Bedtime!

No other time of the day in our child’s life is as emotionally charged as bedtime!

Bedtime can be considered a significant ‘trunk’ of your child’s ‘tree’- from where many other ‘branches’ – or issues – emerge.

Well-rested children will perform better scholastically, be in a happier frame of mind, and generally more cooperative than their tired and irritable counterparts. (I know, that’s not news to you!)

By breaking down the bigger picture of “bedtime” into smaller bite-sized pieces, we can help our children have a good night’s rest on a regular basis.

There are three factors that can hinder a smooth bedtime: Inborn tendencies, habits, and environment. Let’s examine each aspect and outline some ideas to move toward calmer evenings for your family.

Inborn tendencies: Some people are truly born to be “night people”. That is not to say that they cannot get to sleep at a reasonable hour, it simply means that additional strategies will be required to do so.

If your child is a “night child” sleep experts recommend that you help him out by adhering to a consistent wake-up schedule, even during weekends and vacations.

Realize that you cannot change his nature, and if he gets a “second-wind” during the evening, you will fight a losing battle by attempting to squash his nocturnal energy. You want to recognize his tendencies and manipulate the family’s habits and environment to be more conducive to helping him settle down during bedtime.

Habits: Some children are more prone to reactions of stimulating foods than others. Experts recommend that you limit stimulating foods such as sugar and caffeine at least three hours prior to going to sleep.

Many children are sensitive to stimulating activities, so take note of your child to see if he is able to go to sleep more easily when you avoid energetic activities after dinner-time. Make the conscious effort to incorporate board games, puzzles, arts-and-crafts projects, and reading books into your child’s evening routine, rather than playing ball, jumping on the trampoline, or other sports.

Environment: Take careful note of your home’s evening environment. If there’s lots of noise, activities, and interesting things happening, your child will understandably be reluctant to go to bed calmly. A small home, or several children with varying bedtimes sharing a room, will compound the issue and deserves additional strategies and ideas.

We used a white-noise machine for Joey when he was younger, and a very sensitive sleeper. The small investment at the Sharper Image provided valuable hours of quiet time, and that machine was worth its weight in gold!

Children are keenly aware of their parents’ moods, and will virtually always pick up on stress and worry their parents are experiencing- even without it having been verbally expressed. This is a good time to remind yourself that you are doing your family a favor, not just you, by addressing your personal needs, so that you can maintain a relaxed atmosphere.

You can engage your child in a discussion of which environmental factors are hindering his ability to settle down, and brainstorm together for methods of reducing or eliminating some of these factors. Perhaps your child can fall asleep in a different room and be moved later, you may want to acquire a white-noise machine, or change the timing of noisy activities or appliances being run.

An additional benefit of parents identifying the environmental reasons for bedtime issues is that it will switch the problem from being a lack of discipline on the part of the child, to outside, environmental factors. Once the child is no longer being blamed for bedtime battles, the stage is set for a renewed atmosphere of cooperation between parent and child.

Professional sleep counselors also advise a warm bath prior to bedtime, as it will generally induce a state of drowsiness.

Bedtime, in its calm glory, can be an ideal bonding time for you and your child. It can be a source of comfort for your child to have several minutes of attention at the end of the day, without interruptions, where he can tell you about his day, his plans for tomorrow, and his dreams. When the child values “hugs and kisses time” (that’s how we refer to it here!) then if it gets forfeited due to misbehavior, he will feel compelled to get to bed properly the next evening, so that the bedtime ritual can be made up the following night.

I hope that these suggestions will help you to have smoother and happier bedtimes!

Sweet dreams!

Ellen C Braun

 

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Comments

  1. Great Article, Ellen. My kids are older now, but when they were small, we had a bedtime routine every evening, regardless of the day of the week. I think that helped us a lot.

    We started by eating dinner together, then bath time, worship time with the entire family (we often spent some time separately with each child after the worship, because there is a 6 years difference between our kids). After that we prayed, gave out kisses, and said our good nights.

