data-driven parenting: tracking baby’s sleep online

Every book I’ve read about baby sleep – apart from Gina Ford who already has the perfect schedule worked out for you – recommends keeping track of when your baby sleeps for a few days or a week so you can see the patterns and figure out a schedule that meets your baby’s needs and natural inclinations. But tracking sleep on paper is a total pain, even with printable charts. Thank goodness, we live in the age of the web, and there’s a web 2.0 style webbased service that can help:

screenshot of some of Jessica's info on

I’ve been tracking Jessica’s sleep, food and nappies for twenty-four hours, and the little graph is starting to fill up most satisfyingly. When I’ve tracked a full week, it will start showing me averages – how many hours a day does she sleep? When is she most likely to be awake? How does she compare to the other children whose parents are tracking them?

I’m certainly a sucker for feeding in a few numbers and seeing them transformed into pretty graphs – or, in this case, clicking a button on my computer or iPod touch when I put Jessica down for a nap and when she wakes up – but the real value of such a service is in the aggregation of all the data. Nicole at Taking Care of Baby writes that with a whole year of data on her baby, she can find answers to whole new questions:

[B]ecause it is so quick and easy to enter information into the computer, the data points accumulate, and fascinating patterns emerge. Then it becomes possible to answer these kinds of questions: does an earlier bedtime make for a longer night’s sleep? What time has he been going down for his nap lately? If he nurses longer during the day, is he less likely to wake up at night? Should we move from having two naps to a single nap? Are we less tired now than we were a year ago?

In another post, she writes about how she realised from looking at her baby’s sleep charts that he never sleeps more than twelve hours in a 24 hour period, which Trixietracker also shows her is below the average for children his age. So if he naps for a long time, there’s no point in having bedtime at the regular hour. The creator of Trixietracker, Ben MacNeill, has even created different kinds of visualisation to help show different kinds of pattern – such as the sleep scatterplot.

The author of Parentonomics (a book by an economist who apparently tried applying economic theory to his parenting – how do incentives work, for instance?) called this kind of analysis data-driven parenting.

I think it’s unlikely I’ll keep tracking Jessica for a whole year or even a whole month. And to be honest, parents have always noticed this kind of pattern without a year’s worth of exact bookkeeping of their child’s habits. But I’m definitely going to do it until I get my first seven day averages. And perhaps I’ll make a habit of tracking Jessica for a few days every month or two. Looking back, I really can’t remember how my twelve-year-old slept when she was four months. In retrospect, I wish I’d saved some record of that to look back at. SoJessica may well end up with printouts of her Trixietracker data in her baby journal.

27. August 2008 by Jill

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