Bedtime can be a very stressful time.
There's lots to do, everyone is tired, and did I mention that everyone is tired? Fatigue can put everyone at their worst. Add in a little baby fussiness, toddler tantrums, and of course whining and resisting, and you've got a scene right out of a horror film.
But it doesn't have to be like this. Really, it doesn't.
Sure, there may be some hiccups at times because kids will test and go through tough stages, and parents will have bad days too, but overall, bedtime should be and can be a nice and pleasant time. A time to actually look forward to.
One of the easiest ways to make bedtime go smoothly is to start with good sleep habits from early on. Prevention is key here. Your child is always put to bed after some snuggles and reading and it is what he expects, night after night. It's the way of the world for him. Sleeping in mom and dad's bed (or arms), staying up to watch a movie instead, leaving the bedroom over and over again--none of these things have ever been done or allowed so they aren't even options for him to consider.
But sometimes even when you try to prevent sleep issues it doesn't always work. Sleep can be tricky to figure out at times. And of course some of you are starting at square one. And that's ok too. It's never too late to jump on the sleep train.
Making That Fairy Tale Ending To Your Day
- Set things up for success. When bedtime comes around, you want to do all you can to make things run smoothly.
- Make sure your child is tired, but not too tired. An overtired child can be difficult to deal with and might have a hard time falling asleep. A consistent bedtime hour (more or less) as well as consistency with other main activities of the day, like meals, will help with bedtime too. For more info, check out the sleep cues and wake time length posts.
- Avoid screen time an hour before bed.
- Avoid roughhousing right before bed.
- Use white noise if your child is use to this or if you have a young baby. If your child can hear fun stuff going on just outside their door, they are going to have a hard time falling asleep too.
- A dark room to sleep in (more or less depending on your child's preferences) will help the sleepy hormone melatonin be released, and it'll also block out distractions.
- If you have a baby, make sure she isn't hungry. You don't need to gorge your baby with food to help her fall asleep at night (I know that sounds weird, but I wouldn't say it if I didn't see it happening:), but you do want to make sure she isn't hungry. With older children, as long as they've had dinner they should be fine, although if you want to offer a healthy snack a little before bed, that's fine too.
- Make sure your child isn't too cold or too hot.
- Have a bedtime routine that is predictable and that your child looks forwards to (bath, snuggles, book, pacifier, lovey). You can read more about this on my pre-sleep routine post.
- Make sure your child knows how to go to sleep (and stay asleep) on their own. You may need to do some sort of sleep training, making sure to be vigilant about consistency and also being careful to avoid sleep props (things that you child relies upon to fall asleep and stay asleep that she can't do herself). The 0-3 month and 3-6 month Sleep Guides can give you more in depth info on creating good sleep habits. You can also look over the Sleep Training Index.
- Have expectations and limits, and follow through with them. Be calm but firm. Have a set number of books to read, a set number of songs to sing and a routine that covers things like a small drink of water prior to bed. Make sure to not give in to your child's demands. It may seem very innocent at first, but it can get out of hand very quickly and result in sleep issues. If your child's sleep is getting worse with age (particularly with toddlers and above), it's very likely that a lack of limit setting is adding to the problem.
- A helpful idea - To prevent your child from stalling at bedtime or calling you back into their room (or coming out to get you) after you've put them to bed, you can try 1) making a chart with their nightly bedtime routine that you go through with them before going to bed or 2) having 1 or 2 'get out of bed cards' each night that your child can use. They may use theses cards to get out of bed for a bathroom trip or whatever they need, but then no more getting out of bed once they are used up unless there is an emergency.
- Another helpful idea (that I strongly, strongly suggest, like this is really helpful people!) - Have you child stay in their bed until they have permission to leave, either by you or a clock/light. In other words, your child should be staying in their bed (with the exception of potty breaks and emergencies) until they are told they can get out in the morning. If you start off like this from the time they are babies, this rule is usually pretty easy to continue with. I have found OK to wake clocks/lights to be super helpful with children when falling asleep and when waking up.
- If your child resists part of the bedtime routine (like brushing teeth or diaper changing) you might want to consider dropping the tough part of the routine if it isn't necessary, try to make it fun, let your child know that they get to do a favorite thing right after, or at least try organizing it before the relaxing part of the routine. Sometimes the best thing to do is just get the tough part of the routine over as quick as possible while saying nothing at all-- telling your child to stop fighting you or that you will be done soon and that you are so sorry your child doesn't like this etc--often backfires rather than helps.
- Be consistent. And consistent. It's so important I wrote a whole post about it.
- Be positive about sleep and your child's ability to go to bed and stay in bed. Don't drag bedtime out or be hesitant to leave the room. Your child will notice and it will make her more anxious to have you go.
- Keep up those sleep habits long term. For some parents, keeping up good sleep habits with their children is a breeze and somewhat natural, while for other parents it can be a bit of a struggle. Some parents have a hard time being consistent, while other parents simply fall into little sleep traps without even realizing it and before you know it, sleep is all crazy and frustrating again.
- Avoid common bedtime sleep traps:
- A too late bedtime
- Giving in to your child's demands - One more book, I'm thirsty, I want another cuddle, I'm scared (but not acting scared). A child's sleep going from great to yuck often isn't because of some drastic change. It's little baby steps-- in the wrong direction.
- If your child is sleeping good on their own, keep it up and don't introduce new sleep props! This will help bedtime go much smoother.
How To Set The Stage For Sleep, Tear Free!
The Fear Of The Early Bedtime
0-3 Month Sleep Guide
3-6 Month Sleep Guide
Sleep Training Index