    Our youngest needed a night light, and to this day she still uses it (she is now 11 years old). But other than that, we didn’t really have any trouble gettin our kids in bed.

    In some rare cases, our daughter would come to our room if she couldn’t fall asleep. And all she needed was the reassurance that we were still here: after a few more hugs, kisses and soft nothings whispered in her ears, she was all set for the night.

    I guess what I watnted to say is that if you create a routine and stick to it, most of the time it will work.

    Adriana

  2. with my 9 year old and 1 year old we do bath , Bible/book , bed time the same time generally every night . i used to just do the reading with my oldest daughter until i thought well no time like now to introduce books to the wee one . good on one hand because she is so into it , and is picking up on how books are held and how i make voices etc. but a not so good thing because she gets too wound up from the extra time awake . so (for now) i am doing the bible reading / book reading with both of them and then rocking the little one to a drowsy stae then laying her down . she wakes up and screeches at me for about 10 min . but then falls asleep . she has been sleeping on average 12-13 hours a night straight through …so i guess i am doing something right lol .
    ~chris homeschooling mama to antonia (9) and augusta(1)

  3. Linda Rademacher says:

    Great article, instead of a white noise machine we always use a humidifier in our child’s room–we live in a dry climate and moisture in the air also helps keep them healthy (whenever kids get colds, the first suggestion from a medical professional is a humidifier!)

    Linda

  4. Thank you Ellen. I usually give my kids a bath..I clean their room and then spend time reading stories and giving kisses. Most times this works. Other times when I am really sleepy and my husband or I just send them upstairs and on their way. This is when it becomes a battle. Your article really motivates me to keep the routine within the household.

  5. Adriana Sabogal says:

    What has worked for my 4 month old is repetition. Either me or my husband follow the same routine every night. At 6:30pm we tell him it is time to go to sleep, he gets his blanlie, then he says good night to his toys and anyone else who is home, then we close the curtains and turn off the lights in his room, then we turn on his music, we sit and rock him for about 15 minutes or until he is drowsie. Finally we tell him that he is about to go in his crib where he will go to sleep and that we will see him in the morning when he wakes up. It takes him about 20 to 30 minutes to fall asleep but he sleeps bettween 12-14 hrs everynight. He wakes up happy and ready to take on the day. I’ve gotta tell you we are better parents because we get to rest and spend more time with eachother.

  6. My 11 year old son finally fell asleep at 2 am last night. 2 a.m.!!! I didn’t know until he told me this morning; he is just wired that way, a night owl. He’ll often lay awake, but not usually that late. He’ll have to be an astronomer! Tonight I had him take a warm shower so he would unwind.
    I have two other children, ages 6 and 8. Usually I read to them all at once, we sing “Jesus Tender Shepherd,” or another quiet song, pray, and I’ll read some Scripture. We have also read the “Little House” entire series at bedtime. It’s a great routine and gets them all quieted down. My girl (6) is another night owl. My son (8) is asleep the minute he gets in bed, usually the first one in. I don’t know how I survive bedtime, being a single mom, but somehow I have finally mastered the great art of getting myself to bed most nights by 11 p.m!

  7. Nursing my toddler to sleep works like a charm. While I nurse her the whole family does prayers of gratitude and that opens up some quiet conversation from my six-year-old. We practice attachment parenting so we’re all in the same room and the shared nighttime ritual seems to bring comfort. The girls know what to expect and don’t offer much resistance. Late bedtimes can cause a problem as it seems they get “wired” and have difficulty sleeping. We’ve also eliminated juices and other “high energy” food during the evening.

  8. Here! Here! Sounds like many parents are touting the benefits of a CONSISTENT ROUTINE to help ease the transition to bedtime. Children THRIVE on routine (as do some of us adults!). It helps them to predict what will happen in their environment, feel safe and secure, and thus, able to calm down. In our household, we actually named our routine. It’s called, “The 4 B’s”…bath, brush teeth, books, bed”. The routine has been so engrained in my two young children that these days all I have to do is say, “Time for the 4B’s”, and the clothes start flying off!

