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Ahh...the dreaded bedtime. While sleep is often thought of as the most relaxing and rejuvenating part of our day, that isn’t always true when your child doesn’t sleep through the night. For children, they protest, stall and throw fits just at hearing the word “bedtime”. For us, we once again muster up the strength and hold our breath that maybe, just maybe, tonight will be the night they stay asleep. Often met with disappointment, we tell ourselves tomorrow will be better. It shouldn’t be so hard! While some children are just plain stubborn, there are certain things we as parents can do to help our kids sleep through the night.
A successful night sleep for your child starts in the few hours leading up to bedtime. While it’s easy to turn on the TV after dinner so the kids are occupied while you clean up and catch up on house work, try your best to find an alternative. At the very least, eliminate any screen time including TV, tablets, computers, game consoles, etc. at least 1 hour before bed. That’s because blue light that is emitted from these screens can stimulate your child’s brain, moving them farther from the “sleep zone”. Additionally, blue light can suppress melatonin levels (a hormone that helps induce sleep) as well as reduce the quality of your child’s sleep overall. Long story short- put the screens away and bring out some non-electronic toys or books instead. Better yet, try to get outside for some fresh air after dinner!
The actual time your toddler or child goes to bed will be different for every kiddo depending on their age.
Everyone has a “biological clock” that is controlled largely by our circadian rhythm. Do you ever notice your child gets up at the same time every morning, regardless of what time they go to sleep? That’s because over time, their circadian rhythm has “set” itself to wake up at this time due to habit. The same is true for bed time. If you stay consistent with a set bedtime (within a 30-min window of flexibility) your child’s “biological clock” will start naturally releasing melatonin at this set bed time. With the help of melatonine (and habit), their body will start to say, “Hey, I’m getting sleepy. It must be my bedtime now.”
Having a bedtime routine is different than having a set bed time. I’m talking about an actual list of things that you do each and every night before bed (or as close to every night as possible). This doesn’t have to be some super planned-out set of “rules” before bed, rather some general things that you do to prepare your toddler/child for sleep. Our family’s routine is simple but consistent- bath, pajamas, snack, read 2-3 books, say our bedtime prayers, then time for sleep. Having a bedtime routine is a simple way to keep your child focused on what’s coming next: Bedtime. In turn, their little minds can wind-down and get ready for sleep.
If a bedtime snack is something your child needs to sustain them through the night, then go for it. Just make sure to work it into your bedtime routine. Bedtime snacks only become a problem if your little one starts using it as a stall tactic. If your child doesn’t normally get a snack before bed, and then suddenly starts saying they’re hungry just as bedtime is approaching, he or she may be trying to delay bedtime. Don’t fall into the trap! Or if you do, at least plan some time into your nighttime routine for it.
A sleep prop is anything that your child depends on to get to sleep. I’m not talking about a special blanket, lovey or stuffed animal. Rather things that are habit forming and can be inhibiting your child from falling or staying asleep. By removing these sleep props, your child will learn how to self-soothe and ultimately get themselves back to sleep (without your help) when they wake in the night. Some problematic sleep props include pacifiers, bedtime bottles, or rocking/holding your child until they fall asleep.
Pacifiers fall out and you definitely don’t want to be running in to replace it all night. Even if your child can replace it themselves, pacifiers can’t be used forever. Removing this sleep prop as soon as possible will help your child learn they CAN fall asleep without it.
Feeding your child to sleep or giving them a bottle to take to bed is another detrimental sleep prop. This habit is often started when your little one is a baby, but can be harder to break as your child gets older. Along with the dental issues that can arise, your baby or toddler becomes dependent on needing to feed to fall back asleep, which is something they can’t do on their own.
I know, I know. We’ve all heard it- “They won’t be little forever.” “Cherish these moments.” “Enjoy it while it lasts.” Unfortunately just like with pacifiers and feeding to sleep, holding or rocking your child to sleep can be very problematic as they get older. Obviously as a baby your little one may need this, but as they grow, they should be learning more independence and self-soothing techniques. If your little one constantly wakes up as soon as they realize you’ve put them down or have stopped rocking, it’s time to dig deep and let this prop go!
A sound machine can be a great way to help your toddler sleep through the night. Specifically using white noise, a sound with steady amplitude and intensity, can help tremendously with your child’s sleep. Don’t think of a sound machine as a sleep prop, but rather a sleep aid. Not only can using a sound machine help drown out noises outside your child’s room (like a baby crying), but studies have shown that using a white noise machine can improve the quality of sleep as well. The Hatch Baby Rest is an awesome sound machine and night light combination with tons of great features, but a good ol’ fan will work just as well! Just make sure it’s up and away from your child’s reach, and preferably not blowing on your kiddo all night.
Another big bedtime problem one your child is old enough is getting them to stay in their room at night. Toddlers especially will be testing the limits and may try coming out multiple times before finally going to sleep. Do not let them stay up or sit on the couch with you. It’s important to hold strong and remind them it’s bedtime, place them back in their bed, and close the door. Even if you have to repeat this process several times, stay consistent to prevent bad habits from forming. The same is true when your child wakes up at night. Go into their room, give them a hug and kiss, tuck them back in, and leave the room. Rewarding wake-up’s will only reinforce the unwanted behavior. As hard as it may be (and trust me, it can be hard!) you MUST hold strong for the sake of your child’s growth and quality of sleep!
Helping your child sleep through the night takes time, but it’s entirely possible. Some kids will take longer than others depending on their unique personality, but if you implement these tips and stay consistent, I’m confident you will see a change. Just like us, our children aren’t perfect. Be patient as they learn this new skill and soon enough you both will be sleeping through the night!
August 8, 2021