Putting an End to Bedtime Battles

Putting an end to your child's bedtime battles

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
  1. Set things up for success. When bedtime comes around, you want to do all you can to make things run smoothly. 
    1. 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.
    2. Avoid screen time an hour before bed.
    3. Avoid roughhousing right before bed.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
    7. Make sure your child isn't too cold or too hot.
    8. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
  4. Be consistent. And consistent. It's so important I wrote a whole post about it.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Avoid common bedtime sleep traps:
    1. A too late bedtime
    2. 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.
    3. 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.

Related Posts
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


  1. Hi there,

    Just wondering for your thoughts.

    My son is 20 weeks old, and I've just started him on one taste of solid food a day.

    He's been a really good sleeper, however lately he's been waking up about an hour after going to bed.

    Our routine goes like this;

    6:30am - 7am Wake and bf
    7am - 8:00/8:30am Play
    8:30am - Nap
    10am - Wake and bf
    10 - 11:30am Play
    11:30am - Nap
    12:30am/1pm - Wake and bf
    1pm - 3pm - Play
    3pm - 4:30pm/5pm - Nap
    5pm - Wake, bf and solid food
    5:30 - 6:30pm - Play
    6:30pm - bath and top-up bf
    7pm - bed

    I've just introduced a dreamfeed at 9:30pm/10pm, as he was sleeping 12hours without feeding, and was advised by my midwife to get that extra feed in.

    He doesn't wake up every night, but it has been more frequent. He'll cry emotionally and I'll shush and pat him, but will get very worked up.

    He self-settles completely: I put him into his cot for day naps, and he's fine to go to sleep by himself. He will self-settle for his night time sleep too, so I'm at a loss as to what is causing him to wake up at night?!

    In the past, I have been using a top-up bf right before bed, with which he was dozing off on, so I've stopped doing that, and switched his bf to right before bath time.

    Your thoughts will be great. :)

  2. Nomes,
    Hmmm, your routine seems pretty good. Did the problems start after the df was introduced?

    This is a common sleep problem time, just fyi

    How does he act when he wakes? How do you respond?

    I'll keep thinking about it :)


  3. Hi Rachel,

    I had written before regarding short naps, which I am glad to say have since resolved (he now takes 2- 1.5 hour naps and is much happier of a baby). Now I have a question regarding struggling to get our boy to sleep...
    He has been soothing himself to sleep after our routine of reading books, singing while rocking, putting in crib drowsy but awake. Today, he woke at 8:00, and has been staying awake for 2 hours. Around 9:40 we began the pre-sleep routine, and while I was rocking and singing Elliot was very drowsy, but awake. I placed him in his crib, at which time he started moving around and fussing. He was awake for 20 minutes, cried for about 10, and then fell asleep. Do you think we are putting him to sleep too early? We have tried keeping him awake a bit longer to see if that helps, but he ends up doing the same thing and it takes about a half an hour for him to go to sleep. I have also tried putting him in his crib earlier, but then it seems he just takes longer to fall asleep. Or is this just a normal falling to sleep routine he needs to do to fall asleep by himself? Any thoughts? He still occasionally will want to nurse to fall asleep, which we have stopped doing, but there has been an occasional time where we still use nursing as part of the pre-sleep routine.

    1. My guess is that it is a 1) waketime issues (sounds like it would be too little rather than too much since you've tried decreasing before), 2)an issue with him getting too drowsy before you set him in his crib and he then wakes up with the transition and has a second wind--to fix, put him to bed more awake or 3) normal. he needs a few minutes to settle before falling asleep (although it sounds a bit long of this age and I bet if this issue is involved, one of the other too is a bit also).

      I hope that helped some and wasn't too confusing!

  4. Hi, I posted in another place but I think this is the right spot.
    My three and a half year old and 22 month old share a room. They've been sharing for almost 4 months. They used to be pretty good sleepers, especially the 22 month old. BUT now they consistently and purposely wake each other up. The 3 yr old is in a toddler bed and we put the 22 month back in his crib, but to no avail. We've tried everything. Even when we stagger bedtimes, the 3 yr old will go to the toddler's crib and call his name, tickle him, throw toys in his crib, anything to wake him. If they're both sleeping and one wakes early they will do whatever it takes to wake the other. We've tried Everything from rewards to threats to everything in between. Nothing has worked consistently! Now that we have a newborn in the house, I can't handle being up with her all night only to deal with them once I do get her to sleep. Please for some advice- them not sharing a room is not an option since we only have 3 bedrooms. My husband got so frustrated tonight, put the preschooler in our bed, but we know that can't be a long term solution and not a habit we want to start. Although, we are starting to do this for naps since they werent napping which was causing them to have horrible afternoons. We just don't know what to do at this point. We did have them going to bed at the same time but then they'd just stay up until they zonked out 2-3 hours later and be grouchy in the morning.

