Bedtime can be hectic. You’ve had a long day entertaining your little darlings and now you just want to sit down and relax and recharge your own batteries without the constant demands from your children.
Yet for some reason, bedtime can be the most stressful part of the day. Children seem determined to stay up, even though their minds and bodies are crying out for sleep.
This is where a routine can be very helpful, for you and for children.
So here are my top tips for a stress-free bedtime;
- Think about timing. If your child takes a long time to fall asleep you might be putting them to bed too early. If they get too wound up to sleep you might be putting them to bed too late. I remember once that changing Ryan’s bedtime by half an hour, made a big difference when he was a toddler and he fell asleep a lot easier with a slightly later bedtime.
- Have a bedtime routine. Do the same thing every night at the same time. Drink and snack, then a bath, nightclothes on, teeth brushed. Up to bed for a nighttime story, tuck them in and then lights out. That’s my routine with my 4 and 8-year-old, but find a routine that works for you.
- Let them know it’s nearly bedtime. For example, when this episode finishes it’s time to get ready for bed. A countdown can help too, five minutes left, four, three, two, one, time to get ready for bed now.
- Avoid too much stimulation before bed. Try to avoid loud or boisterous play or screen-based activity like TV, computers or tablets before bed and don’t let them take them to bed. The light from a phone or tablet tricks the brain into thinking it’s still daytime and it can take an hour for the brain to settle down after you stop using it.
- Check your child has done everything that might cause calling out later. Have they had a drink, been to the toilet, had a good night kiss, got their favourite toy?
- Get them something to take to bed to give them comfort. When I was little I had a blanket I couldn’t sleep without. My children all have teddies that they use, one of them is the same age as me and they take turns in having Lamby. Leave a night-light on or the door ajar with the landing light on. Tuck your child in and give them a kiss goodnight.
- If your child keeps getting out of bed. Return your child back to bed gently and calmly. Getting angry and shouting won’t help and will just make them even more awake and make it harder for them to go to sleep. Do this as many times as it takes until your child stays in bed. This takes a lot of patience but is worth it.
- If your child goes to bed without a fuss and stays there all night, give them lots of praise and a reward the next morning!
If your child keeps waking during the night, you need to work out why they are waking up.
- Are they hungry? If your child is over a year old, it might help giving them some cereal and milk for supper before bed.
- Are they afraid of the dark? Try leaving a nightlight on in their room or leave the door ajar and a landing light on.
- Are they waking up because of bad dreams? Try to find out if something is bothering them.
- Are they too hot or cold? Check the heating in the room. You can add or take away a blanket and see if that helps or adjust the thermostat. The ideal temperature for a child’s bedroom is between 16-20 degrees.
- Do they keep wetting the bed? When my daughters kept wetting the bed, it turned out they weren’t drinking enough during the day and that meant their bladder too small. By increasing the amount they drank during the day, it increased the size of the bladder. Once their bladder was big enough to store all the urine they produced during the night, they stopped wetting the bed.
Nightmares or night terrors are quite common between the ages of 18 months and three years. Your child may be worried about something or might have been frightened by a TV programme or story. Comfort your child and reassure them.
If you’re concerned about your child’s sleep ask your health visitor, school nurse or GP.