Monday, April 23, 2012

Jet Lag and Toddler Sleep

My eyes popped open at 3:22am today, and I spent the next hour in bed trying to go back to sleep with no success.  Hello,  jet lag.  After all, it's noon in Ireland. 

I was confused by this, because I only went to bed at 9:45pm last night.  And I'm a high sleep need person - 9 or 10 hours is that sweet spot for me.  So by all accounts, I should still be asleep.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is when I had my epiphany.  One that the rest of you experienced parents are probably well-acquainted with, and will read this and say "duh, of course!".

Sleep isn't just about the sheer number of hours needed.  This is true for me, and also explains the crazy sleep of toddlers.  (Not to mention jet-lagged toddlers!)  I think there's a point where your body just decides it's time to wake up, and no amount of "trying" to get back to sleep will override that.

T woke up yesterday around 4am, and I listened to her sing and talk on the baby monitor for an hour, hoping she'd go back to sleep.  After all, she only went to bed at 10pm, thanks to a monster nap in the afternoon.  She had only gotten 6 hours of sleep, which is nowhere near the 11-12 hours she usually needs.

But, like my own jet-lagged self who had been up since 3:30am, something told her it was time to wake up.  It wasn't light out yet.  No loud noises woke her.  She hadn't had "enough" sleep.  It was just time.

I haven't looked at the research (too lazy and tired) but vaguely remember there are "internal clock" proteins that determine asleep/awake stuff.  If you have details, I'd love to hear them!

A wise friend told me, when T was very small, that there are a few common power struggles between kids and parents.  One of them is sleep, and as she told me, "you can't make your kid sleep".  I've tried to keep that in mind when we've been frustrated by T's occasional schedule blips. 

I guess I should feel lucky that it took me so long to figure this out.  T has been a surprisingly good sleeper since we brought her home 2.5 years ago, with a few notable regressions.  But it took her a good 2 weeks to get on a schedule when we went to Ireland, and I suspect it'll be the same, or longer to get back to it here.

For now, we're handling it by letting her sleep during the day when she needs to (she's actually TOLD US she needs to go take a nap!) but waking her after 3 hours if needed.  We've been putting her to bed about 5 hours after she gets up from her last nap.  Yesterday she went to sleep around 6:15pm and she's still sleeping now at 5am, so I have high hopes that today will be more "normal".

But man, I am glad that this bout of jet lag is going to save me (a little) from agonizing over her sleep -  "But she should be tired...She only got x hours of sleep last night...Why isn't she napping?!"

One more mama lesson learned.


  1. You can help get everyone back on a "normal" schedule by exposure to bright daylight and eating meals at the normal time. I've also heard it takes about one day per hour of time change to adjust, so I guess you just have to be patient. Good luck!

    1. Thanks Jasmine! Fortunately the weather is nice enough to get out and get sun. The one day per hour doesn't fill me with great joy, though - that's over a week :( Oh well.


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