It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Sleep Logs

I mentioned in my previous post about how I was going to suggest to some parents that they keep a sleep log for a few weeks. This is something I have used regularly down through the years. A log – of whatever the behaviour in question – can give you so much good information. You think you know what you’ve been seeing, but when you start writing it down, you realize you’ve been making assumptions that don’t bear a whole lot of resemblance to reality.

And this is why I use them so much.

The parents quoted in the last post hadn’t a clue what their child’s patterns were, and contradicted each other at every turn. Generally, though, parents present a much more united front. They know what they’ve been doing, they’re clear on what the problem behaviour is, and they know just what to do to solve it: Get Mary to keep the kid awake more during the day.

Which Mary is quite prepared to do. If it’s necessary. Generally, however, it isn’t.

So Mary smiles and says, “Well, what I usually do in this situation is suggest we keep a baseline for three weeks to make sure we’re clear on what’s happening. I write down his naps during the day, you write down his sleep patterns at home on evenings and weekends, and at the end of three weeks we meet again to evaluate the data.” I present them with a neat chart, that will enable us all to be clear on when he sleeps, how long it takes to fall asleep, what preceded sleep, how many night wakings, what rituals/patterns are involved – the whole shebang.

And you know what? In over ten years of doing this, only three of these occasions have ever even gotten as far as the second meeting. Why? Because the parents are almost always surprised by what they discover.

The couple who swore to me that his bedtime is very consistent discover that their exceptions outnumber their “normal” bedtime. The couple who said she was “always” up till ten discover that happens only one or two nights in five, and is generally associated with company at dinner. Patterns emerge that aren’t as bad as had been perceived. Correlations appear that reassure.

And in the end, the majority come to me at the end of three weeks and say, “We’ve figured out what the problem was.” Most often, the routines are not as consistent as the parents thought they were. Sure, they adjusted baby’s bedtime once in a while, but generally their patterns are consistent. Because they thought of each occasion as “unusual”, they hadn’t realized that all those “one-offs” were in fact the norm – their child had no real pattern.

So. I love sleep logs. At the end of three weeks, we generally discover that it had nothing to do with Mary’s schedule at all. See me smiling graciously once more.

Once in a while, there are those occasions where there really is an issue that requires some daytime changes, too. With all that lovely data in the log sheets, we have something tangible to work with. The log sheets also provide a baseline, against which the changes we make can be measured.

I love them. So tangible, so concrete. Unlike so much of parenting!

February 7, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | 9 Comments