Sleep and Rest: Eight Facets Of A Healthy Family Culture

Have you ever felt weary?  Maybe it is the rainy weather and the lack of sunshine.  Maybe it is weariness from being emotionally fatigued.  I think we can all look back on these times and think about how inviting rest was for us.

Small children take in sense impressions all day long, without any kind of filter on those impressions.  They also tend to go “full force” in their work and play without a good ability to balance these inward and outward forces.  And lastly, small children under the age of 9 really have a difficult time balancing their excesses of emotion, of bringing their emotional and feeling life being into balance.  Rhythm is strength for them, and for the brief reasons mentioned above,  sleep and rest are vitally important for small children.

One thing that forms the basis of health is stillness.  Stillness is the basis for nearly all spiritual traditions around the world.  In my own tradition of Christianity, the Early Church Fathers discussed stillness, prayer, love, and self-control.  Stillness is also the basis for wonder and awe which leads to a sense of goodness in the small child, this idea that the world is a good place, which is a foundation of health.  When we have consistent sleep and rest times for the whole family, I think we convey to children that being still is valued.  That resting is okay.  That having an unhurried pace is okay.

In this age of information overload and the “need” to respond to things “right now, hurry, hurry and respond and don’t think first” I think  through rest and sleep we are giving our children the foundation to be able to say as adults, “That is interesting.  Please let me think about it and I will respond to you in a bit.”  We are giving our children the ability to find the stillness to connect with themselves, with the natural world and with the spiritual world.  We are giving them the tools for health.

Rest –   I was thinking today about how adults also use meditation and prayer as a form of resting connection, and how children really use rest to rejuvenate themselves as well. Children can also start to learn the fundamental basics of resting in prayer and other spiritual practices as according to their family culture as a form of health.

In rest, we also think of the physical act of resting.  A consistent napping schedule is important for small children (and adults enjoy this as well if they let themselves rest!).

I have often observed two main transition points for naps:

  • Going from two naps that normally end up beginning around 10 AM and 2PM to one nap that usually then starts around 12 or 1. An interesting observation I have had over the years is that children who are having challenges around bedtime often have a nap that is scheduled to end too late. Once children become older toddlers, they may fight going down for a nap to a certain extent, even if you have had a wonderfully consistent routine. In those cases, I often just tried to make a dim place with a comfortable nest and told a very slow, repetitive story and to remain as neutral as possible. Having something repetitive to do with one’s hands can often be helpful in these situations.
  • The other transition point I have seen is when the nap is dropped and we move into holding a quiet time after lunch.  This is something the whole family can hold, including mother sitting down and resting as well.  If you are homeschooling, this is truly important.

We have had many discussions on this blog about rest, quiet times, naps.  Here are a few of my favorite back posts on this subject:

Sleep is important, and to me, intricately tied to warmth.  Does the child feel emotionally embraced and warm?  Physically warm?  There is something so vulnerable about drifting off to sleep, and I think some children are more sensitive than other in regards to letting that happen.

The other thing I often think about with sleep besides rhythm and when wake-up and nap times are includes physical exertion and being outside, but for children ages 7 and up, also the permeation of artistic activity into the day. There is some discussion of this artistic activity and how this relates to sleep in the lectures compiled in the book “A Modern Art of Education” by Rudolf Steiner.

Here are some ideas about  babies and sleep:   and this one:

And this is a pretty comprehensive look at how to handle bedtime struggles:

Many physicians tie the liver into sleep challenges.  Here is an article by physician Susan Johnson on this subject:

There is also an interesting article by Waldorf Educator Arthur Auer here regarding sleep and its importance to education:

Much love to all, and peaceful rest,


11 thoughts on “Sleep and Rest: Eight Facets Of A Healthy Family Culture

  1. I appreciate the reminder about how they soak up sense impressions without any filter. And love the reflections on stillness.

