Twins, Multiples and Closely Aged Siblings – Part I
Twins and multiples have some special challenges when it comes to sleep. No question about it, you parents of twins and multiples have a lot more going on at bedtime….and overnight, and nap time….. and playtime, bath-time, and mealtime too! We have also found over our years of practice and personal experience that closely-aged children, especially if room-sharing, have very similar challenges, and the added complication of puzzling together schedules for more than one child in the same room.
A safety note: The AAP recommends that all babies, including twins, multiples and premies always be placed on their backs to sleep for all sleep. The AAP does not recommend twins or siblings share a crib or bed with each other. If you have a toddler sharing a room with a baby, be mindful of baby proofing so a toddler isn’t putting an unsafe object into a baby’s crib.
MULTIPLES: Most twins/multiples are born before due date. Always remember to adjust for prematurity and calculate your sleep expectations based on due date, rather than birth date. For example: If your baby was born 4 weeks early, then on her 3 month birthday we would expect her to have the sleep maturity of a 2 month old! This is important because there is a big difference in the expectations for a 3 month old and a 2 month old.
See our popular Age by Stage Sleep Expectations blog here.
Most twins are heterozygous or fraternal. This means they are genetic individuals who may have different sleep needs. That’s right – one baby may need more or less sleep than the other!
SIBLINGS: This goes for siblings too. Your siblings may be doing different amounts of sleep and still be well rested children individually. Twins/Multiples/Sibs temperaments may be different or they may have different sleep associations (i.e.: one may use a pacifier and one may not). What works for one baby, may not be the best approach for another. We often use the phrase “chameleon mom or dad” because it’s often helpful to adapt your parenting style as you think about what type of sleep training will work best for your family at the stage its in and for each individual child.
For most families with more than one small child, schedules (aka predictable bed and nap times) are very helpful. Generally speaking this is also essential for maintaining a regular biological clock and before beginning any type of sleep training with your child.
Before beginning any type of sleep work with your child, always be sure to see our chart on age by stage schedules to determine what level of predictability your siblings may be ready for and then start to guide them into sync with each other. This will begin with having a regular wake up time (within the same 30 min window each day) and working into naps (if applicable) from there.
TWIN Note: In most cases, if one child starts to sleep more than 20 – 30 minutes past her twin, their schedules will start to diverge a bit. For some families schedule divergence is actually welcome. It allows a caregiver to get one child down for bed or a nap and then get the second or third one down and not be in a situation with two or more children with immediate sleep needs. Most parents though, like to tuck everyone in at roughly the same time and for twins/multiples this is possible.
Multiples on the Same Schedule
If you prefer your twin/triplet/quad babies to be on the same schedule, you may find yourself having to wake a child from time to time. Many parents are uncomfortable with this recommendation at first and it’s important to note the only time we suggest waking a sleeping baby (aside from medical/feeding reasons) is to help protect the child’s circadian rhythm or body clock, which works best with regularity. So, if one baby is sleeping more than 20 mins past the other, you might consider waking your sleeping baby so that the next sleep episode can happen at the same time as his/her sibling. If one child regularly needs more sleep than another, you may regularly put one child down for a nap or bed 20 mins before the other or allow that child to sleep 20-30 mins longer. In this way, the baby with higher sleep needs could pick up an extra 60+ mins of sleep in 24 hours, yet still be on the same schedule as his/her sibling. This works well for twins/triplets who have similar sleep needs.
Overnight feeding needs may be different as well. Although waking a sleeping baby feels wrong, most parents of multiples do it – at least in the first few months when babies are so young and typically eating at least 1-2 times overnight. By doing this, feedings are taking place at the same time overnight. Please see our blogs on reducing nighttime feedings, nighttime expectations, and the potential downside of dream feedings for more information on nighttime feedings.
SIblings on the Same Schedule
If you have closely aged siblings (example a 6 month old and a 23 month old) you may be in a situation where one child requires 2 or 3 naps and the other just one. This is where the schedule puzzle becomes more complicated. For multi aged siblings who are sharing a room, it’s almost always best to sync morning wake times since sleep pressure is so low and waking is easy. Usually in the morning, when one sibling is up and making some noises, both are up! So, unless you have a super stealthy toddler who can tiptoe into your room without waking the baby (or a super quiet baby) plan for both room sharing siblings to wake up at the same time in the morning.
From here, you will build the nap schedule for both children. When babies are still taking 3 naps (morning, midday, and afternoon) it’s very hard to coordinate napping patterns with a toddler taking a single afternoon nap. Although that may not be particularly helpful as you are going through it, it is a short lived experience. When babies get onto a two nap a day schedule it’s usually possible to coordinate baby’s afternoon nap with toddlers/preschoolers afternoon nap too. Bedtimes can be staggered, and often need to be due to sleep needs (think non napping preschooler who may go to bed earlier than napping toddler) or practicality (think 2.7 year old twins jumping from bed to bed). The first part of the night is much more forgiving due to higher sleep pressure and deep sleep so you could bring one child into a room where another child is in deep sleep without disrupting him/her at all.
TWINS/SIBLINGS BEDTIME ROUTINES:
We have a whole paragraph at the end of our Pre Sleep Routines Blog devoted to twins and sibs and we hope you will take a look at that too!
SLEEPING LOCATIONS FOR NAPS
We are often asked if children can share a room for naps. The answer is yes, of course! Kids do it all the time -at daycare centers for example (although certainly many babies have trouble napping at daycare). On the other hand – if you have the option – it is often helpful to separate twins or sibs for naps and here’s why: Nap sleep for babies tends to be harder. For older toddlers nap sleep includes deep sleep so becomes much longer and more predictable and you have little more room to fudge but for babies – especially social babies learning new skills like pulling up and saying “hi” to their sibling – naps may suffer. Although it can be logistically challenging, it is often a good idea to separate twins/sibs for naps times at least at certain developmental times. It doesn’t have to be forever – but at least until the novelty of yelling to get a siblings attention or pulling up has worn off. Sleep pressure (the drive to sleep) is lower during the day and as babies get older they have more stamina to resist this sleep pressure. Add an adorable sibling to the mix and they may outlast the nap time, only to crash later in the day too close to bedtime.
Other options include staggering start times – put one baby down 15 – 20 minutes before the other and let him/her fall asleep first. Or, put a room divider or hang a drape from the ceiling between cribs for a little separation. Be sure the room is too dark to read so looking around the room isn’t as exciting. And, you may temporarily make nap time about 30 mins LATER to increase sleep pressure and the liklihood they will fall asleep more quickly getting back into a good habit!
Our Twins and Siblings Blog Part II will include a comprehensive Q/A section and include common topics like naps on the go, nap transition logistics for more than one child, when and how to combine siblings in the same room, and much more!