By Carla Morgan from Birth & Baby Hub
Do you dread bedtime?
Does your baby resist bedtime?
Does your child drag out bedtime with ‘the asks’ every…single…night?
These tips are designed to help you establish a bedtime routine that minimises battles and winds your child ‘down’ instead of ‘up’ before bed.
1. Work with nature by avoiding screens and bright lights before bedtime. Melatonin is the ‘sleepy’ hormone that we produce and our babies produce from 9-12 weeks of age. Our ability to produce melatonin is affected by blue lights from iPads, smart phones and TV screens and bright, artificial lights in the home. Using soft lamps and avoiding screens in the hour before bed will help with melatonin production and therefore sleep.
2. Implement quiet time before bed. Choose puzzles, books, reading, drawing or quiet play over tickles, stacks-on or activities that hype your child up. Young babies can become very relaxed and sleepy in a bath but older babies and toddlers can find it overly stimulating and exciting. If this is the case for your child you might want to shift bath time to earlier in the routine instead of right before bed.
3. Consistency is your best friend. Keep the routine the same each night at roughly the same time if at all possible. 15 minutes either side of your set bedtime won’t generally be an issue now and then but keeping the same time does help set your child’s body clock and also means a consistent wake up time, nap times and so on. The same routine at the same time will eventually lead to less resistance as your child expects and comes to anticipate the routine.
4. Keep it simple. It usually takes between 5-20 minutes to fall asleep (adults, children and babies alike) but can take much longer if they are overtired. Naps at the appropriate times throughout the day will avoid those overtired meltdowns. If you want your child in bed asleep at 7.30pm you need to start your bedtime routine at 7pm. The actual routine need only be 5-10 minutes, the time it takes to clean teeth, go to the toilet/change nappy, have a cuddle and say goodnight. For babies who are fed to sleep your routine might be: short story, put on sleep swaddle/sack, feed and goodnight. If you like to do nightly reading in bed before saying goodnight be sure to set limits around this and stick to it e.g. 1 or 2 books. If you find the reading gets dragged on and on or goes on for much longer than you anticipate, make nightly reading part of your pre-bedtime winding down activity rather than part of the actual bedtime routine.
5. Avoiding ‘the asks’. Toddlers love to test boundaries, especially at bedtime when we are worn out from the day! Just one more hug, toilet trip, story, kiss, butterfly kiss, sip of water, sock change, teddy cuddle, you name it, we get it. Then there are the specifications needed for sleep e.g. the wardrobe door needs to be shut, the blanket needs to be off, all the way off, the pillows need to be just so and so on and so on.
The easiest way to avoid this is to include all reasonable requests before the bedtime routine starts so get the water cup ready, set up the room, set a limit for the number of books you will read, have them choose the books before the routine starts and generally just try to anticipate ‘the asks’ beforehand.
You may well need to set limits and boundaries around what is acceptable and discuss this prior to bedtime. For example, ‘Tonight we’ll read two books but after two books, we’ll be done for tonight and we can read more tomorrow’. 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.
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NB: there are numerous factors that go along with having a peaceful bedtime such as adequate nutrition, age-appropriate routine & naps, emotional wellbeing and sleep environment. Other factors include developmental milestones, medical issues and sensory issues. If you are concerned about your baby or child please see your GP or medical practitioner and/or if you want to delve deeper into your sleep challenges please reach out to me.
I’m Carla Morgan, a Maternity & Child Sleep Consultant and Childbirth Educator at Birth & Baby Hub. I am deeply passionate about women’s choices when it comes to pregnancy and birth and feel privileged to be working with women and their families in the way that I do. Motherhood is very rewarding, but most of us experience difficult times along the way. Supporting women through their own mothering journey, however that looks, is hugely important to me. Pregnancy and birth is the beginning of a life-long learning curve and sharing this with a community of like-minded women to learn from, grow with and support makes it all that much easier.