10 Tips for a Smooth Bedtime
Do you dread bedtime? A local sleep expert has great advice.
If bedtime has become something you dread, you’re not alone! One of the most common struggles parents experience is bedtime drama. Whether your child is crying, stalling, or popping in and out of bed, these tips will help your family start enjoying bedtime again.
Tank them up during the day. It’s tempting to experiment with cutting naps or keeping them short in the hope of lessening the struggle, but sending a child to bed overtired usually backfires and exacerbates the problem, or leads to an easy bedtime but frequent night waking. In most cases, filling up their sleep “tank” with plenty of daytime sleep will lead to a more peaceful night.
Spend time in the room and crib when awake. Many babies and children spend so little time in their room or crib outside of separating for sleep that they can begin to have a negative association with the space. For a positive, cozy association instead, spend some time each day playing in the room and crib. Playing peekaboo in the crib railings, flying in and out of the crib like an airplane, or enjoying a tea party on the floor are all great places to start.
Wind the house down. Transitions are hard for many kids, and it is tough to calm down at the end of the day. To help your child’s body and brain prepare for sleep, start winding the house down about an hour before bedtime. Dim the lights or draw the blinds, end screen time, and slow down the activity level.
Watch your timing. Bedtime struggles are certain to occur when a child is overtired. Is your bedtime too late, or is their wakeful period between the end of the last nap and bedtime too long? Start your bedtime routine before your child is showing signs of tiredness so you can prevent the second wind that occurs by missing that ideal sleep “window.” Babies and children often need to be asleep much earlier than we think, and shifting bedtime earlier in increments can help you arrive at that magic spot where they can go down and stay down most easily.
Have a predictable and consistent routine. The best way to eliminate stalling and anxiety is to create a consistent and predictable bedtime routine that is the same from night to night and person to person. This way your child knows what to expect and when the routine will be coming to a close.
Role play. Role playing can be very empowering for a child. During playtime, help your child act out you bedtime routine with their favorite teddy bear. Have teddy practice what we do and don’t do at bedtime.
Check the environment. Sleep can be hard to come by if the environment is too hot, cold, noisy, or bright. Create a sleep “cave” that is cool, dark, and quiet. Use blackout curtains to block the sun in the early evening and morning, and white noise to mask siblings and the neighborhood. Be sure your child isn’t overbundled and that the room temperature is not above 65-68 degrees.
Offer a comfort item. Ease separation anxiety at bedtime by offering your child a transitional object to turn to for comfort. For babies a small, safe “lovey” blanket square with stuffed animal head can be perfect to snuggle and suck on while drifting off. (Be sure to check with your pediatrician to see when it is safe to introduce one to your baby.) Older children may find comfort in a well-worn shirt of Mom’s or Dad’s or lining up some action figures to guard them while they sleep.
Institute a last call. For older children who like to ask for one more this and one more that, institute a last call before you leave the room. You might say, “Okay, this is the last call for the potty/water/questions, etc.” Try to anticipate those things your child will want more of and give them one last opportunity to get them. After the last call be very consistent with not giving in to requests for “one more.”
Respond the same way every time. If your child continues to struggle at bedtime with all of the above in place, don’t despair. Remember that they are like little scientists, learning about the world by conducting experiments to see what might happen next. Regardless of whether you choose to stay with your child, return at intervals, or leave them to fall asleep on their own, give them exactly the same response every time. Consistency is more important than approach, so pick one and stick with it long enough for your little one to catch on.
Photograph via iStock.