Do you dream of a peaceful bedtime where you say goodnight to your baby or toddler without a peep?
Do you think about, talk about, focus on (at times obsessing) over sleep? Do you worry about how little sleep your little one is getting (or not getting), how they are going to sleep, how often and for how long?
Here are 10 tips that will help you establish a bedtime routine that minimises battles and prepares your child for a calm and peaceful bedtime.
1. Consistency is key
Decide what your bedtime routine will be and stick to it. Your child will learn and then anticipate the steps of bedtime and the routine will help them wind down for sleep rather than wind up. You might find it boring to follow the same routine every night but your children will feel secure and calm because they know what’s coming next.
2. Keep activities low-key
Leave rough-housing, stacks-on, tickles, hide and seek or any activity that amps your child up away from bedtime. Bath time might be relaxing and calming for us but it’s often the opposite for little ones. It’s stimulating, fun, exciting and can really rev them up. If this is true for yours, then don’t do bath time too close to bedtime.
3. Set the scene
Dim the lights in your house as soon as is practical or at least one hour before you want your child to be asleep.
Bright artificial light can interfere with melatonin production (our sleepy sleep hormone) so keeping these lights off and using warm lamp lights before bedtime will help your child feel calm and assist rather than inhibit melatonin production.
Blue lights from screens can also interfere with melatonin production so avoiding screen time in the hour before bedtime is also a good idea.
4. Timing is important
Set a time and try to keep to within 15 minutes either side of this each night. This works with your child’s natural body clock and with a consistent bedtime you are more likely to have a consistent wake time then nap times and so on.
Sleep evenly distributed throughout the day (for little ones) means you are less likely to have an overtired child at bedtime which will help you avoid meltdowns and battles. An overtired baby or child will take much longer to settle so if you know your little one is way overtired, bring bedtime forward.
5. Stick to a set time
Anywhere from 6.30pm to 8pm depending on the age of your child, how much day time sleep they had that day, what time their last nap was or what’s been going on for them lately. Again, while sticking to a set time is best, if you’ve had an epic fail of a day and your child is way overtired, bring the time forward that day to compensate.
6. Involve your child
For toddlers and older children, involve them in deciding what the bedtime routine will be or what it should consist of. Allow them to contribute and give them some control over what happens e.g. they can decide how many books (1 or 2), which book or which song for example.
Perhaps your child would respond well to a bedtime reward chart or a story about bedtime to help them understand the changes that are going to take place around bedtime. This is a good one: First steps. Bedtime A guide to creating a healthy routine. Hinkler 2016.
(Check out our guest blog on the benefits of reading to children)
7. Be ready for ‘the asks’
Toddlers love to test boundaries. Just one more hug/toilet trip/story/kiss/butterfly kiss/song/water/sock change/teddy/cupboard drawer shut etc etc etc.
Include all reasonable requests in the bedtime routine itself. Get the water cup ready, set a limit for the number of books you will read. Go to the toilet, get the room ready and try to anticipate the asks beforehand.
Set limits and boundaries around what is acceptable. “I will read you two books but after two books, we’ll turn off the lights”.
Keep it lighthearted so as to avoid meltdowns and battles. If you have trouble setting limits and sticking to them at bedtime then start by establishing and enforcing limits during the daytime.
It then makes it much easier at nighttime when you set a limit and enforce it because your child knows you won’t cave.
8. The ending is important
Avoid ending the routine by you walking out and flicking off the lights. Instead, turn off the lights beforehand and end the routine with a song/spoken story/cuddle/kiss in darkness.
This is a much easier transition for your child, especially so if your baby or toddler is in a cot. Don’t just plop them in the cot and walk out. Turn off the lights together. Go and stand right by the cot, give them a cuddle or sing your goodnight song. Kiss them then lower them gently down before leaving.
Obviously for younger ones you might not be leaving at this point. You might be helping them off to sleep (rocking or patting for example) or maybe you have fed them to sleep and then lay them down.
9. Use Apps
Use a white noise machine or app with rain sounds or ocean wave sounds. This not only blocks out external noise that can keep them awake longer or wake them up but the sound will eventually become a relaxing trigger and help them fall asleep faster.
10. Bedtime is ‘the hour before bed’
If you think about bedtime as the hour before you want them to be asleep, this will set you up for a successful bedtime. So if you want your child to be asleep by 7.30pm then aim to be finishing dinner around 6.30/6.45pm and begin winding down.
Do some quiet activities like puzzles or reading or family time with the lights dimmed before beginning your actual bedtime routine.
If you want your child asleep by 7.30pm they should be in bed by 7.15pm. It takes between 5 and 20 minutes for most people (children included) to actually fall asleep.
Obviously this timing wouldn’t work for every family but you get the idea. Adjust or adapt the concept to fit in with what will work for you, your situation and your family.
Carla Morgan has developed The Newborn, Baby & Toddler Sleep Workshop so that parents can gain more insight into sleep challenges, and to help children (and parents) get the best sleep they can.
When: Saturday 27 October from 2 – 4pm
Where: Centrepoint Church Hall, 240 Hamilton Road, Chermside
Cost: $20 with light refreshments provided
Babies and toddlers are more than welcome to come along with you.
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About Carla Morgan
Carla is a mother-of-three and a Holistic Maternity and Child Sleep Consultant.
She works one-on-one with families, usually over a 3-4 week period to help them get their little people sleeping better.
Some families really need individualised attention while others just need information, practical tools and tips to be able to improve their child’s sleep.
Learn more about how Carla can help your family at birthandbabyhub.com.au