Courtesy of Christie Drozdowski

I Tried To "Sleep When The Baby Sleeps" For A Week & Here's What Happened

by Christie Drozdowski

“Sleep when the baby sleeps,” they tell you when you first bring home your newborn. Yeah, I tried that. But somehow, even though I was utterly exhausted those first few days home, the combination of family who came to visit and my complete awe over my tiny new baby (and honestly a little bit of freaking out over my new, all-consuming role in life) made it almost impossible to successfully follow through on that particular piece of advice that suggests all new parents need to get through the first few months is to sleep when the baby sleeps.

Eight months into the game, however, I thought I'd give it another try. Despite a handful of let's-let-mama-sleep naps courtesy of my partner and a baby who generally sleeps fairly well, I haven't felt rested since around 30 weeks pregnant. I mean, I know fatigue sort of comes as a part of the new motherhood package, but I was eager to see if my idea of adopting my baby's sleeping patterns would offer at least a tiny portion of catch-up on sleep. Plus, I started noticing how my catch-up-on-work plans or give-into-me-time plans in the evenings when my daughter was asleep were creating a bad habit. I wondered if I was going to bed far too late for successful daytime mothering. Not to mention, I'm a night person by nature, and the quiet late hours of the night while she's sleeping are so tempting. But I wanted to test just how trustworthy that "sleep when the baby sleeps" advice was.

The Experiment

I decided to do my best to literally drop everything and sleep when she did for a week. As a stay-at-home and work-from-home on my own schedule mom, the idea was certainly feasible, but how it would affect my life practically would be the real test result. It meant napping when she needed to nap, wherever we happened to be. Obviously I couldn't sleep if she fell asleep in the car when I was driving, but if my husband drove, I was going to have to sleep, too. And my husband was pretty supportive of my experiment and decided he'd go to bed early with me during this week. But if I was working a nap was in order for her, I'd have to halt my work flow. In other words, work and any tasks to be done had to be done while my daughter was awake.

I didn't have any set plan for whether I'd nap with her or on my own, but I knew I would keep our normal nighttime routine of co-sleeping only after she'd slept about six or so hours on her own. For better or worse, here's how it went:

Day 1

Napped from 9:45 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.

Napped from 3:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.

Asleep at 9:10 p.m.

Obviously, starting my day when my child is awake enough to not go back to sleep is a normal occurrence. A little playing, breakfast, and some more playing while I caught up on emails and social media took us to our first nap time. I was looking forward to the first morning nap as I'd obviously signed up for this experiment to catch up on some much needed rest. I chose to bring her into my bed to nap together and I immediately noticed how much easier it was for her to drift off than when I put her in her crib during the day. It didn't take me long to follow suit. For her afternoon nap, we happened to be in the car with my husband driving. It was super awkward for me to make myself fall asleep during this time of day because I'm usually on my phone or chatting with my husband, so the best I could do was close my eyes and rest a bit.

I'd rather be watching Netflix and having a glass of wine on my Friday night.

When it came down to my housework on day one, apart from some minor kitchen tidying, none of the dirty clothes sitting in the basket got laundered. I worked for an hour that evening while my husband looked after our daughter. Later, after I got my daughter off to bed, I climbed in my own bed at 9:30 p.m., which felt good in theory, but I laid there unable to go to sleep until I put music on with my headphones so I could focus on one thing — and not that pile of dirty laundry sitting in my hallway.

Day 2

Awake from 3:30 a.m. – 4:20 a.m.

Awake again from 6:35 a.m. – 7:00 a.m.

Nap from 11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Nap from 4 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Asleep at 9:30 p.m.

Waking in the early morning hours (blasting teething!) is something that's natural for me as a parent. So the morning nap was a welcome pause for me as much as it was my daughter. After lunch, I got some laundry done since the baby spent some time playing in her baby walker. I also worked on a personal project, which made me feel productive with our afternoon before we took a nap together in the recliner. Once my husband came home from work, I prepared dinner, which is always easier when with his extra hands around. We went for a stroll in town in the evening, so the baby wasn't asleep for the night until 9:30.

Motherhood is a series of never finishing a task completely in one sitting, which is why I'd sometimes prefer to wait until the baby is asleep to get things done.

Once I could get changed and into bed, I fell off reluctantly not long after that thinking of how I'd rather be watching Netflix and having a glass of wine on my Friday night. My husband went to bed with me, as promised, but he was as equally as disappointed as I was with our (lack of) Friday night time together.

Day 3

Awake from 5 a.m. – 5:15 a.m.

Nap from 11 a.m. – 12 p.m.

Nap from 4:30 p.m. – 5 p.m.

Asleep at 8:45 p.m.

My daughter didn't even stir at all until 5 a.m. so we all enjoyed so many hours asleep at one time! Our morning was pleasant and I actually got some light housework done. Even before this experiment, I'd started to see that motherhood is a series of never finishing a task completely in one sitting, which is why I'd sometimes prefer to wait until the baby is asleep to get things done. But a baby can learn to be alright while playing on their own, and watching me do things like laundry, sweeping, etc. interests her and relieves some of her own need for something new to focus on.

On this day, I realized I was getting used to the morning naps with her, which were all spent in my bed. I started to wonder if my child was ever going to be able to nap on her own after this. I felt rather stupid for doing this experiment if it meant my kid's ability to sleep on her own was going to be ruined. That afternoon, we joined my husband at his soccer tournament. On the way home, she fell asleep in the car while I was driving. She went to bed slightly earlier than usual with all the activity, and I was asleep by 9:15. I wasn't too keen on heading to bed when it was still dusk outside. To be honest, my husband and I were both unenthusiastic about going to sleep at this hour when we realized our private time together was being severely jeopardized.