  9. We named our routine too – its called the rigamarole. My twelve year old has always been a night owl and so it was a relief when she began to initiate her own routine. She now reads late into the night, but since we homeschool she sleeps in late as well.

    No one has mentioned tv yet. I think a lot of parents feel it calms children to veg in front of the screen for a bit before bed, but we have found it winds the younger kids up. We limit the tv in the evening and plan for down time after to let them settle down before attempting to put them to bed.

  10. My son has been diagnosed with a sleep disorder. When we took him to a specialist one of the suggestions made to us was to “get our house ready for sleep.” It was suggested that we dim or turn off overhead lights about an hour before bedtime, no television or video games an hour before bed, no reading of books that might excite our son and to adhere to a strict bedtime ritual. It has really helped. Especially dimming the lights to signal his body that bedtime is coming.

  11. I see the wisdom in your suggestions. I must say that I am often tired by bedtime and have difficulty keeping a routine for my kids. I also have two very different kids sharing a room… a 12yo who falls asleep in about 5 min if allowed to stay up a bit later so he is actually tired when he gets into bed and a 7yo who needs more sleep, is afraid to be upstairs alone after dark (or even in his room alone), has recently started having nightmares, and gets quite irritable at times from not enough sleep. It’s been a concern of mine for a while, so when school starts it’s something I really am going to work on. Any suggestions on how to help my 7yo get more sleep would help.

  12. I require all 3 of my boys to shower every night as part of the routine to get to bed. The older ones are more reluctant because I go put my 8 year old to bed by sitting next to him, talking and hugs & kisses and while I am doing that the other two are suppose to get ready but often don’t and I need to keep calling them from my younger ones room to go shower etc.. Now, my younger one is giving me a harder time to get in the shower & get the routine going which slows the whole routine down. So, the routine is not working so well by me. Also, my 8 year old will not go to his room to bed without someone coming to sit with him. Can’t seem to break that habit. Any advice?

  13. My ten year old is a night person and I have had to adapt for this because I am a morning person. He will stay up until 10 pm on school nights and 11 pm on summer nights. I have always read to him at night, he used a night light for many years. The thing is that now he is unable to go to sleep unless I come in and be in the room with him. He usually drifts off within ten minutes, however, I have concern that he thinks he cannot fall asleep without me. This does lead to some difficult times if I am traveling or attending an evening school meeting. His Dad and sister will go to bed and leave him on the couch by himself. How long should I continue to nurture him in this manner? It worries me that he is dependent on my presence to get to sleep, do you think this is needless worry and that this dependence will pass?

  14. My two year old takes 3-hour naps daily sometimes late in the afternoon. She will go to sleep around 10.30 or 11pm. I really don’t mind her getting up late the next morning, since we don’t do anything early morning, except for Sundays. So on Saturday she does not get a nap (we are so busy with outings or cousins/friends parties) and she will be in bed early and get up early (about 12 hour rest at night). I do believe that children that sleep well are better behaved… and so parents that sleep well are happier!
    Thank you for your newletter this week.

  15. Thanks for this newsletter, Ellen. Each of my children have their own ideas and problems about getting their children to bed. My dau in VA has 3 girls, 10, 7 and 3 who have a routine that is altered a little for the 10 yo who is getting older and can do most things by herself which helps my dau help the other 2 to get ready for bed. She does spend some time with the 10 yo as part of her bedtime routine. She is the one who likes to stay up and read but her Mom likes to make sure she gets enough rest. They also have a 3 week old son now. MY son has a 20 month old and she has a routine also but has been screaming with night terrors. She doesn’t wake up at that time and is hard to settle down. Is anyone else familiar with them? My dau in VA’s 10 yo had them between 2-3yrs of age also. The 20 month old is also teething which doesn’t help. My dau who has 2 sons ages 11 and 17 of course has a whole set of other problems esp with the 17 yo who during the school yr is pretty good about getting his rest when he can. Summertime is a different story. But the 11 yo has a more relaxed routine in the summer but has so much trouble getting to sleep some nights during the school year. He may be a “night owl” but needs his sleep. We’ve tried different ideas including a routine but it doesn’t always work. We’ll keep trying. (I live with this daughter and her husband and 2 sons). Thanks for all your good ideas, Ellen.

