As a Child Sleep Consultant, I often get the question, “How and when can I have more flexibility with our schedule and still protect my child’s sleep?” This is a common concern for most parents due to the demands of work and/or activities. I get it! Life is hectic at times, and it can be hard to do it “all”. But, it’s possible to keep everyone well rested and still live an active lifestyle.
However, first we need to ensure your little one is getting the quality sleep they need on a consistent bases (before you can have wiggle room with their schedule). This means, your child needs to be well rested before you can alter their schedule. The amount of sleep your child needs depends on your their age. For example: 0-1 years old needs 16-14 hours, 2-5 years old needs 13-10 hours of sleep. Remember, sleep equals sleep. If your baby is well rested, they tend to sleep better and get longer stretches of sleep. And when your child is well rested, they adapt to change such as missing a nap a lot easier.
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When I work with families, I help parents improve their child’s sleep prior to introducing flexibility in their child’s schedule. I typically recommend that they block off at least 2-3 weeks to dedicate to improving their child’s sleep. It takes time and a consistent schedule, bedtime routine, and sleep environment to establish better sleep habits. Each kiddo is unique and some might need more sleep than others take. But, once they are consistently sleeping you can start to have a little flexibility with your schedule. So, what does that look like?
The “80/20 Sleep Rule”
Basically, the “80/20 Rule” of sleep is when you stick with your normal routine and schedule 80% of the time. However, the remaining 20% allows you to be flexible while still respecting the boundaries of healthy sleep for your child. This means that you can have a late night or a nap-on-the-go here and there. But, anytime they have to miss any sleep (a nap), I recommend pushing earlier bedtime. An earlier bedtime will allow you to enjoy an activity during the day while keeping your kids well rested.
When I tell people to push earlier bedtime, I often get the question, “what do you mean by earlier bedtime?”. I recommend watching your child’s sleepy cues to help you know what time is best. Keep in mind, 15-30 minutes earlier can impact your child’s sleep. However, in a situation where they missed a nap, had a shorter nap, or a nap-on-the-go, they may need up to an hour or more earlier. Each child is different and each situation is different. So, just remember to watch your little one(s) closely that evening and plan ahead for an earlier bedtime.
I know what you’re thinking, and yes…it is that easy! When you implement this approach to your hectic schedule, you will still protect your family’s sleep and have the flexibility your life needs. The “80/20 Rule” gives you permission to schedule in a little fun without complete meltdowns. So, go forth and enjoy a day on the go. You deserve it!