Even after three days, I wasn't feeling caught up on rest yet. I was loving the daytime naps, but I was definitely hating the idea of going to bed early.

Day 4

Awake from 2 a.m. – 3 a.m.

Awake from 6:45 a.m. – 7 a.m.

Nap from 10 a.m. - 10:40 a.m.

Nap from 1 p.m. – 2 p.m.

Nap from 8 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Asleep at 9:30 p.m.

This was the hardest day yet of the experiment in terms of getting in naps. The baby and I went to a baby shower for an old friend near my hometown a couple of hours away and also visited some family in the process, which meant that all of her naps were in the car while I drove. My body was used to the napping by now, though, so having missed them meant I was exhausted. I happily fell asleep by 10.

Day 5

Awake from 3:30 a.m. – 3:45 a.m.

Again at 6 a.m. – 6:15 a.m.

Nap from 11:50 a.m. – 12:45 p.m.

Nap from 2:00 p.m. – 2:15 p.m.

Nap from 7:45 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Slept at 9:10 p.m.

My husband was home this morning, so this morning was pretty great. I did laundry and was able to work on a personal project again as well as clock in almost another hour of work for my job. While her daddy was watching her, he put her in the crib for a nap. When he came back to our room to tell me, I had two things going through my mind: First, I decided not to worry about my child being incapable of napping on her own after my experiment, because I fully trust my daughter's ability to grow into a well-adjusted sleeper. Second, who gets to stop work and sleep? I mean, we adults dream of this on a regular basis! Even though it was slightly awkward, I put my computer away and fell asleep on the couch until my husband woke me and told me she was awake.

Later, we went to my parents' house for the evening so she and I both got a couple of brief naps in the car. Even by day five, sleeping in the car still felt odd to me, but I forced myself to rest. By the time I went to bed that night around 9:30, I was feeling very rested and had so much energy to do things. The only problem was that I had to go to sleep while these tasks and things I wanted to do taunted me. Honestly, I also really missed my nightly Netflix time, because hello, I need to know what happens next in Once Upon A Time. At this point in the experiment, I just couldn't wait for it to be over.

Day 6

Awake from 3:30 a.m. – 3:45 a.m.

Nap from 8:40 a.m. – 10:20 a.m.

Nap from 1 p.m. – 1:15 p.m.

Nap from 3:30 p.m. – 4 p.m.

Slept at 10 p.m.

In the early morning when my daughter wakes up, I usually breastfeed her for a few minutes until she falls back asleep. On this morning, after breastfeeding for a little while, she decided she was ready to get up and go. At first, I felt great having so much sleep. The summer sun was pouring in through our windows and I felt like a bonafide morning person. However, for whatever reason, that was short-lived, and after her breakfast, I had no desire to get up and work on those things that danced through my mind the night before. Go figure.

I actually felt like my work was better because I had a clearer mind.

We played together until she got sleepy, which was actually early for her morning nap time, so the early morning fervor was short-lived for her, too. After our false start kind of morning, we leveled out and went to the grocery store, which was the only household task I accomplished. She slept in the car on the way home while I drove. Later, she slept again while I drove her to my parents' house so they could babysit while my husband and I attended a meeting that evening. We got back to my parents' house around 9:15 and had planned to spend the night. We put a playpen in the guest bedroom where I climbed in the bed, too, but since we were in a different environment and I was right in the room with her, she wasn't keen on going to sleep. I ended up putting her in the bed with me, and it took us both a while to fall asleep somewhere around 10:30.

Up until this point, my husband had been managing to join me not long after I went to sleep. But on this night, he was over it and stayed up for a while longer. And to be honest, I was so happy there was only one more day left to this experiment.

Day 7

Awake from 4:30 a.m. – 4:45 a.m.

Awake from 6:45 a.m. – 7 a.m.

Nap from 11 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.

Nap from 1 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Nap from 4:30 p.m. – 5 p.m.

Asleep at 9 p.m.

The last day of the experiment began at my mom's house. I had a hair appointment that morning in the town my parents live in, and with my husband off work and my mom around, I was able to go to that alone. As I was having my hair cut, my husband texted me that our daughter was taking a nap. The best I could do was close my eyes and relax for the remainder of my haircut. Not necessarily awkward, but it served as a hilarious conversation piece with my stylist. On our way home a little later, I again had to take a nap in the car while she slept, but this time, I fully fell asleep in the front seat. I woke up remembering how good car naps were as a kid! That afternoon, I worked for two hours. I felt like with all the rest I had during this experiment, the hours I spent working were shorter than usual but actually more productive.

I got my work deadlines met during this week without any working at night, and I actually felt like my work was better because I had a clearer mind. We had one more nap together in the recliner at home that afternoon, and I love those times she still sleeps on my chest. Going to sleep “early” one last time wasn't really a problem, but I was happy to have the week come to a close.

Did This Experiment Change Anything?

At the end of the week, I feel like I'd just gotten used to my new routine. I realized a few things: First, that it still quite important for me to have a little of my own time at night to spend however I want or with my husband. But I also realized I need to have a limit on this down time at night so that I'm not staying up too late. I'm actually working towards changing my baby's bedtime to half an hour earlier so I can still have some time to do my own things without going to bed too late. But most importantly, I learned that sleeping when the baby sleep means extra sleep, and extra sleep obviously makes me feel better.

My health is important, and I think this could be a good thing to do every so often to recharge my batteries because I did feel like a new woman by the end of the week. I also realized that my housework and laundry actually remained about the same as usual, so it doesn't really matter if I stay up to do it or just find a period of time during the day to get it done. It's not the most important thing to me in my everyday life anyway. But the extra sleep? That, I'll take.