  16. Gayleen Davis says:

    Thanks Ellen, It’s always encouraging to hear of other parents who actually believe their children need sleep. I often joke about my kids bedtime as my being selfish and wanting my evenings. My kids are 9 & 7 and they are in bed at 7:30 each night. More importantly than wanting my evenings, I want healthy, happy kids. My son particlulary is the epitomy of a morning person. It doesn’t matter what time he goes to bed he’s always up between 6:30 & 7am, so why not get him the sleep he needs in the evening. I get a fair amount of ridicule even from family members about their bedtime, but they aren’t the ones having to deal with grumpy kids the following day either! My hubby & I do allow the occasional late night, but then we are prepared for what the following day will hold, and then that’s our choice. Blessings to you for your encouragement,
    Gayleen

  17. Hi! I meant to comment also on the white-noise machine. When my children were little we used a box fan for the white noise and my daughter in VA is doing that also. And in the winter my son and the dau I live with use their bathroom fans. I find comfort in having in on myself. It is really helping my dau with the 3 week old son. They didn’t always use white noise with the 3 girls but the boy really seems to thrive on it and with 4 kids now….. whatever works!!!

  18. I really enjoyed reading this article. However, I have a 3yr old who is very restless at bed time and it seems to take him 2-3 hrs to fall asleep. As a baby he slept really well. I have asked the dayhome he attends not to put him for a nap with the other children, but he seems to become very upset if he cannot join the others at nap time. He now only has a 1/2 hr rest in the afternoon, and we now put him to bed at 8:00pm instead of 7:30pm, but this seems to have changed nothing, we even have a dark curtin up in his room to help eliminate sun light and make a more night time look in his room even when the sun is still up. Also, he is really hard to wake up at 6:30am and cries and has a fit every morning. I read the article on tantrums and have used many of the tactics and they have worked but he is so tired and grumpy I’m not sure what else to do. I’m also concerned that we are moving to just out of the city and this means he will need to be up about 20-30 mins earlier!!!. I would like to nip this in the bud if possible as soon as possible.

    Thanks
    Leigh

  19. I enjoyed reading this particular article. Bedtime is very difficult challenge in my home.
    For the first two years due to living in one room and a queen size bed, emily slept with me as well as breast fed. afterwards We moved into a house and it was hard to get her to sleep in her own room. I would stay with her until she fell asleep only to find her in my bed in the a.m. We were robbed one year ago. she is afraid to sleep alone in her bed. we moved. I nailed her windows shut to give her the feeling of security. no go. she will fall asleep within my vicinity but still end up in my bed and will also keep herself awake as long as possible. Her explainatin is that she is afraid that something will happen to me. Someone may take me away. And she does not want to be with anyone else.. I am a toatal night person working evenings and nights but pretend to sleep so she will sleep at earlier times but she awakens within the hour if I am not close to her. All the assurance I give her seems not to help. I must mention this, I was diagnosed with a rare and strange disease when she was three and had to be hospitalized. I was gone three and a half days. In spite of my wishes for my family to take care of her within her own home and by the same person…she had been shuffled to three houses in ther interim and breastfeeding was abruptly stopped…it was about time anyway and she was only breastfeeding at night . But any other solutions will help unless she will grow out of this… I hope… patricia and emily

