I’m a nationally published sleep expert, journalist, and the mom of three young kids. I’ve been helping tired families sleep since 2007 (more about me here). Subscribe to The Well Rested Family for fresh news and tips on keeping your bunch happy and healthy. Thanks for stopping by!


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Staying Well-Rested With Nine Children: An Interview With Erika Shupe

Note: During the month of November, I’m giving away prizes to commenters on my blog. A comment of more than 25 words qualifies you to win a weekly drawing! This week, I'm giving away a copy of The Happiest Toddler on the Block DVD by Harvey Karp, MD.

The Shupe Family

Whenever I meet the mom of a really big family—especially is she seems the least bit well-rested—I slip into journalist mode. I can’t help it. I have so many questions, mostly about sleep: How on Earth does she get all of those kids into bed, night after night? Does she EVER sleep through the night? And how does she manage to have any time to herself?

So when I crossed paths with Erika Shupe online (she contacted me about a sleep article I’d written), I jumped at the chance to interview her. She’s the happy mom of 9 kids under the age of 14 (including 11-month-old twins!): Karen, age 13; Melanie, age 12; Brandon, age 8; Anna Marie, age 5; Riley, age 4; Tyler, age 2; Spencer, age 1; and twins Lacey and Lilly, 11 months.

In addition to juggling an enormous parental workload, Erika finds time to homeschool her children, spend time with her husband Bob, and blog at Large Families On Purpose. As I corresponded with Erika, her warm, happy, calm persona radiated through the computer. And, wouldn’t you know, she chalks her sunny attitude up to getting enough rest. How is that possible, you ask? Let’s find out!


With nine children under the age of 14, it’s hard to imagine how you juggle the different sleep needs of everyone in your family. What is the biggest sleep challenge you face as the parent of a large family, and how have you handled it?

The biggest sleep challenge we face with our nine children is helping them get the varying amounts of sleep they need, while still maintaining afternoon naps for our five children under five years old. Most of the children need the same amounts of sleep at night, about 10 ½ hours, so they go to bed at 8:30 pm and get up at 7:00 am. The exceptions are our 13-year-old daughter and our 4-year-old son (who needs the least sleep of all our children). Our oldest goes to bed at 9:00 pm, and our 4-year-old goes to bed at 9:30 pm, but they both do quiet, independent activities during that evening time, understanding that the evening is mommy and daddy’s time.

We’ve told our children that if they need less sleep at night, they are welcome to get up earlier in the morning, but not stay up later at night. Mommy and daddy need to be “off” at night for a little while, and the morning time is a good productive time to get a jump start on their day.

How important is it for you and your husband to get enough rest as the parents of a large, active brood? What are some benefits of getting enough sleep for parents?

As parents, being well-rested is absolutely crucial for us. It’s one of our highest priorities, and totally affects how well we’re able to function the next day and do our jobs—for him, as sole financial provider, and for me, as a homeschooling stay-at-home mom.

When I’m well rested I can maintain good health, be peaceful (generally—*wink*), and creative with the children’s needs. I can smile, I can keep life and all of its events in proper perspective, I can offer myself to others (blogging, speaking), and still have smiles and energy to bless my husband with when he comes home from work.

When Bob is well-rested he is awake and alert at work, he has clarity in his thinking, and when he comes home in the evening he still has energy to offer the family.

How much time do you spend on each child’s bedtime preparation and routine? And, do you have time left over for yourself and your spouse after the kids’ bedtimes are done?

We spend time teaching the children so that they’ll know what “get ready for bed” means. It’s all routine and habit for them. The oldest children get ready independently, the middle children just need supervision to stay on task, and Bob and I do bedtime prep for our four children ages two and under. This time helping the toddlers and babies is good, quality one-on-one time while we get them ready one at a time; we love it. All together, “bedtime prep” takes about 30-45 minutes.

Bob and I definitely have some time together in the evening, but we have time together before the kids are in bed, too. I go to bed at 9:30 or 10:00 pm, so we have about 1-2 hours in the evening. Bob has “his time” after I am in bed for another couple of hours.

