A Waldorf-Inspired View of Sleep

(Part Two of this article can be found here: https://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/07/14/part-two-of-a-waldorf-inspired-view-of-sleep/

Also, if you run “sleep”  in the Search Engine box, many posts will come up – happy reading!) 

Whew!  Volumes and volumes have been written about sleep, co-sleeping, sleep and breastfeeding, trying to get an infant, toddler or preschooler to sleep, and the like. It can be so overwhelming!!  It can be especially overwhelming when you are sleep-deprived and trying to sift through all this “sleep help”, LOL!

Sleep and rest are cornerstones of Waldorf-inspired parenting and education.  Waldorf Education is the ONLY educational method that utilizes a rhythm of  teaching in conjunction with sleep in order to aid learning!

Today, we are going to peek at some of the physiologic and anthroposophic views of the foundation of sleep.  Hang in there with me and I will try to make what I have read and digested as plain as possible.  Donna Simmons of Christopherus also has an audio download in her bookshop on “Sleep”; I do not have it yet but have it on my list for upcoming purchase because I am just garnering lots of information regarding sleep and Waldorf education.  The link to the audio CD is here:  http://www.christopherushomeschool.org/bookstore-for-waldorf-homeschooling/audio-downloads.html

Here is an article entitled, “The Importance of Sleep” by Susan Johnson, a MD with an anthroposophic perspective:  http://www.waldorflibrary.org/Journal_Articles/GW4003.pdf.  There are also several other articles available regarding sleep through www.waldorflibrary.org if you just use “sleep” in the Search Engine Box.

There are several reasons why sleep and rest especially  in a child under the age of 7, (and  also in children  and adults of all ages!) are considered vitally important from an anthroposophic standpoint. 

1.  The years of birth through age 7 are seen as the foundation for the humanity of the child, for the unfolding of the soul, and especially for the basis of the ages of 35-42 in later life.

2.  The ability of the child to perform intellectual work in the grades is dependent upon the development of the well-developed lower senses of the 12 senses and also of the systems that Steiner termed the nerve-sense organs/brain/nervous system.  The only time the body has physical growth is during SLEEP.

3.  A young child is unified in body, soul and spirit and all sense impressions go right into the child without any ability on the part of the child to censor these impressions.  These impression form the physical body, and sleep is the way these impressions build up the physical body.

In anthroposophic thought, sleep is not only the place where the etheric body takes in these sense impressions and uses them within the physical body, it is the place where the etheric body itself is built up and renewed.  The primary organ to do this is the LIVER (see the link to the Susan Johnson article I listed above). 

The LIVER follows a very rhythmic pattern.  From the article, “Toward Human Development:  The Physiological Basis of Sleep,” author Lisa Gromicko writes:

“Carbohydrates are synthesized into sugars (glycogen), which are then  stored in the liver during its “night” assimilatory phase beginning at 3 p.m. and peaking at 3 a.m.  These stored sugars are converted to blood glucose during the daytime for the activities of consciousness beginning at 3 a.m., though the catabolic (breaking down) influence of the gall bladder in the liver until about 3 p.m.  Here, we can see the importance of going to sleep early:  6:30 to 8:00 p.m. for children and 9-10:00 p.m. for adults.  Staying up late causes the liver to reverse its storing-up activity intended for the next day and to instead begin converting glycogen to glucose for energy, thus we get a “second wind” (especially children).  This explains the worn-out feeling the next morning and the daylong physiologic struggle to keep up (Johnson).”

Rhythm is what supports the foundation of sleep, and a lack of sleep not only places a great stress upon the liver as noted, but also an anthroposophic viewpoint is that lack of rhythm also places stress on the heart and adrenal glands.  Gromicko writes, “The more sleep-deprived a child is, the more excitable he will be, and some children in this condition are constantly in various states of arousal.  The stress hormones produced in response to arousal tax the liver greatly.  Blood pressure, breath, and heart rate accelerate, as well as many other processes, which the heart as central to the rhythmic system must mediate.”