  20. I enjoyed reading this particular article. Bedtime is very difficult challenge in my home.
    For the first two years due to living in one room and a queen size bed, emily slept with me as well as breast fed. afterwards We moved into a house and it was hard to get her to sleep in her own room. I would stay with her until she fell asleep only to find her in my bed in the a.m. We were robbed one year ago. she is afraid to sleep alone in her bed. we moved. I nailed her windows shut to give her the feeling of security. no go. she will fall asleep within my vicinity but still end up in my bed and will also keep herself awake as long as possible. Her explainatin is that she is afraid that something will happen to me. Someone may take me away. And she does not want to be with anyone else.. I am a toatal night person working evenings and nights but pretend to sleep so she will sleep at earlier times but she awakens within the hour if I am not close to her. All the assurance I give her seems not to help. I must mention this, I was diagnosed with a rare and strange disease when she was three and had to be hospitalized. I was gone three and a half days. In spite of my wishes for my family to take care of her within her own home and by the same person…she had been shuffled to three houses in ther interim and breastfeeding was abruptly stopped…it was about time anyway and she was only breastfeeding at night . But any other solutions will help unless she will grow out of this… I hope… patricia and emily

  21. My daughter cannot watch t.v at night it stimulates her. even sleepy music. she has never ever taken a nap, never.. Massage does help or feather touching but she wakes up soon after I leave. patricia

  22. I just discovered your site and think it’s great!

    I have 4 kids who are great sleepers and 2 insomniacs. A fabulous book–really the best one out there on getting kids to sleep (and I’ve probably read them all) is “Good Night Sleep Tight,” by Kim West and Joanne Kenen. It is so completely different from all the other books because it really explains the dynamics of sleep at different ages. I cannot say my 3 year old is a perfect sleeper yet, but boy have things improved. And the noise machine…a life saver!

    Hope y’all get some good sleep!

  23. By the way, Patricia, my daughter used to do the same…wake up shortly after I left the room. Now I sit with her for 15 minutes after she falls asleep (bring a good book and a book light with you). Once she is safely past the first sleep cycle you can leave the room without disturbing her and she should sleep a couple of undisturbed hours. Of course your ultimate goal is to get her to soothe herself to sleep and not need you, but for now this may work. The situation you described is really tough, but hang in there. If you can find a good method (and again, I recommend the book I mentioned above to help with this) and stick with it she will eventually get there. And maturity helps too. By the time she is a teenager and wanting to sleep till noon you will be pining away for the days when she was up at the crack of dawn!

  24. dear tired mom… thanks for the encouragement. I will get the book. I do try to wait after rem sleep. After she quietly sneaks into by bed, I do not feel her, She is restless and I often find a foot or two in my face upon waking. Its annoying. She is still in perpetual motion even when asleep…LOL But I will move to somwhere else and she will awaken. and I will find her there with me again. I hate white noise and so does she but we go boating and water sounds relax me maybe It will do the same for her…I will try a noise machine. She rarely slept in utero and her eyes were wide opened at birth…My sister who was my coach said “oh no! wide awake baby!” Her personality, alertness, movement, stays the same. I have showed her how to self soothe but she will only if I am too sick with fever and fall asleep on her. I loved your last statement. I can not wait til she grows up and I can bother her when shes on the phone, wake her when she wants to sleep late, come in and borrow her jewelry and make up. Embarass her in front of her friends…. LOL. Of course I am teasing but thank-you for your answer. and God Bless You. four children… It is so amazing that although they go through the same stages ,come from the same parents they are all different with some similarities… thank-you once again patricia

  25. Elizabeth says:

    We also have a routine. I have a little boy and we use a humidifier every night….the sound is better than any fountain…and we usually read a few books as a way to wind down. Then, at bedtime, we first brush our teeth, then it’s time for a warm bath. When I get him out of the bath, I use a towel that I put in the dryer for about 10 minutes. The warmth really helps make him sleepy. I lie him on the bed, and give him a body massage with Johnson’s Bedtime Cream while he drinks a small sippy cup of warm milk and we say our prayers. I have been doing this exact routine since he was born, (he is almost 3) and with these things combined, he is usually asleep halfway through the massage. He sleeps solid, and for about 9 hours each night with a 3 hour nap each day. He always wakes up happy, so I also believe that routine works and is very important for little ones to learn from.