Part Two of A Waldorf-Inspired View of Sleep

“In consideration of healthy physical development, one cannot stress enough the need for long periods of rest and sleep for young children.  In fact, due to the increasing pace of life, more sleep is needed now than ever before to offset the physiologic strain on the young body.”

-“Toward Human Development:  The Physiological Basis of Sleep” by Lisa Gromicko, available through the Waldorf Early Childhood office.

Sleep deprivation affects everything, but some main salient points include the role of sleep deprivation in such disorders as ADHD, lowered immune function, the difficulty of the development of the lower senses of the 12 senses.

Naps are extremely beneficial, according to Gromicko’s article.  Morning naps have more REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and help with brain maturation.  This is the nap that tends to be dropped first.  The afternoon nap has more non-REM sleep, which is more important for physical restoration.  Again, according to this article naps should last at least 30 minutes, with an afternoon nap ending by 2:30 or 3 p.m. at the latest.  In Waldorf circles, children of ages 3-6 are still seen as needing a nap of 1-3 hours.  If a child is not napping, their bedtime should definitely be by 7 p.m.! 

The role of regulating sleep is seen as a the responsibility of the parent to help the child develop a rhythm gently and over time.  “The young child’s rhythmic (cardiovascular) system is  not yet developed, but the health and building up of the entire physiology depends upon rhythm.  Rhythm must be imprinted in the early years from without.  The child learns to sleep by having adults that understand the importance of sleep.  Sacrifices are usually necessary today to create a rhythmic lifestyle that allows for an unhurried pace.  This includes regulating when the child sleeps and awakens, mealtimes, when and how much to play, limiting stimulation, consistency, predictability – a slow, even tempo with rests at regular intervals.”  (Gromicko).

Okay, this is Carrie here.  I know what you are thinking – Carrie, I have this child that wakes up every 45 minutes when they come out of a sleep cycle; Carrie- I have this child that nurses every hour and a half at night, Carrie, I have this child that is teething and miserable.

I know, and I have been there.  I think one thing of paramount importance is to consider and rule out such things as gastroesophageal reflux, and other physical ailments that could be affecting sleep and deal with those first. If you read the article I linked to in the first part of this post, the Susan Johnson article, it is an anthroposophic view that perhaps the liver needs help in children with sleep issues.  Some of this can be addressed through a different rhythm, and some families I know have put great stock into working with a homeopath to address sleep problems with their children and have had great success.

After ruling out physical problems, then perhaps look at possible causes of over-stimulation. Is there a consistent rhythm where you are firmly entrenched in your home?  Or is it a barrage of running errands?  How much media exposure is there?  What are the general sensory impressions the child is receiving all day long – are they warm, positive, joyful impressions or ones of stress, negativity?  Are you trying to “hurry up your child to go to sleep?”

Someone asked me once what I do with older toddlers and younger preschoolers who “won’t go to bed”…..Always to consider is the amount of physical activity the child is getting during the day, and the rhythm of the outbreath and inbreath during the day.  If you put your whole house to bed, and really slow down at night, even if your child can’t fall asleep sometimes they will lie there and rest for a bit.  Sometimes I will give mine a basket of small wooden animals to line up while I do something repetitive and physical with my hands in a dimly-lit room (knitting, folding laundry, etc) until the child is sleepy.   It is always a consideration that the child is actually overtired and needs that time to unwind…

Sleep is such an important issue, especially in children under the age of 9, that I encourage you to look at this with your spouse or partner and devise the things that will work best for you all so everyone gets enough rest!

Blessings to you,


16 thoughts on “Part Two of A Waldorf-Inspired View of Sleep

  1. My son was three when he stopped napping, and I still couldn’t get him to sleep before 8:30 and even then with a struggle. I mentioned it to a friend one day, and she told me that she put her non-napping three year old to bed at 6:00 or 6:30. I couldn’t believe her! She told me to try it and I did that night. He was asleep, easily, by 6:30. It seemed that I had been missing a “sleep window” and that by 8:00 he was so overtired that he was really wound up. He is now 7 years old and still goes to bed by 7:30 (most nights, anyway!)

    • Sarah, This is such a valuable observation and I am so glad you shared it with us!! I think many of us have missed “the window” and just see our children get more and more wound up….Thanks again for pointing this out!
      Lots of love, Carrie

  2. My kids are in bed before the sun goes down, my 4 year old especially. They never get sick, and they have never broken a bone. My best friend, has a 5 year old, he is in a cast right now, and last year at this time was also in a cast!

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  8. I have an almost 4 year old daughter who has just started having problems going to sleep. We just moved and since,, she just refuses to sleep. Our routine has remained the same but now after stories she goes in to a hyper stage and just refuses to sleep. it escalates into a tantrum and I have to leave the room for my sanity:( She will then remain awake until 10:30 or so and still manages to wake at around 6 or 6;30. Up to this last week she was asleep by 7 and waking at 7 in the morning. She hasn’t had day naps for about a year and a half. i would appreciate any help with this as I just don’t have any idea what I could do.

    • Hi Leigh – How challenging for all of you! The first thing I wondered is if she scared in your new house? It sounds as if she is in her own room, is her room far from yours? Can you lay down with her to go to sleep or put her in your bed with all those comforting and familiar mother smells to go to sleep and then move her to her room or could you let her sleep in your room or your bed? Almost four is extremely young, and developmentally it can be a time of fears, especially at night in a new place and with new house sounds and all. I wonder if homeopathy/flower essences would be helpful….
      Many blessings, thank you for writing to me

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  11. My son has been falling asleep at around 7:30 and sometimes 5 or 6 pm for the entire night – yes he wakes up early – always around 6 ish … but still … he sleeps the whole night. He’s 10 months old today and has been sleeping early like this for about 2 months now. He’s slept through the night on his own since 2 months old. I nurse him while he sleeps (he is next to me in our bed) …

    He seems to be giving up naps and having a cat nap here and there. Not very long at all. Like an hour is a long time.

    • RE – 10 months is a distractible time for infants to try and nap, but keep trying. A baby should nap until they are 3, 4, or even 5 years of age! 10 months can be teething impacting napping, or just discovering mobility and not wanting to stop moving long enough to fall asleep. Many mothers have luck bringing their babies into a darkened room and by setting up a routine leading up to nap.
      Many blessings,

  12. I’m new to Waldorf and became a stay at home mom a year ago. We are in desperate need of a more rigid schedule especially at bedtime. I’ve been a bit selfish about keeping them up, when I was working I felt like I never saw my son. Now I am home with them both I wouldn’t mind putting them down earlier but I feel bad because my husband would never see them as he does get home until 5:30-5:45. I feel like my son is really struggling with not seeing his daddy all day anyway and I don’t want to interfere more with this. I would really appreciate any insight. Thanks!

    • Kate –
      Many children are primed for that 6:30 or 7 window if they are small. I don’t know how old your children are, but some dads are great about walking in the door to children and picking up part of the nighttime routine and helping to put the children to bed and eating a later dinner. Some choose to eat dinner immediately, at say 6, and dad does the dishes while mom gets the children ready for bed with a shorter routine and then dad comes up to tell stories or snuggle or vice versa. I think there are many ways to make it work! Hope that helps,

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