    1. Inga Masek,
      That is a tricky situation. I'd work on being consistent with your discipline dy and night. Don't say something unless you mean it and always follow through right away. And especially make sure to stay firm but calm. I have a feeling that your little ones are acting up partly for fun and to get your attention and make you riled up. You might want to try not allowing the 3 year old out of bed without permission or until an alarm goes off. I use ok to wake clock here

      To do this, you'll have to explain the rules to her and be very consistent about putting her right back to bed calmly when she gets out with as little attention as you can. Use a video monitor if you have one or borrow one from a friend if you know someone who has one.

      If they like having the door open, then you can close it part way then completely if they talk. Maybe they like a night light on and you can take one then another out if they disobey. Some kids do well to have some talking time and playing time together before bed, even if they go to bed at different times. Helped them get the talking and giggles out. You can try saying that staying in the room is a privilege. If they talk/get out of bed, they have to do X. X could be they have to sleep on the floor of the bathroom or somewhere else you have space. You'll have to think through what they wouldn't prefer (they might think it is fun at first but after a short while they likely won't if they are alone). Once again, try to do the consequence calmly and certainly have your husband step in and do this if you are watching the baby. You could also move the toddler out if the 3 year old misbehaves. Keep a pack n play in a closet or bathroom short term so she/he gets the point that it is better to not bug him/her and have him/her there. If they wake early in the morning and wake the other and make noises before it is time to get up (before a clock says so etc) then you can put them somewhere not very fun by themselves as a consequence. Ideally it would be nice if you can hear them before they wake the other child up but this might not be possible. The key is to try to be really hardcore and consistent for a short time and hopefully things will improve quickly.

      The behavior may also be related to changes surrounding a new baby. Kids know when things are about to change or when they have just changed and sometimes act up a bit for a while.

      Good luck! Not a fun time to have this going on. I imagine you are soo tired!

  5. Hi,
    My 15 week old son goes to bed around 8pm. Anywhere from 10-45 minutes after going down he starts crying. We go in and pop the soother back in and he closes his eyes like he is going to fall back asleep and then starts moving around and fussing, and after a minute or two starts screaming. Sometimes I am able to get him back to sleep but he wakes again in another 5 minutes. Then I will try to nurse him back to sleep or rock him, and I put him back down, and he then wakes again 10-20 minutes later.
    This is an every single night thing, and I have no idea what to do to change it. We tried moving his bedtime to 9 and 930 but it has not worked. It takes 1.5-2.5 hours every single night to get him to settle and stay asleep. Any advice?

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  7. Hi Rachel,
    I've been learning a lot from your site. Thank you for all the useful info!

    Have read this post a few times, but still can't q figure out how to solve my 6+ month old baby's early wakening. We started cio with him a week ago. At first, it seemed to be going well. He was sleeping from 8 or 9pm to about 6 to 7am. However, after 3 days, he keeps waking up at 4 to 5am. Often, he'll cry, stop and then play for 40-60minutes before he starts crying again. Usually that will be around 6+am and we'll let him wake up to start the day. But he is clearly tired. He will look rather stoned but at the same time, he just can't seem to soothe himself back to sleep. We'll usually put him down for his first nap earlier so he doesn't get too tired.

    I'm quite confused and stressed about what to do as his total sleep seems to be decreasing and while I don't want to waste his 8 days of cio efforts, I feel that his early wake up time is unsustainable. Would really appreciate if you can offer me some insights on the following:
    1) he is still napping ok. Between 3-5 hours in the day but because he's up so much earlier, his bedtime sleep is between 7-9 hours. Is over fatigue causing him to wake up early? But when I put him down for bedtime earlier, he just cries longer...
    2) he has been doing 1-2hour naps. But he has woken up after 40-50 minutes for one nap on day 7 and 8 respectively. I've resorted to extending his naps with carrying and patting when he wakes up on the 8th day, to make sure he is getting sufficient sleep. This is to fit in with the sleep begets sleep principle u mentioned. But is this inconsistency a bad thing? (Vs consistent cio for naps and bedtime)
    3) I nursed him on the 8th morning when he woke up at 5am. Though he fell asleep at the boob, he woke up once I put him down. I tried this 2-3 times and eventually when I put him down in the cot at 6, he woke up for good. If I try bringing him to our bed to nurse in the hopes Tt he can sleep after nursing, is this again inconsistent? Will it waste all the cio?
    4) how do we measure success of cio? He was crying only a few minutes before naps and bedtime for a few days, but he'll also hav naps and bedtimes where he'll also cry for 30-50minutes, such as on the 6th and 8th night.Is this the extinction burst? Will it ever come to a pt where he'll consistently only cry a few minutes or not at all? Facing him cry so often 8 days in a row is quite distressing. I feel he has made progress, in that he can self soothe to sleep. So should I continue cio and hope things get better? If I were to modify the cio, like I have done on the 8th day, am I confusing him instead?