More to come in  a future post regarding naps, sleep, and rhythm!


The Early Bedtime

(This is a good post on bedtime as well:  https://theparentingpassageway.com/2008/11/18/peaceful-bedtime-dreams/)

Many children seem to stay up as late as their parents stay up, and for some families this does seem to work well.  However, today I am asking you to consider an alternative:  the early bedtime. 

The early bedtime will change how you are with your family the next day, because you will have time to be an adult and to rest and recharge and find something of yourself.   Some mothers I know cannot believe there will ever be an end to their mothering, and don’t seem to realize (or have time!) for those dreams and the things they once had that were all their own, but I am going to suggest to you to really look inside yourself and see what is there.  Personally, there is nothing I enjoy more than being with my family and creating a home, but I also have things of my own that truly do not involve my children. Nighttime can be a time to work on those sorts of things!  This is important, because while being a mother is a very wonderful and important role to play, it is not the whole of who you are!

The early bedtime will also change the dynamics between you and your husband because you can be adults, you can talk and finish sentences, you can dream and plan together:   in other words you can create intimacy in your own home without small ears about! I see too many attached mothers replacing their intimate relationship with their husband with the relationship with their children. Children need to see a strong, functioning marriage in our society today.  I have a dear friend who says, “In 20 years your children may be gone and out of your house and you and your husband will be looking at each other.  Practice for that day.”  A very wise woman indeed.

As children grow, it is necessary to have a more boundaries as to what is heard and discussed in front of them.  A small child does not need to be privy to every adult matter going on in the household, and an early bedtime can provide you and your spouse a time to work on the more challenging issues without putting these adult burdens on our small children.  If you need help in this area, please do see this post:  https://theparentingpassageway.com/2008/12/31/the-need-to-know/

Many mothers say that it can be difficult in the baby and early toddler years for co-sleeping children to fall asleep on their own without them falling asleep as well :). I myself have been there and done that,  but I can also assure you there are many, many attached families who have moved children into their own beds by the age of 3 – at least to start for part of the night there!  Co-sleeping can move into a place where it takes place for part of the night, a few nights during the week; however you want to work out the parameters that work for your family.

The hard part for many families is getting the earlier bedtime down.  This involves many times saying NO to things that happen too late in the evening.  It could also involve shortening your bedtime routine in order to make sleep the priority, as opposed to having a long and drawn out routine where perhaps the steps of the routine are the priority.

In our house, we often have dinner by 5:30,  we put the house to bed (all lights dimmed or off, the shades drawn, certainly no TV or radio or anything like that on – we do sing the house a lullaby together at times), we take baths or showers every other night unless we are covered with garden mud :), and the children are in bed with stories around 6:30 or 6:45.    A seven o-clock bedtime works well for children smaller than age 7, with a seven-year-old being able to stay up and perhaps read until 7:30, an eight year old could stay up until 7:45, etc., essentially moving up 15 minutes each year until they hit the bedtime of 9:00 where the bedtime would stay for quite awhile.

One book that helped me early on is this one:  http://www.amazon.com/OClock-Bedtime-Early-healthy-playful/dp/0060988894 :   “The 7-o’ clock Bedtime: Early to bed, early to rise, makes a child healthy, playful and wise”   by Inda Schaenen.  She outlines many of the things we do as a society to over-stimulate children and not let them be children, and goes on to discuss ways to actually achieve an earlier bedtime.  Some of her nursing references may  not sit completely well with those of you who follow this blog and are attached parents, but I think there is still so much usable information in this book.  All the copies on Amazon are used and starting at only a few dollars, so there really is no excuse to NOT get this book and read it!

Change your child’s bedtime, change your life!


Co-Sleeping and Nighttime Parenting

For those of you co-sleeping with your children, Attachment Parenting’s International Research Group has released a position paper that may be of interest to you:


My own thoughts on nighttime parenting generally run toward personal amusement as new parents repeatedly get asked the same question, “Is the baby a good sleeper?” 

