall. But bedtime, as in the timing of it, has often been haphazard. For most of the first year of her life, she slept in our bedroom, and her bedtime tended to be quite close to ours. Once we moved to a place where she had her own room, getting her to bed earlier was much easier, and so was getting her to sleep all night. But if anyone asked me "What's her bedtime?" I would say, "Well, it depends on the day..."
Almost four years later, enter kid two. Of course newborns care nothing for what hour of the day or night it is -- they have their own internal rhythms. But it didn't really take the baby *that* long to sleep many hours in a row at night. She kind of spoiled us at first, actually, because she slept so well so soon, but then woke up more during the night as she got a little older.
Somehow, when the baby was not quite a year old, just a few months ago, we found ourselves with sleep pattern we didn't much like. The big girl would go to bed, and then the baby would play with us for a couple hours, and we would try so hard to get her to fall asleep so that we could fall asleep. Then she would wake up a few short hours later, and need to be soothed back to sleep (almost always by nursing). We were tired and our lives felt crazy. Something had to change.
So, being the people we are, we read a book. :) A book that promised us "Five Nights to a Perfect Night's Sleep." It was short and rather dictatorial in tone. We decided to try it, and ... it worked! The baby got much much better at falling asleep on her own, and falling back asleep when she wakes up at night. (We backslid on a few aspects: "Never pick up your crying child." "Do not under any circumstances let the baby nurse to sleep.")
The book suggested a holistic approach -- make sure your baby gets lots of food to eat (we were at this stage trying to convince the baby that big-person food is good, too) throughout the day, give lots of snuggles and cuddles, have a "transition object." And, it suggested a bedtime of around 6:30 PM.
Well, this has given us a lovely structure for ending our days with the girls. We put the baby to bed, then have "cuddle time" (usually reading, these days Harry Potter) with the big girl before her quite brief bedtime routine. Reading the book also toughened our resolve in terms of being less responsive to post-bedtime requests for food, water, or "Mama!" And then we still have time to fritter away on the internet, watch TV, or even have a little adult conversation before going to bed. I still often stay up too late, but that is only because the internet has so many shiny things (and I do silly things like resolve to blog daily during Advent). Our girls wake up every morning, earlier than we would choose on weekends, but happy and rested and ready to go.
Bedtime is amazing! Because the girls know the routine, one or the other of us can do it by ourselves when we have an evening meeting or class.
So, Tim and I have been feeling like our older daughter has been emotionally fragile the last few days, today she came home from school exhausted, and gets really upset really fast. Tim pointed out this evening that it's the 4th in a row that we've taken the girls out in the evening (which we sometimes do, if there's something worth doing). Oh, right... so she's having trouble behaving because she's exhausted. Go figure.
Bring back bedtime!