    Thanks much in advance for your help! Really appreciate some guidance!!

  8. Hi Rachel,
    We really need your help. Our daughter who is 6 months is the most alert and active baby ever, always has been. She has been crawling for 4 weeks now for example. Such a brilliant wee character. But she doesnt, and has never, slept well at all.
    During the day she sleeps for a 30 minute nap in the am and around 2 hrs in pm, only in our bed and only attached to me bf. I have tried coming away gradually but she wakes and wont go back down, and then is an overtired nightmare that will not rest. Her morning nap it seems that after half an hr a switch turns back on and even though she is exhausted she just will not go back to sleep. I have tried everything, but she will not sleep longer, or ANYWHERE except on me or in our bed. She was very poorly when she was wee and so was used to being rocked to sleep, which we have phased out. However she is still either fed or sang to sleep in our arms. She wont take a dummy and sucks my finger. Again we have tried to phase these things out but she literally refuses and will stay up until it nearly kills her.
    Night time is even worse. On a good night she wakes up around 4 times. A bad night is around 16-20. She is tired but not overtired when we put her to bed and she has a great routine in place but refuses to sleep in her bed. If she goes to sleep while feeding she wakes the second i put her down in her cot. If she doesnt i put her down and sing to her and rub her back but, even though she is exhausted, she gets a second wind and will stay up for hrs before eventually going to sleep. I will never let her cry to sleep, i dont want to 'train' my daughter to think she cant rely on me anymore. But i dont know what to do! She wakes and if i dont feed her she properly wakes up and is up for literally hours.
    Any advice? Sorry its such a long post, there is lots more but i dont even know where to begin. Thanks in advance

    1. Amy, there isn't really an easy fix for this. Whatever change you make, whether it be gradual or not, your daughter is going to protest. And likely protesting will be in tears. You can be by her side, but she'll probably still be upset. It will be harder at first. You will get more exhausted because you won't just give her an easy fix, and she will get more tired. The key is to be consistent and not go back to your old ways that aren't working, pretty much no matter what. You can try dropping one thing at a time. Like not feeding her to sleep but holding her to sleep. Then holding her until more drowsy (and you could do the chair method after that). It'll take longer for change, but she'll get less upset. Sometimes doing the no cry sleep solution gentle removal method over and over and over again eventually works. But like I said, it won't be easy when habits are ingrained like this. Some babies just like things a certain way more than others. Sorry. I wish I could tell you it'l be easy, but then you'd just get even more discouraged when that didn't happen. Good luck!

  9. Hi!

    If this has been asked before I apologize, my son is about to turn 8 months old on the 15th. I tried sleep training him and it worked for a good week or so and then he went back to his old habits. However I let him cry I don't rush to him, he wakes up every night at 12-12:30 cries for 2-3 mins and passes back out. Wakes up again at 3-3:30 for a bottle, (but recent I wait as long as I can to feed him) he'll cry 2-3 mins and pass back out, he'll wake up again and hr later rustle around maybe cry and pass out, wakes up again an hr later does the same thing and then sleeps for another hr. He'll do this until 7-7:30 that's when we wake up for the day. I've been consistent with naps, bathtime, and bedtime. He only takes two naps a day (when he use to take three) I wait three hrs after his wake ups for the next nap (example: wake up 7:30 nap is 10:30-11) he never naps passed 4:30. Unless he's still asleep during his nap. Bathtime is 7:30 and bedtime is 8. He sleeps in his own crib, but it's a crib in my room (the way my apartment is set up that's the best I can do until I get a house or bigger place) he also has a white noise machine but it only stays on for 25-30 mins after that I'd have to turn it back on whenever it's needed, and there's also a nightlight in our room. (Recently been unplugging it) is there something I can do to stop him from waking up at the same time every night and keep him asleep during the night so there's no every hr wakes? Thanks!

  10. Hi Rachel. Your website has been a lifesaver for us. My son cried during the day all day everyday from 3 weeks old until he was 6 weeks weeks old when I realized he was overtired. With a lot of work and a lot of patience we have an excellent sleeper and I credit your site with that. And we never had to cry it out! He is now 18 months old and (since around 3 weeks or so) I can count the times he has been up at night and refused to go back to sleep on one hand. Thank you.