What exactly does that term mean?  What does the term “good sleeper” mean to you?  That they sleep 12 hours at 2 weeks of age?  That you can shut the door and say, “I am off-duty for 12 hours, see you when I open the door  in the morning?”

Parenting does not work like that, does it?  The suggestion is humorous, yet in American society, it is almost what people seem to expect.  Immediate independence of the baby from the parents.  Rugged solitary individualism.

Because I love other cultures and anthropological kinds of studies, for me this question of “good sleep”  always leads to me to think about the cultural connotations of sleep.

There is a wonderful book that many of you probably know called, “Our Babies, Ourselves,” by Meredith Small.  It is a fascinating book and here are some interesting sleep facts:

  • For most of human history a baby has slept with his or her mother, or perhaps both parents. 
  • It was not even until 200 years ago cultures began to construct dwellings with more than one room. The majority of people around the world still live in one -room shelters where all activities take place.
  • 50 out of 136 cultures evaluated by anthropologist John Whiting found mother slept with child and father slept in another place.
  • In 67 percent of cultures around the world children sleep either in parent’s room and/or bed. Japanese teenagers sleep in their parents’ room.

Newborn babies sleep for short periods interspersed by even shorter periods of wakefulness.   Interestingly enough, babies enter sleep through the REM sleep cycle, which is different than adults, and they also spend more time in REM sleep than adults.   By three to four months, establishment of nocturnal and diurnal cycles takes places and eventually consolidates into longer periods of sleep.  Many babies will sleep four hours at a time in the first few weeks, some will  reach eight hours of continuous sleep by 4 months of age.

Sleeping through the night by medical standards is not a 8 hour stretch, however.  It is a stretch from midnight to five am.  Dr.  Sears has said that 70 percent of babies slept from midnight to 5 am by 3 months of age, with another 13 percent doing that by 6 months of age.  Ten percent of infants did not sleep uninterrupted throughout the first year.

“ALL children will sleep like adults,eventually, it is just a matter of how long it takes them to achieve this pattern.” says Dr. William Sears.

However, the amount of sleep in other cultures seems  variable, according to Meredith Small.  She cites , for example, that:

  • Kipsigis African babies wake three to four times a night until they are eight months old
  • Dutch children sleep 2 hours more a day than American children

James McKenna, the well-known anthropological sleep researcher from University of Notre Dame,  believes that all of us are designed to be biphasic sleepers designed to sleep twice in a 24 hour period.  His website is very interesting and can be found here:  http://www.nd.edu/~jmckenn1/lab/index.html

Mothers and babies who sleep together are in sync and are physiologically entwined in that  the movements,breathing of one partner, mother or baby, affect the other. This may be important because each time the baby responds to an arousal by its mom, the response sets in motion a cycle that gives infants additional practice in breathing.  Co-sleeping mothers exhibit five times the protective response behaviors toward their babies.

When co-sleeping, infants spend greater amounts of time in levels 1-2  of sleep and less time at the deeper levels, exhibit more REM sleep, and are awake longer.  This is important for protection against SIDS. 

The other benefit for co-sleeping for older babies who are  still nursing at night is that many calories may be obtained at night.  Research has show babies as old as ten months of age were receiving up to 25 percent of their calories at night.  McKenna reports infants who co-sleep and breastfeed at night wake up for shorter periods of time and have less crying than breastfeeding infants sleeping not in proximity to their mothers.

If your baby is an older baby or toddler and is frequently waking, there could be true physical causes of night waking.  The baby could be hungry or thirsty, hot or cold, or wet.  Teething could be a factor or also other developmental milestones.  Reflux and food allergies can also be a culprit.   I have talked to many mothers whose infants had history of reflux and were on medications and when their infant “grew out of their reflux” and were taken off their medications, they had a toddler with frequent night waking.  It may be worth further investigation if this sounds like your toddler. 

Noise, environmental irritants, stuffy nose, allergy, ear infections, pinworms, UTI,  and pain at night can also impact night waking for the older baby and toddler.