The addition of a new baby can affect sleep for everyone in the household. Can you share a couple of tips on how to keep older siblings’ sleep on track when a new baby arrives?

When we bring home a newborn, Bob takes 1-2 weeks off from work so that we can not only all be together as a family, but primarily so that he can take over for me, enabling me to rest and heal as much as possible so that I can start strong with everyone once he’s back to work. I don’t have to get up early in the morning when he’s home, and I can sleep when baby is sleeping. Also, the children are not kept up at night by a crying baby because the baby sleeps in our bedroom (in a bassinette) away from the children’s bedrooms.

Do any of your children share rooms? And if so, how has that affected their sleep?

Yes—we have a “boy’s room” and a “girls room,” currently with four boys together and three girls together (soon to be five girls together, but they baby twins are currently in cribs in our bedroom). We don’t have a problem with the children keeping one another awake, because we pay attention to how much sleep each child needs, and make sure they’re not overtired (which can result in crying or misbehavior) or undertired (which can result in getting out of bed and keeping tired siblings awake).  When their heads hit their pillows, they should be ready to fall asleep pretty quickly, thus minimizing discipline issues.

Anything else you’d like to share on promoting healthy sleep for large families?

We maintain an active role in setting our children’s sleep schedules. When they’re older, around age 14 or so, and they are able to set a reasonable bedtime that allows them maintain a cheerful, cooperative, productive countenance the next day, they are welcome to do so. Until then, we choose their bedtime. *smile*

Thanks for sharing, Erika, and for the reminder that healthy rest is attainable for families of all sizes.

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Reader Comments (4)

Have you compared this to the single child family? We don't get any "evening off" time. I find that the families that do, have more than one child. They entertain eachother, thereby freeing the parents for some much needed down time.

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterShannon W

Shannon W -

I dont pretend to be qualified to answer on behalf of Mrs. Jacobson but for Erika and I.....

Mommy/Daddy - Husband/Wife time is on equal ground with sleep time when it comes to the healthy development of a marriage and children during the time they are awake. In our home, we have "couch time" which is time where Erika and I spend time giving each other our undivided attention (-read- foot massage for mom) in front of the children talking about our days, what is coming up in the next days or sometimes just in idle conversation. We instituted this (mostly) daily tradition when we only had one child and have found that it is only more important now with nine children. We do this openly and intentionally during the awake hours as part of our normal family activities so our children dont miss the opportunity to see us spending quality time together which is just as important as having the time. Erika and I do have quality time together when the children have gone to bed but to be honest this is time for us to work on projects or do other work type activities that cannot be done while the children are sleeping whether they be home improvements, writing/editing or organization projects. It is true that the children can "entertain" each other to some extent but at the same time they are not mature enough to manage relationships with their siblings for very long and we are involved at that level working with them to learn those skills.

I guess what Im trying to point out is that "down time" can and should happen while your children are awake they just need something to occupy their attention so you can do it. Dont think for a second that if you child is at the table playing with blocks or drawing a picture they arent acutely aware of the time you are spending with your spouse having quality time. They know it and it gives them comfort knowing that your relationship is alive, loving and solid….. which will help them sleep better at night. lol

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBob Shupe

I enjoyed Erika's interview as I always enjoy her writings on her blog. I find that we also set strict bedtimes for our children to enable us to have some time alone in the evenings after they are in bed ~ I think it's when we recharge & get the energy for the next day. I loved Bob's comment about the children seeing their parents having quality time together ~ down time ~ during the day ~ it's something I'm going to think about a bit more as I know my kids love to see my hubby & I spending time together!
Thank you for a great blog

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRenata

Thanks for the comments! Shannon, I agree that sometimes one-child families have a tougher time, because the parents end up entertaining the child. My oldest child needs a lot of parental interaction and supervision, so we don't get much of a break when she's awake. But our children, including our oldest, have always gone to bed around 7, so we get our "off" time after she's in bed.

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMalia Jacobson

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