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.

The Science:

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.

The Sleep:

Schedules/Circadian Rhythm:

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, mos