Safe co-sleeping is paramount.  Here is a partial list of parameters for safe co-sleeping from www.naturalchild.org:


Safety while cosleeping is of utmost importance. Parents should take very seriously the importance of providing their babies with a safe sleeping environment. There are many guidelines, most of which are common sense (Sears, 1995b; Thevenin, 1987). To start with, the bed must be arranged in such a way as to eliminate the possibility of the child falling out. This can be done using a mesh guardrail, a special cosleeper crib (with three sides), or by pushing the bed flush against the wall, making sure there are no crevices which could entrap the baby. Next, in the early months, parents must be sure to place the baby next to the mother rather than between the parents as fathers are not usually as aware of their infants as the mothers are at first. Cosleepers should use a large bed or a sidecar arrangement, with a three-sided crib clamped flush to the mother’s side of the bed and the mattresses set to the same level. They should avoid using heavy comforters or pillows near the infant. Babies should not be overdressed as the warmth of the mother will be shared with the child. Infants who cosleep are usually breastfed throughout the night; this is to be encouraged. Waterbeds, sofas, and other soft surfaces should not be the location for cosleeping (Heinig, 2000; Sears, 1995b; Thevenin, 1987). Most importantly, parents should not cosleep if they are seriously sleep-deprived or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Parents who are smokers should not cosleep as secondary smoke greatly increases the risk of death from SIDS (McKenna et al., 1993; Sears, 1995b).

For the full article, which is full of anthropological studies and references and is really, really interesting, please see here:  http://www.naturalchild.org/guest/tami_breazeale.html

Other detailed safety parameters can be found here:


Here are some recommendations from that Mothering article by James McKenna:

James J. McKenna, professor of anthropology and director of the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Behavioral Studies of Mother-Infant Sleep, has this to say about the CPSC study: “It attempted to medicalize an event that is a rational issue. It is a safety issue, but not only a safety issue. . . . Most babies die in cribs, so do you conclude that cribs are dangerous and babies should sleep with parents? No, you concentrate on solving the problem, but with cosleeping you attempt to eliminate the practice. That is not science, that is a cultural choice.”2

McKenna’s work has gone a long way toward helping parents who do choose to cosleep keep their babies safe. Here is a list of rules for family bed safety:

  • For parents who smoke, drink, or are unusually heavy sleepers, or use any kind of drugs that inhibit arousal from sleep, cosleeping on the same surface with a baby is not recommended, said McKenna. For these parents, having their child sleep on a separate surface near them, such as a cradle or bassinet, will protect the baby from overlaying while still providing the baby with many of the same benefits as cosleeping.
  • Make sure the surface your baby sleeps on is firm. “There are many adult mattresses that can match the stiffness of CPSC recommendations,” McKenna said. Avoid waterbeds, lambskins, and other soft bedding for your baby. Stuffed animals and toys should be kept out of the baby’s sleep environment.
  • Don’t give pillows to babies or young toddlers, and keep their faces away from your pillow. Keep blankets away from babies’ faces, too.
  • Cosleeping babies are kept warmer than solitary sleeping babies, so they need lighter blankets and pajamas. (Being too warm may be a factor in SIDS.)
  • Toddlers should not be allowed to sleep next to infants, said McKenna, because “They are too unaware of the dangers their bodies pose.” Instead, either the infant or the toddler can sleep on a separate surface next to the family bed—the infant in a cosleeper, crib, or bassinet; the toddler in a toddler bed or mattress on the floor.
  • Headboards, footboards, and side rails can be unsafe, especially if a baby is left alone in bed with these trappings. One of the most dangerous situations for young children is getting their heads wedged in furniture, said McKenna. He suggested making sure the child’s head can’t fit between the side rail and any surrounding surfaces. If a parent is using a crib as a sidecar, make sure the two mattresses are on the same level and held tightly together, so there is no space that a baby could slip into. If a bed is up against a wall, ensure that there are no gaps in which a child’s head can get trapped. Another option is to put the mattress right on the floor, so that side rails are not necessary to prevent a baby from falling off the bed.
  • Do not sleep on the sofa with your baby, or leave a sleeping baby alone on a sofa.
  • Do not leave a baby unattended in an adult bed. The benefits of the family bed exist only when the parents are there with the child; if the parents want some adult time while baby sleeps, the child should be put somewhere else—such as a crib, bassinet, or mattress on the floor—until the parents are ready for him to join them, McKenna said.

