All children take great comfort in predictability; it helps them make sense of their world and regulate their states of being. The bedtime routine is a wonderful opportunity to incorporate soothing rituals into our children’s daily lives, while improving sleep habits at the same time.
As adults, we have learned how to relax ourselves in preparation for sleep. We bathe, dim the lights, read in bed, beg our partner for a foot rub, listen to mellow music. Likewise, our children, including babies and school-age kids, benefit from calming, predictable rituals before going to bed. Activities should all be comforting and quiet. Save the wrestling, tickling, scary stories and tv shows, and anything else that’s potentially stimulating for another time of day.
Here are activities that work well as part of a bedtime routine. Pick 3 or 4 based on your child’s age and preferences.
· Put on pajamas
· Brush teeth
· Go potty
· Read books
· Swaddle or sleep sack
· Sing a (short) lullaby
· Tell a story
· Share 3 things about your day
· Play a quiet game
· Listen to quiet music
· Small cup of water with books
· Bottle or nursing
· Prayers, blessings, or send love/kisses/wishes to others
· Plenty of hugs and kisses
Encourage buy-in. If your child is asserting his independence these days, empower him to participate actively in the routine. He can pick out his pajamas, choose the book, say goodnight to his special dolls, and turn off the light.
Anticipate your child’s reactions. If there is one part of the routine that your child resists (perhaps brushing his teeth or combing his hair), get that part over first, before he settles into his snuggly mode.
Think about timing. Your routine could be anywhere from 15 minutes (for a baby) to an hour, depending on your child’s age and temperament. Some need more time to switch gears than others. Keep an eye on the clock though – if your child’s natural bedtime is 7:30, remember to start the routine early enough so he has plenty of time to fall asleep.
Follow at naptime too.The naptime routine can be an abbreviated version of bedtime, 1-2 calming activities in your child’s room.
Let him get himself to sleep. Your routine should be relaxing, but not enough to put them to sleep. We want them doing that part themselves. So if your baby keeps conking out reading or nursing, move that activity up in the routine. If it still happens, consider shifting your routine earlier.
(Some excerpts from The Good Night Sleep Tight Workbook ©2010 Kim West LCSW-C, The Sleep Lady ®)
Thank you so much for welcoming me as an Advisor. I’m excited to be a part of the Cape Cod Mommies group and hope my insights will help you through your young family’s sleep challenges. Since Amy mentioned early rising, a very common sleep issue, I thought I would make that the focus of my first blog.
If your adorable little alarm clock wakes up at 6:15am refreshed and ready for action – though it may feel like the middle of the night to us parents – you may have to just go with the flow. 6-7am is a biologically appropriate time for babies to wake. However, if she is groggy, falling apart by 7am, or consistently waking before 6am, you’ll want to tackle the early rising once and for all.
Here’s a look at the most common reasons for early rising…
Too late of a bedtime.
I know this doesn’t seem logical. We tend to think that if our children stay up late, they will crash hard and sleep in the following morning. Alas, this is rarely the case. Depending on their age, most babies and young children naturally want to fall asleep (not start bedtime routine) between 7-8pm. Missing their “sleep window” triggers the release of cortisol, the “fight or flight” hormone, which can make for a harder bedtime, more wakeful night, and early rising.
Nap deprivation in general.
Babies and young children who are not getting adequate naps on a regular basis tend to wake early in the morning. It’s important to know approximately how many hours of naps your child needs based on their age (understanding that these are averages – some children will need more, others slightly less). For example, a six month old needs approximately 3.5 hours of naps spread out over 2-3 naps, whereas a two year old needs approximately 2 hours of sleep during their afternoon nap. For more information on how much sleep your child needs, click here.
Too big of a wakeful window
Too long of a wakeful window prior to bedtime means that your child is going to bed overtired, with cortisol running through their body. This means we need to base bedtime partly on when our baby woke up from their last (or only) nap. For babies under 6 months, the maximum wakeful window is about 2 hours. As babies approach one year, the window extends to about 3 hours. Some well-rested toddlers and preschoolers can handle a 4-hour window, max. It’s important to watch for your child’s sleepy cues and tinker with bedtime to find out what works best for them.
Too drowsy at bedtime
Bedtime is the easiest time to get to sleep. If we act as our child’s sleeping pill, getting them to sleep at bedtime by holding, rocking, feeding, or patting them down, then how can we ask them to do it themselves when they stir at 5am,
the hardest time of the day to get to sleep?
If none of these ring a bell, take a look at your child’s sleep environment and make sure that there’s nothing external contributing to the early rising. Perhaps the birds chirp in the tree near their bedroom window or the morning light is streaming in through their curtains. White noise or blackout shades can make a big difference during the early morning hours, when babies are feeling relatively well rested after 9-10 hours of sleep.
Wishing you and your little ones many happy mornings together!
Visit Rebekah at:
Counting Sheep Pediatric Sleep Coaching
World War Bedtime!
Bedtime is a time that I cherish, that I look forward to, that I plan for and daydream about. However, the love and appreciation of bedtime is wisdom that comes with age. Louis does not feel the same way. Bedtime is a time that Louis dreads, avoids, plans to evade, and probably has nightmares about – for he is a toddler, and he is convinced that going to bed means missing something exciting and fun. After a week or so of the nightly routine of Louis yelling, screaming, and tantruming I decided to consult Miss Cathy – his teacher. I needed reassurance that I was not, indeed, torturing my child by wanting him to go to bed. Here are the pointers I picked up:
Now I am lucky in my bedtime battle because Louis does not yet know that he can try to climb out of his crib, so half the battle is won. I am secondarily lucky because when he was in infant I bought him a mobile that, unbeknownst to me, also turns into a projector that now makes a picture show on his ceiling. So here is our bedtime routine, which has virtually eliminated the night-mare from night-night time.
It took Louis a couple of nights of yelling “Mama! Mama! Mama!” before he really understood that I wasn’t coming back (unless he was jumping out of his crib or crying enough to make himself sick – but he doesn’t know those tricks….yet) and that it was time to go to bed. The projector works miracles and helps him drift off to sleep. Even though I have to sacrifice a lot of my playtime with him in the evening, and for working parents the evening is sometimes all we have, I rest assured knowing he needs his sleep and this is the best plan for us right now. I am sure, however, that Louis will request, quite forcefully, that we re-negotiate the bedtime peace treaty in a few months.
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