Banishing the bedtime battles: How to make the bedtime process easier
Sleep expert Lucy Wolfe suggests five ways to make the bedtime process easier
The quintessential bedtime battle typically involves a non-compliant toddler or preschooler who is resistant when it comes to signing off the day. It can involve a long, drawn-out bedtime routine, demands for one more story, a drink or something to eat. It may be represented by calling out for mum or dad, toilet runs, the parent staying or the parent leaving and, ultimately, taking too long to get your little person to actually go to sleep.
Whatever way your bedtime battle unfolds, all parents report that it is draining and stressful and a time that few look forward to. Here are five simple steps to help create a struggle-free bedtime process.
1 Identify your child's appropriate bedtime: Most sleep struggles are exacerbated by a bedtime that begins too late. Very often, even 7.30pm to 8pm can be too late for some preschoolers who are not optimally rested. A good rule of thumb is to aim for your child to be asleep within four to five hours of the day-time sleep. This may mean moving your day-time sleep later so that it finishes closer to 3pm. Many families observe an early single nap that is over by 1pm or 2pm and this creates a very long wake period before bedtime and fuels the cycle of overtiredness and, in turn, resistance. Adjust the nap gradually so that it starts and finishes later. If your child does not routinely sleep well over night, aim for the smaller wake period of four hours at the start. Allow for 20 to 30 minutes of the bedtime routine and a further 20 to 30 minutes of falling-asleep time. This will take time to fall into place but it is a good place to start. If you see your child looking tired sooner in the evening time, don't be afraid of a bedtime from 6pm onwards, especially if they have recently given up their day-time sleep. It can be a great temporary solution to remove the battle from bedtime.
2 Set the scene: Ensure the room is dark, cool and comfortable for sleep. Remove distractions that may overstimulate your child. Make sure that all of the bedtime routine happens in the bedroom in a dim environment, this will help enhance the sleep hormone melatonin. It's a good idea to follow the same sequence of events every night to ensure continuity and eliminate last-minute objections. You don't want your child going to sleep upset. If every now and then you change the guidelines, then you may fan the flames of a tantrum at bedtime. Have a procedure and stick to it.
3 Create a bedtime zone: Go overboard with a chill-out space in the bedroom where the bedtime routine should happen. Put down a rug, cushions, fairy lights - have a tent or a canopy and make sure that your bedtime routine happens outside of the bed. Only when it is time to sleep should your child then get into bed and pull up the covers. If you tend to do your bedtime routine on the bed, this can cause a row when you start to leave and can often undo all the hard work of the preparation before bedtime. Keeping the routine and going to sleep separate, promotes the ability to leave and not stay when your child is actually going to sleep - a major contributing factor to frequent night waking.
4 It works especially well if you get your child involved in the process: Create a booklet or photo album that illustrates how you would like bedtime to look like in your house. Have a check list to fix to the wall that echoes what you are working towards. Make it simple:
(a) Have a drink downstairs
(b) Clean teeth/wash up/bath if you do one.
Then enter the bedroom, and begin wind down
(c) Put on sleep clothes
(d) Read the number of books that you have decided on (two or three should suffice)
(e) Have a chat about the day
(f) Turn out the lights and climb into bed
5 Use a light timer to indicate the end of the bedtime routine: This can be a great way to help signal that the bedtime routine has ended and to welcome the part of going to sleep. You can get a timer device that you can allocate the amount of time that you are providing to the bedtime process. A lamp can be plugged into this device and, in turn, to the wall. Once the light goes out, the routine is finished and this signals to your child it is time to get into bed and so to sleep.
Co-operation at bedtime can take a while to emerge. Once you can get the timing right and start being consistent, this can start to become your favourite part of the day. Good luck.
Lucy Wolfe, CGSC, MAPSC, is a paediatric sleep consultant and mum of four young children. She runs a private sleep-consulting practice with her 98pc effective formula for sleep; she provides knowledge, expertise and valuable support to families across the country. See www.sleepmatters.ie; 087 2683584 or firstname.lastname@example.org