How To Make Bedtime Go Smoothly!

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” it is recommend that you help him out by adhering to a consistent wake-up schedule. That can be challenging during weekends and vacations, however sleep experts consistently stress the value of waking up the same time each day for children as well as adults.

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 four 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 pillow-fights.

Environment: Take careful note of your home’s evening environment. If there is a lot 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! A fan or air-conditioner can accomplish the same result.

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.

We have a laundry chute in Ben’s bedroom, which is terrific for organizing dirty clothing, however the sounds of the washer and dryer waft straight up into his bedroom. Therefore, I do my best to time my laundry activities for times other than bedtime.

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. Calming scents, such as lavender oils or chamomile tea are also known to be soothing and relaxing.

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.

Many children who are resistant to physical touch during the daytime, will respond with affection to bedtime hugs and kisses.

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

Sweet dreams!


  1. I need to print this out and get a handle on the crazy bedtime in my home… sometimes the kids are still up when I want to go to sleep! This is really a timely article for me, thanks!

  2. I pray with my 5 year-old daughter, Abby. It is a good way to help her feel safe and also to let her know that God is watching over her and her home. Also, if she is nervous about a dental appointment, or her first day of school- we pray about that and ask God to help her. I think it helps her to relax enough to fall asleep.

  3. I have really messed up wit bedtime routines and greatly paying for it– I hope it is not too late to use this and develop better sleeping habits.

  4. We have been amazed at how well a bed time routine has worked for us. Our little one is almost one and from an early age we always followed the same routine – bath, milk now with books, and into bed. We also use a noise maker (waves) and Elsie has a favorite lovey. Even when we are traveling and off schedule we try to do an abbreviated version of the routine and have been quite successful. The noise maker is extremely useful when we are traveling – especially in noisy environments.

  5. I have a 3 year old boy, and I have tried almost EVERYTHING in the last few months. He was sleeping great while still in the crib. Then we moved, and he changed into a toddler bed, and although it took a couple of weeks, he was sleeping great there too! But, for the last few months, he’s up WAY past the time we do our routine and he goes to bed, and he’s been getting up in the middle of the night to come to my bed. I just invested in a new book on the recommendation of another mom – Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child – I’m not the “get it from a book” type, but SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE!

  6. ROUTINE is the key! In our house, which is full of energetic kids and pets, we actually dim the lights (and TVs and computers, etc. are OFF) at 7:30. Then it’s bath time. Then everyone has until 8:30 to do something quiet (read or talk about the day’s events). Then it’s lights out. Even our puppy is starting to understand the routine. He finds a quiet place to cuddle once he realizes the lights are dimmed. And “white noise” is priceless, since our home is small. We use an air purifier and/or the bathroom fans.
    Sweet Dreams!

  7. We set up a music playlist on our computer that plays a bedtime CD that we bought at the same time every night. It starts with toothbrushing music, potty time music, washing up music, pajama time music, and then we put some quiet reading music at the end. The alarm goes at the same time every night and the kids just jump up and go to the bathroom to start brushing their teeth. The faster they get through it, the more time we have to read, so they often ask us to skip to the next song so they can get through it faster.

    The CD we bought was a Sesame Street one, but there must be others out there. It makes our bedtime routine so much better that I recommend it to everyone.

  8. My night owl has allowed to read at night which settles his older brother down. He’s still a bear in the morning but on the bright side his recent reading test came back at a college level! We will try some of these strategies though. Thanks Ellen.

  9. I like Em’s (#6) routine! It seems very sound to me, something I’d be willing to try with my family, which hopefully could lead to nights where my boys are finally sleeping soundly through the night.

  10. Thanks for addressing this important subject. I found that giving my little one my complete undivided attention, even if it’s just for 1/2 hr before bedtime, sends him off into sleepy time for the whole night without a care in the world. I then am free to talk on the phone, watch TV, or anything else at my own pace for the rest of the evening.

  11. Thanxs this is very informative.though we know things we dont apply in our regular i will try.

  12. krishnaroopa says:

    Timely article.. But I’m tired.. Now i have Son, who is really night child.. He goes to sleep only by 2.00 AM and sleeps till 11.00 AM in the morning
    I’m worried now, He is 2 now and in another 3 months, has to go to school.. so he has to get by 8.00 AM.. Pls. help me out

  13. Louise Griep says:

    Hi Krishnaroopa,

    What has worked for us in the past is just making a sleep schedule (bedtime and waking) up for the next couple of weeks – where bedtime and waking up time are moved back by 15 minutes (or 30 if you can sneak it in) every day. The routine of bath, milk, reading and snuggling has certainly helped to make it “just what we do before we sleep”. This is how we get back into routine after holidays, jet lag, and other interruptions to the norm. I wish you luck and great rest!


  14. I had my 3year old and 8year old sleeping fine. Then, cold & flu season hits! My three year old wakes up all night long crying and wont go back to bed w/o “mommy”. Therefor, I am lucky to get 2-3 hrs @ a time, 3-6 mos now!! My 8 year old will wake up & come to bed w/me or daddy, or we have go to him.This has been going on for years!We have routines, fan noise, all of the suggested! Any other advise appreciated!!

  15. Great tips there about bedtime. Can we get tips on wake up time which seems to be just as if not more difficult. It breaks my heart when they leave in the morning without breakfast because they just id not have time for it – due to not getting up on time.

  16. We have the same situation as Shelley since we all had the flu. (Our kids are 10 and 8.) We’ve made beds for them in our room, and all of us are sleeping well with that arrangement. This does compromise intimate time for the parents, but we sometimes get the kids to sleep in their own rooms by reading and snuggling with them in their beds and telling them Mom and Dad want some time alone in their own room tonight, or we go to the guest room for a while after they’re asleep. 🙂

    What keeps me going is knowing this is temporary (though the kids’ idea of temporary is longer than mine!) and feeling that when they’re teenagers, this closeness will pay off. In fact, I bet we’ll be wishing they were still sleeping in our room so we can keep closer tabs on where they are!

    As far as waking up, I have been reading about dawn-lights — alarm clocks that simulate the rising sun. I’m going to shop for one and see if it can help my daughter get up more easily.

  17. LL Bean sells a Moonbeam Clock for $39.99. I was thinking of getting it for my son because he’s hard to wake up.

  18. The book that #5 Jay purchased is wonderful! We have been using it as needed for about 7 months. It talks about different stages and needs. We refer to it when we are goimg through a new thing with our daughter who is about to turn 3 years old. But got it when our son, who is almost 8 months, had colic. It was an absolute life saver!! Hope you all get some sleep:)

  19. My 8 year old daughter with neurological issues, ADHD, ODD, IED eventually falls to sleep very late after worring about everything. She creates negative anxieties about anything and its like her brain gets stuck there. I call it obbessive negative compulsion,(the more you talk and explain the more worries she creates). We tried baths, massages, books,music,watching her fish swim, etc.. all the ususal stuff, then I found these wonderful cds on the internet called “Ocean Dreams” and “Indigo Dreams” by Lori Lite. Her psychotherapist is working with them to help ease anxiety and they seem to be helping. Now if I can only make the weather quiet (wind rain thunder) I’ll be in better shape. I hope this might help anyone with a child with disabilities on top of sleep issues, and if there are other ideas out there please let me know. Thanks for listening.