Is bedtime a struggle, every night?
It’s way past bedtime. And you’ve got one child half in their pjs, and another one is playing with legos. You’ve yelled at them to clean up their toys. You’ve begged them to put on their pajamas. You’ve given up on brushing their teeth tonight. You’re exhausted, frustrated, and fed up with the whole business of bedtime. How do you get your kids to go to sleep?
Visions of stories and snuggles in your head
Before you had children, did you envision bedtime stories, with soft kisses and whispered I-love-yous in the dark? Popular books paint these visions of idyllic, no fuss bedtime routines, along with well-behaved sleepy children that just trot off to bed without complaint.
Too bad that isn’t always reality.
If your children’s bedtime routine has more yelling in it than stories, you’re not alone. Bedtime battles are common and regular. But with a few simple, yet consistent changes, you can have a bedtime routine that leads to sleeping kids, not frustrated parents.
Prioritize their bedtime routine
How do you get your kids to go to sleep? It starts with a shift in our thinking, as parents. Our children’s bedtime routine needs to become more important than our favorite TV show, soccer practice or even homework. If you want a good bedtime routine, you’ll have to prioritize it and protect it.
With our crazy days, it can be really easy to end up filling our evenings with great but late activities. Between soccer practice, choir rehearsal, scout meetings and church groups, families can be out every single night. While all these activities are amazing opportunities and can be lots of fun, they can also be hard on kids.
Your children have spent time learning and having fun, late into the evening. Then they come home, overstimulated, hyped up, hungry and overtired, and you expect them to settle into bed and sleep immediately. Not only is that not exactly realistic, but it isn’t really fair to them either.
How do you get your kids to go to sleep? The first step to a good bedtime routine is to start with a consistent bedtime. Children thrive on predictability. And numerous studies tell us that going to bed on a strict schedule not only promotes good sleeping habits, but good health, better moods and more productive days. So pick a time for your children’s bedtime. And stick to it.
When should they go to bed? That depends on how much sleep they need, and when they have to be awake. If your child needs 10 hours of sleep, doesn’t wake at night, and needs to be up for 7 am, then they should be asleep no later than 9 pm. Work backwards from there on your normal routine, and you may decide that “bedtime” is really going to be 7:30 pm. The trick is to not pick a time too early, or too late. And then to stick to it, so that your child goes to sleep within 20 minutes of the same time, every night.
Some people like to change up their weekend and weekday routines. But you can’t do this if you want your children to have good bedtime routines. When you are establishing the foundation of their sleeping habits, every night means every single night, whether it’s a “school night” or not.
Predictable patterns lead to sleeping kids
How do you get your kids to go to sleep? Just like having a consistent bedtime will help your kids go to bed easier, having a predictable bedtime routine will also help. The repetition of the routine will help your children know what to expect, and feel secure in it. They won’t resist bedtime as much, because the whole process will become automated over time.
A side benefit to the predictable bedtime routine is that as your child goes through the different stages, their brains will signal to their bodies that it’s time to rest. They will physically start to wind down and relax in preparation for sleeping, as they move through the routine. Patterns like this become so ingrained in us, it affects us physically and gets a physical response. It’s similar to how we become hungry at noon, regardless of if you’ve just had a snack or brunch an hour ago.
What will your routine look like?
How do you get your kids to go to sleep? There are simple things you can do to as part of a good bedtime routine. These things will promote relaxation and calm your child, so that bedtime becomes a breeze not a battle.
First, get comfortable.
It’s really hard to sleep if your clothes itch or poke you or cramp your style. So make sure they have clean, soft, well-fitting pajamas. Too loose, and they will bunch up around your kid’s arms and legs. Too tight, and they will make your child uncomfortable. Of course, your child is the best judge of what is too tight – some kids with sensory issues may need or like clothes that cling, especially at night.
Second, check the temperature.
When I was a child, my father would turn down the heat every night in the winter. Not only did that save him money, but it encouraged me to get to bed under my nice warm covers. And it actually did help me sleep. Studies show that a cool room is better for sleeping than one that is too warm. So turn down the heat at night.
Third, check the humidity.
Dry rooms aren’t great for sleeping. They make us thirsty, they make it harder to breathe, and they make it just plain uncomfortable. If you don’t want your child getting up frequently for drinks and then the subsequent trip to the bathroom, make sure their room has enough moisture in it for comfort. Maybe invest in a humidifier, as well.
Fourth, block the light.
Children are often extra sensitive to light. They also tend to be inquisitive creatures, so seeing light can make them want to get up to see what you’re doing while they’re sleeping. Promote better sleep by blocking out the lights. You may need light blocking blinds or drapes for the window, and to put weather stripping along the bottom of the door.
If your child insists on a nightlight, keep the light small, low to the floor and red. Red light aids in the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Yellow or white light has the blue light wave length in it that can hinder that melatonin. Low lights that are red will give just enough light to see without disturbing those circadian rhythms.
Fifth, use scents.
Scent is a powerful sensory tool that can influence mood, activity and concentration. Whether you use a diffuser, an oil burner or wax warmer, or just simply sprinkle fragrance around the room, scents can change the atmosphere to help us sleep.
Which scents? Experiment to find the one your child likes best. Options include essential oil and perfume fragrances such as cedarwood, lavender, chamomile and bergamot. Try a lavender satchel in your linen closet to softly scent all the bedding. Or use a spray bottle to mist chamomile in the bedroom at night.
Bonus: bedtime stories make bedtimes better!
How do you get your kids to go to sleep? It’s long been known that reading helps sleeping. And what better calming activity than to snuggle up with a good book? Turns out those popular books that show parents reading to their children every night with soft snuggles and cozy cuddles are right. Reading a bedtime story to your child at night will help them get ready for sleeping. And you can end the day with those baby kisses and whispered I-love-yous instead of yelling “Go to sleep already.”
Turn your bedtime battle into a bedtime routine
How do you get your kids to go to sleep? Prioritize your children’s bedtime, with a consistent time, a predictable pattern and a protected routine. Do the same things every night, in the same order. Maybe it will be “pajamas, brush your teeth, get a drink, use the washroom, story, kisses, good night”. Or maybe you’ll prefer “bath, toilet, pajamas, story, teeth brushing and drink, kisses and goodnight”. Whatever you include in your routine, stick the same time, every single night, weekend or not. Turn down the heat, the lights and the sounds. Create an atmosphere of relaxation with the right amount of moisture and smell. And smile, because your children go to bed easily now.
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