The Answer isn't Pretty

Did you choose D? If so, Congratulations! You weren’t seduced by the siren song of A, B and C — all of which were designed to fool you into thinking that there’s hope and a hidden order when it comes to a toddler’s sleep habits. (This is the answer to the Trixie Update Sleep Challenge. Go see how you would have guessed.)

Hours Awake per Day for One Year

I was shocked when I first rendered this chart. It didn’t look anything like I expected, which is why I decided to turn it into a challenge. I was surprised because Jenn and I both thought Trixie was on a pretty good schedule. I imagined that one year of data would show clear improvement as the erratic chaos of a 4-month-old gave way to the regular overnight sleep habits of a 16-month-old. Instead, this chart shows that even though she’s sleeping through the night, her actual overnight sleep-time and nap schedule during the day isn’t stable. There’s been a small shift in the amount of awake-time per day, which is supposed to happen as your child grows, but the signal is buried in a lot of noise.

Basically, this chart shows that no matter how hard we try, it’s difficult to get Trixie on a regular, predictable schedule. We have routines — dinner, bath, reading, lights out. We put her to bed at the same time almost every night (even though she doesn’t always fall asleep at the time.) But we just can’t control what time she wakes up in the morning. And when she inexplicably wakes up at 5:30am it throws off her schedule for the rest of the day. For example, do you try to keep a cranky Trixie awake until her regular nap time? Or do you just let her go to sleep once she lays down on the floor at 9am and starts sucking her thumb? It’s a tough call. And all these little variations add up to create massive sleep cycle swings over the course of several days.

Does this chart mean that it’s hopeless to get your toddler on a good schedule? No. There are small trends over the past year, and some of the more severe spikes do correspond to specific provoking events (like a road trip or being sick). But it basically means that there’s not a clean evolution.

If you didn’t choose the right answer to the challenge, take heart. About 75% of us expected to find a more predictable, ordered chart. Or maybe about 75% of us are just hoping to get a little more sleep.

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11 Responses to The Answer isn't Pretty

  1. Charlotte says:

    YAHOO!! I got it right! Well, my son Jack is about a month younger than Trixie so in all honesty, I’m not totally surprised as our sleep schedule (using the word schedule very loosly here) is similar. And to answer your question about the days she wakes up at 5:30, I’ve learned to just follow Jack’s sleepy cues and put him down then, no matter what time it is. Sometimes that means I put him down for a nap at 8am. But missing a nap does not equal a happy Jack so I just try to go with the flow as best as I can.

  2. tj says:

    YEAHHH, I got it right, too! So proud! Well, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised because my son sure does have varying sleeping times. But yes, there is a pattern in there somewhere – in that if I put him down when he gets tired he is a much happier kid and actually sleeps more. It makes for a very unpredictable life but so what. I tried sticking to a more regular schedule and that only backfired – he didn’t get the sleep he obviously eeded and woke up more often at night. So I opt for the irregularity and smiling bubbly child. That’s from a mom who got up at 4.30 am today….

  3. Jaynee says:

    Woot! I got it right! I voted D when you first posted it, and then D again after your hint confirmed my original guess. I are smrt. And the mother of a toddler.

  4. Nina says:

    yikes, i can’t remember what i voted. I think I got it right. I used the eeney meeney and I think it was successful. but I might have picked C so I’m not sure. Darn. Oh well. Do the ones who got it win a prize?

  5. Michael says:

    I’m not afraid to admit that I got it wrong both times that I voted.

  6. FrumDad says:

    I missed the vote, but would have guessed incorrectly.

    In any event, I’d be interested in seeing a graph of, say, a five-day running average over time, such that each point graphed would be the average of the last five data points — if I’m explaining this correctly, it might be a way to tease some signal out of the noise.

    I have no mathematical reason to think this, but I know someone who’s trying a new diet and is tracking his weight this way, rather than on a reading-by-reading basis, because he thinks it might be more useful.


  7. benmac says:

    That’s a good idea. I’ll get a running average up as soon as I can. thanks!

  8. benmac says:

    All right. Done. You can now roll-over the Hours Awake chart to see a 5-day moving average.

  9. Elizabeth says:

    Any idea what happened at nine months, where she went through a brief spurt of sleeping longer (easier to see on the five-day average)? I was just looking back at the archives, and didn’t see anything that looked particularly correlated. Did she sleep better after her 9 month vaccinations, or something?

  10. benmac says:

    That’s a great question. At a quick glance I can tell you that the spike around 9 1/2 months was when Trixie got super sick and spent a couple of nights throwing up. However, I don’t know about the dip right at 9 months. I’ll look into it and see if I can up with anything.

  11. FrumDad says:

    I’m pretty good at thinking of ways to make BenMac do more work. Especially while I’m *at* work and should be doing more work myself.

    In any event — I was just reading back over the whole sleep thread and I was wondering if there were any scattercharts using more recent data that were available, to see if maybe the trends had evolved.