    My issue is this: He is now 18 months old and lately he occasionally has a moment when I try to put him in his crib where he cries and reaches for me and doesn't want me to leave. Tonight he cried for about 10 minutes on and off when I left. I almost went back in! Like I said, we never had to cry it out before! I even laid with him in his crib for about 10 minutes before I finally said goodnight and left. I know it's separation anxiety and I understand that 10 minutes is literally nothing compared to what some kiddos go through... But for us it's a lot and it's hard to leave him so unhappy.

    My question for you is whether you think there is anything that I can do to help him through this without setting up any bad habits? He is all-out SOBBING and he literally never cries like that except for when he hurts himself badly. I don't want to just brush his feelings off with a, "you'll be fine" attitude, but I also don't want to undo all of what we have built up to have him be such a great sleeper. I'm open to any suggestions you might have. What do you think? Just let him cry and cross our fingers that we move through this quickly?

    1. Jodi,
      It can be really hard to know what to do in these situations. It's often a parents desire to go comfort the child and stay with them until they calm down. This sounds nice and all, but what happens is that the child often wants a parent to stay there for a very long time and the calls for a parent become more and more frequent. And then you are left with a child who now sleep worse than they did as a newborn (and a parent who is now more tired than they were with a newborn!). This new sleep issue can last a long time, like years. Soooo, I mention that beforehand to say that I don't take a child's separation anxiety lightly, but I also don't take a lack of sleep lightly. What I have found to work best is to very confidently let the child know that it is sleep time, you love them and that you will see them in the morning. You can do slightly longer sleep routine before bed, but once you're putting them in their bed, DON'T LINGER! And don't look anxious and nervous. It just makes them move upset! They are smart little people. Feel free to check back with your child (ideally I'd say only once after you put them to bed and once if they wake in the middle of the night) but make it short and sweet. Once again, tell them it is time to sleep and that you love them and will see them in the morning. It isn't fun to see a child upset (although this will happen more as they get older while they are awake!) but I've found by not giving too much attention at sleep times with anxiety, it helps the phase go by quickly.


  11. Hello Rachel,

    My name is Victoria. My baby is 5 months old and we have started a good sleeping routine based on Ferber's book, following a time chart and being consistant.

    We have tried to do this in the past but unfortunately we didnt do it right as I breast fed during the night and Max fall asleep on my breast and I created a habit.

    The problem is, Max cries A LOT calling us, and for a very long time. I know is nothing other than wanting be picked up and getting more of my breast, but I am concerned that I am punishing him badly, as he cries A LOT and loud.

    My question is...is this normal? Everytime I walk into the room, he cries louder. Is this because when I tried in the past it failed, and therefore I failed the consistency which has caused Max a confusion? Would this mean that teaching him now is impossible as he might be confused?

    Another question is, if trying this method after one week doesnt work..do I start again from 0 on the following week?

    And last question..I want Max to sleep 1 hour nap, 3 naps a day. If he wakes up before...do I let him in his cot until he does the hour?

    Thank you so much!!

  12. Hi Rachel. Great blog! I have 9 month old twin girls. They fall asleep one nursing, one in soother in my arms after nursing at about 7pm each night and we put them into cots. Between then and 11pm they each wake maybe 3 times (they do wake the other) White noise seems to have helped with light sleeping. I go to bed then and bring them into bed. They nurse again til 11.30 and don't wake til 8am (we Co sleep.) We have all got such great sleep from it I don't want to break a good thing but feel I should get them into habit of self soothing to sleep. Any tips?

    1. One falls asleep with soother (pacifier) I mean! Also we re in rocking chair when they first go to sleep. Individually I can often get them to sleep lying face down on my tummy but of course can't do that with twins. My husband helps but I'd prefer not to have both of us doing sleep routine if we can avoid it.

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  14. Hi Rachel,
    I desperately need your help. My son just turned 5 months and only sleeps 2 hours during the day. And during those two hours he wakes up only after ten minutes and has to be rocked back to sleep. He cannot fall asleep on his own so we rock him, usually after eating he starts showing signs of sleepiness. We make sure he is fed, burped, not to hot or cold, clean, we have even tried swaddling him. We try rocking him to sleep several times a day and are unsuccessful, after about ten minutes of napping he is up. He is of course cranky and even harder to put to sleep at night despite his bedtime routine. We have tried singing or playing music or white noise to help him sleep but nothing works. He doesn't take the pacifier. Sometimes when we flip him to his tummy or side to sleep he sleeps for 30min if we are lucky. We would really appreciate your help