    I just re-read one of your links on ‘quiet-time.’ We have done rest time since my 5.5 yo stopped napping at 21 months! It has had many evolutions since then, but now (with a 3.5 and 17mo old) it looks like this. Lunch. Clean-up kitchen, tidy family room. Older kids pick out one or two books each. I read them and then we sit quietly. They can look at books or play quietly with a tractor/toy on the sofa or or in their ‘nest. Sometimes, it’s pretty smooth and all goes well. Sometimes, it’s a complete disaster. But the deal is, it never feels like rest to me. I am ‘on’ constantly. Reminding, guiding, reminding, kindly redirecting, wiping (once their bodies slow down for a little while, they always have to poop!). And if we are lucky and get a solid 10 minutes of relative stillness, we are all so groggy and sluggish! We never feel rested after rest time! So, I am doing rest time because I feel like I should, but wondering if it is creating more problems.than solving? Are we supposed to feel so tired and whiny AFTER resting? I find we have to have dance/yoga time to get energy back up (after our so-called rest time) so that I can get through the rest of the day. Wondering if others have these issues?

    • Meg,
      Did you re-read all the comments on quiet time? I wondered if those experiences were helpful to you.
      Maybe it is time for me to revisit this topic!
      Many blessings,

  2. Excellent post! I plan on reading all your links and can’t wait to. I honestly look forward to your posts and get quite excited when they show up in my in-bin!! 🙂

  3. Hi Carrie, lots of food for thought here, particularly your thoughts about stillness. Just in the past few nights, we have run a bubble bath for my son lit by candlelight. The first time we did it, I was struck by how very still he sat in the bath, quietly watching the candles, and how much easier it was to transition to bathtime being over.

  4. another thoughtful and inspiring blog post. My eldest, nearly 12, has always had a difficult time going to sleep and we struggle with that. She struggles with being alert in the mornings, and we would like to go to sleep earlier than we do but she finds it incredibly hard to wind down. She always has. The younger three drift into to sleep, sleepily wander their way into our bed if they need the comfort but the eldest? She’ll be instantly awake and talkative if there is some late night disturbance. Candles, chamomile, warm honeyed milk, a hot shower… nada. Even if we’re all up and in bed by 8pm in the midst of summer’s long days she’s still talking or turning pages at 11. We’re exhausted. Any advice from mamas would be so gratefully accepted.

    • Kestrel,
      I am a big believer in naturopathic/homeopathic care, so I have to say if your 12 year old was mine, I would be interested in getting an evaluation of that sort for her. I would also wonder about sensory issues perhaps, if her sensory system is sort of on higher end of the arousal scale. Were any of those back posts on sensory stuff/those who are on the higher end of sensory arousal, not able to tune stimuli out, helpful to you or applicable at all? Looking forward to hearing what others have to say.
      Love, and many blessings,

  5. My 18 month old dropped his second nap when he hit 12 months. I don’t enforce strict waking and sleeping times and for the most part I am content to follow his sleeping lead. He’s normally awake between 7a-8a. Nap happens 4-5 hours after waking sometimes as long as 6 hours and sometimes as little as 3 but those are rare occasions. Bedtime happens 6-8 hours after waking from nap. Our day definitely goes better with outside time or if that isn’t possible (bad weather) then some good physical activity inside (jumping on the bed, wrestling around and laughing, chasing around the living room furniture, climbing up and down the stairs.)

  6. Thank you for this post and all of the helpful links. I’ll be up reading these as we are having a hard time getting a routine with our 1 year old, 4 year old as dad’s work schedule fluctuates. I am home with them all day and when “dad” gets home we are all clamoring for his attention and before you know it it’s 9-10 o’clock and we are trying to get everyone settled down for bed. (Sigh).

  7. Since we moved, naptime has gone by the wayside. Our baby has never napped well, and now I’ve let the the older ones follow suit. The real problem is that I haven’t worked to make bedtime earlier because of the loss of naptime. I can see the pure exhaustion on my little ones’ faces in the late afternoon and early evening. I need to work on this!

  8. We just started to shorten the first nap of our 21 month old to one hour in the morning,…..after she kept waking during the night for the past two weeks. This seems to have done the trick, and oh, closing her bedroom door???
    I discovered this by chance, strangely enough she needs her room completely dark and quite, very unlike her older sibling, one would think that a child that age would prefer a little light and the ability to listen to the rest of the family noise downstairs…but not her (at least not now…. this could change at any moment obviously). She has slept good again for about a week now without any problems, I am crossing my fingers! I am hoping she will keep her one hour morning nap for a while longer, so we can get some undisturbed schoolwork done downstairs.
    Sleep and nap time was/ is at least one thing I was always very strict about with both of my kids, they have to get to bed on time and we all get up at the same time every day, I also keep their naps for as long as possible, …I just need that down time for myself!

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