If bedtime woes got you down, these tips can have you sleeping peacefully in no time. As the parent of eight kids, and someone who is more of a night owl than a “morning person,” the dreamy topic of sleep has been one I’ve grappled with for years. Not only did I survive that sleep-deprived newborn period eight times over, I also experienced many nights where one of my kids just didn’t feel like going to bed.
A large reason I stayed up late into the night was because it was the only time I could get any peace and quiet and accomplish tasks such as paying the bills or tweezing my eyebrows without endless interruptions. As both my kids and I got older, however, I really started paying close attention to our sleep habits.
According to a panel of medical and scientific sleep experts, studies showed that the appropriate sleep duration for newborns is between 14 and 17 hours, for infants between 12 and 15 hours, for toddlers between 11 and 14 hours, for preschoolers between 10 and 13 hours, and for school-aged children between 9 and 11 hours. For teenagers, 8 to 10 hours was considered appropriate, 7 to 9 hours for young adults and adults, and 7 to 8 hours of sleep for older adults.
While this is all good in theory, if you’re a busy parent who has one or more children who give you a huge hassle each night about going to bed, you probably prefer to run and hide under the covers because you don’t have the energy to take on the nightly battle.
Bedtime can actually be one of the most relaxing parts of your day (and not just because your kid is going to bed for the night) if you put a few strategies into place and consistently enforce them. Follow these tips to end your bedtime battles so your entire family can start resting peacefully once and for all.
Prepare a Solid Bedtime Routine
One of my favorite parenting words, other than nap, is routine! Without question, my sanity and my family’s overall well-being would not be as strong if not for the structure of routine. When I’m asked what routines are the most sacred, I hesitate to recommend one over another. But while they’re all important, I think a solid bedtime routine, no matter how old your kids are, is definitely worth its weight in gold. In 6 Steps to a Successful Bedtime Routine, I share helpful tips on all things related to your family’s optimal sleep habits. From picking a time for hitting the hay to establishing a “power off” routine and building in comfort rituals, this post focuses on the nitty gritty foundation of having a bedtime routine firmly in place. Once this is done, you can branch out and tackle other areas that might be standing in the way of your child and your good night’s sleep
Don’t Fall into “Overtired” Trap
One of the reasons kids can give us a hard time about going to bed is because they are actually overtired. When this happens, they can get wired and rather than wind down, they tend to become hyper and bounce off the walls, only adding to your frustration in trying to get them calm, quiet, and ready for bed. Sleep expert, Dr. Marc Weissbluth, a pediatrician, father of four and author of one of my favorite books Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child says the best time for a child to fall asleep is just when he/she is getting drowsy.
If an overtired child is perhaps the reason bedtime is a struggle, be aware of things like regulating your child’s nap routine so he’s not sleeping too long during the day or try to organize your errands so you’re not in the car a lot towards the end of the day where your child might start to nod off. Even getting up a bit early in the morning can help with your evening routine. Be mindful of any activities or routines throughout your child’s day that could be causing him to be overtired and make adjustments that work for your family.
Transition Into Bedtime
Bedtime in our house was successful when we selected a bedtime, such as 7:00 PM, and worked backwards to build in transition time. Most kids don’t want to be told its bedtime just minutes before you expect them to lay down and go to sleep. They need time to wind down and prepare themselves to get some rest so that tomorrow can be just as much fun. At 6:00 PM, give a gentle reminder that bedtime will be happening in about an hour and that all activities need to come to an end. A few minutes later announce “clean up” time and get your kids in the habit of picking up the playroom before they go to bed.
If they are school-aged, establish a routine for getting their outfits, backpacks, snacks or lunches for the next day ready the night before. Next, oversee teeth brushing, going to the bathroom, PJs, and then you can have some quiet time together reading their favorite bedtime story or just snuggling and talking. When younger kids have your undivided attention at the end of their long day, it gives them a sense of security that all is right in the world.
Likewise, with older children, decide on a bedtime for school nights and plan backwards from there. If bedtime for your 15-year-old is 10 PM, homework, outfits, lunches, showers, personal care, and cleaning up their bedroom (no, I’m not kidding—even if they put some of their clothes away, it’s a help), that should all be done by 9:30 PM.
Your teens need your attention before bedtime as well. Although you may not be reading to them any longer, you should try and get them to talk about their day, what happened in band or sports practice, or anything else that they may want to discuss. If you get into the routine of connecting with them on a very regular basis, they’ll know they can count on you when they really need to talk about something important.
Create an Evening Ritual
Rituals hold special meaning because they symbolize a regular practice in our lives but ultimately they are so important because of the emotional value they offer us. Creating something consistent and special as part of your family’s bedtime routine can offer a comfort to your child, especially if they fight going to bed. In our house, it was always a bowl of popcorn and a bedtime story—no matter what. When my kids sat curled up on the couch munching their popcorn and listening to me read, they knew that brushing teeth would follow and then it would be off to dreamland.
Make Mornings Special
Equally important as getting a good night’s sleep is how your family starts their day. If you have a positive tone ringing through the house when you rise and shine, it contributes to how the rest of the day will go. When your family is waking up, greet them with cheerful “good mornings” and a big smile. I’m a hugger so I have always hugged my family when I see them first thing in the morning. I love putting notes in my kid’s lunch boxes, or sticking an unexpected treat in their jacket pocket to surprise them on occasion. A loving morning can set the tone for your entire family, including you, which can ultimately lay a peaceful foundation for your evening routines.