Co-sleeping is a cultural choice; there are many benefits to co-sleeping once a safe sleeping environment is ascertained.

Happy, peaceful dreams and safe co-sleeping,


Peaceful Bedtime Dreams

The post on late afternoon melt-downs (see the post entitled “Smearing Peas” on this blog) got me thinking (thanks Erin!) about how to structure your rhythm and life toward having a peaceful dinnertime hour and bedtime routine.  Here are just a few ideas that have worked for us in the past, and some of them may work for you.

1.  Do not schedule lots of things outside of the home. No matter how much your child loves to go, go, go, most young  children under the age of 7  are calmest when they spend large portions of time at home and are less apt to melt down from an over-stimulating day if they don’t have that day to begin with.  Young children thrive on repetition and rhythm.  If you feel your child needs something “more” to do, look at your own rhythm and work first and what you are doing with them second.

2.  Do make sure they are getting plenty of outside time, no matter what the weather.  If you do need to go out and run errands with your child, see if you can go out in the early morning and plan to be home in the afternoon.  Your whole day should be geared toward working toward that early peaceful  bedtime, and releasing the physical energy that young children have because they live in their bodies is key.

3.  If your children sleep until 9 or 10 in the morning, they will not go to bed at night.  You cannot have it both ways.  I personally would rather have a night and have time with my spouse, so in our family our children go to bed around 7 or 7:15.  If you want your children to go to bed, start moving the time you get up back, and move the naptimes back as well.  If your child naps until 4 or 5 in the afternoon, they probably won’t be ready to go to bed at 7.

4.  Start dinner in the morning.  Use a crock-pot, make things ahead throughout the day, whatever you need to do to make sure you can have dinner ready to go.  Many times mothers say they delay dinner so their husband can get home and eat with the children as well.  I understand that, but how about going ahead and feeding your children dinner, and then providing a snack when dad comes in?  It puts you closer to bedtime, and the children still get to share a small meal with dad.

5.  Offer a snack while you are cooking dinner, and have ways your child can participate with dinner, whether that is washing dishes in the sink as you go, setting the table, chopping up a vegetable.  If that fails to get their attention, is there anything rhythmical they can do while you cook?  Homemade play dough comes to mind, sifting flour through a little manual sifter, having an indoor sand tray with toys, brushing the dog if they are able to do that.   Kids that are just on the edge of melting down that time of day often need something physical and rhythmical to do.

6.  If taking a bath is traumatic and just gears everything up, consider doing the bath in the morning or even after lunch.  Sometimes small children go through phases where they do not want to get in the bathtub.  Perhaps they would like a shower with a hand held sprayer or just being washed with a washcloth, or they need the bath at a different time.

7.  Make sure your whole dinnertime and bedtime routine is not taking too long.  Sometimes we have these elaborate bedtime routines and the kids just need to get into bed.  If they are really melting through the normal routine of bath and brushing teeth and such, you may even be starting it too late.

8.  Consider oral storytelling as opposed to reading picture books at night for small children under the age of 7.  Picture books have pictures for the eye and brain to process, and oral storytelling keeps the child creating their own pictures in their own heads, much more calming and restful.

9.  Consider the use of music – your own singing – as a way to help induce sleep or strumming on a kinderlyre.  Some children respond very well to this warmth that touches them down into their soul.

10.  Consider and rule out allergies to foods and fibers. If your child is completely itchy from what they are wearing, if the tag is bothering them,  if their feet are cold, if they ended up with something for dinner that they are sensitive to, then bedtime and sleeping will be much more difficult.

Peaceful afternoons and nights are possible with small children, it just takes some planning. 

Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world.