Bedtime struggles in the form of getting kids to bed on time and to sleep is a huge source of stress for many parents. They struggle with getting their kids to bed on time. They struggle with kids that once they’re in bed, continually get out of bed. They struggle with having kids who won’t fall asleep unless they are lying with their child. They just struggle with the entire thing.
As I was putting this blog post together, I came upon a fantastic and informative video on my Facebook feed. Surprise surprise, it was by a sleep expert, who despite not mentioning her name, was talking about the subject of kids and sleep. The information was great but given I was writing a blog on bedtime struggles, I was more intrigued by the comments in the comment boxes… all 139 of them!
This video certainly stirred up a great conversation and made it abundantly clear that there are way too many parents out there struggling with bedtime.
The interesting thing was that the parents who did not struggle with bedtime, and who were offering kind tips to those who did, got a hard time for seeming to have it “easy” and being “lucky”! One brave parent replied with something to this effect:
“Oh, you think I have it easy. Do you think I want to get up at 5am so that I can get everything organized before I get the kids up, get them to daycare before I go to work at 7 am for my full-time job so that when I come home it’s not a gong show and I can get the kids to bed on time at 7pm to get the sleep they need!”
I digress but take note! Many of the tips are in fact within this quote…
Anyway, this is where I can help you. I didn’t struggle with getting my kids to bed and I did some of the things that were shared in that Facebook thread. The good news is that I’m going to share it all here.
Before I start, I want to recap and summarize what was said in the video which I have LINKED HERE:
It’s a myth to think your child is not tired because they are bouncing off the walls. It’s actually the opposite. They are bouncing off the walls because they are over-tired.
Over half of American children don’t get enough sleep
Studies show that kids who GET appropriate hours sleep for their age are:
- Far ahead of their peers
- Better behaved and,
- Able to have a better relationship with their parents
Sleep is critical to brain development; for language skills, literacy skills and social and emotional skills and self-regulation.
Studies show that the later a child goes to bed the longer it takes them to get to sleep
- The more tired you are the more you build up stress hormones which can cause a child to be more wired up and ready to fight at bedtime, hence they are bouncing off the walls!
- A later bed time does not mean a later wake up time and it has been associated with a more interrupted sleep.
- When in the evening a child goes to sleep is almost as important as how long they sleep. Sleeping earlier in the night hours is more restorative than hours later in the night ie 2 hours from 7-9pm is much better than 2 hours from 9-11pm.
Blue light backlight from devices is a HUGE problem for children and adults because it delays the onset of the production and release of melatonin. This delays the onset of bedtime and falling asleep.
It’s just as important for you to get your kids to be good sleepers; studies have shown that parents are healthier and happier when their kids go to bed earlier.
You need time to spend with your partner and time for yourself – both are critical to you being a good parent so don’t feel bad about starting the bedtime routine a bit earlier.
Many parents today are concerned that their child is eating healthily which is great, however, fewer parents are paying attention to the amount of sleep their kids get and it is just as important.
Getting it right is a win-win for all!
With all of that in mind, here are my top 10 tips for ending your struggles with bedtime and getting your child to sleep when they need to and when you want them to (Part 1: Tips 1 – 4 and Part 2: Tips 5 – 10):
Bedtime starts at wakeup time
When I say this to the parents I work with, they look at me with a puzzled look “What? I don’t get it.” And then the penny drops! Think about it. The time you go to bed at night will depend largely upon the time at which you get up. They laugh when they get it because they can then see that bedtime is not just a nice little ring-fence thing that coincidently happens at a certain time in the evening. It is a cleverly orchestrated affair! These questions will help you get started:
- What time do you want your child to go to bed?
- What time does your child need to go to bed based on the sleep table below?
- What time are you going to wake your child up?
When my kiddos were younger, I went as far as waking them up at a certain time because I knew that if they slept too late into the morning, they wouldn’t be able to go to sleep at their bedtime. They are no different to us yet because it might suit us in the morning to get a few hours of extra time to ourselves, we let our toddlers snore on but are frustrated when they don’t go to bed when we want them to!! Eh… hello!! You have to work out what you want and what your child needs.
|Age||Recommended||May be appropriate||Not recommended|
|14 to 17 hours||11 to 13 hours
18 to 19 hours
|Less than 11 hours
More than 19 hours
|12 to 15 hours||10 to 11 hours
16 to 18 hours
|Less than 10 hours
More than 18 hours
|11 to 14 hours||9 to 10 hours
15 to 16 hours
|Less than 9 hours
More than 16 hours
|10 to 13 hours||8 to 9 hours
|Less than 8 hours
More than 14 hours
|9 to 11 hours||7 to 8 hours
|Less than 7 hours
More than 12 hours
|8 to 10 hours||7 hours
|Less than 7 hours
More than 11 hours
|7 to 9 hours||6 hours
10 to 11 hours
|Less than 6 hours
More than 11 hours
Give yourself enough time and be organized
In order to get the bedtime routine sorted and your kids to sleep at a certain time, you have to give yourself enough time to do what needs to be done in the “window” before bedtime. And that window, as far as I’m concerned, is the entire time you’re awake! If we wake up late, we don’t get things done that we should have done, and we have lunch late, and then we get to the park late, and then we come home late, then dinner’s late, then reading’s late, then baths are late, then teeth brushing is late, and then bed time’s late… again. Then it’s a gong show again.
Who knows, to get this right, you might have to start dinner mid-morning on certain days or get up at 5 am to prepare ahead! I have been known to do that but I chose to do that rather than have the kids in bed too late. I have a wonderful meal planning table that I use each week that helps me start the week on the right foot. It has space for you to write down your meal plan for the week AND create your grocery list from it. It works really well for me and definitely helped me manage the bedtime routine when my kids were younger. You can download it HERE.
I’ll bet there are few families reading this who would not benefit from the whole bedtime routine starting much earlier than it currently does. We know it should start sooner, but how many of us actually start it at a time that allows us to get what we know we need to get done, done? Many of us shoot ourselves in the foot. There’s no way we are going to be able to do all we need to do in the half-hour that has suddenly been left for the whole routine. Talking of routines…
Create a routine
I always ask the parents I work with to make a list of ALL the things that need to be done as part of the bedtime routine. This is different for each of them. Some will say, “A story, a bath, teeth brushed, a cuddle and bed.” Others will say, “Well, actually, it starts with dinner because I need to get dinner done at a certain time so we have enough time for the rest of it ie. story, and the cuddle.”
To create more joy, and create more fun and ease in your life at a time that, let’s face it is, often called the witching hour, I think we need to start out by giving ourselves more time. I’m not saying for one minute that you need to become robotic-like in your approach to this, but, having a good idea of some rough ballpark times is a great place to start. It will really help you stick to a plan and give yourself a chance of creating new patterns around bedtime. Why don’t you create a list like this listing the things you need to do and fill in times that would work for you beside each to guide you:
- The time you want your kids to be asleep –
- The time they need to be in bed –
- Time for bedside cuddles –
- Bedtime story –
- Brushing teeth –
- Bath –
- Playtime / games –
- Dinner finished –
- Dinner –
Add any other that you might want to see in here.
You have to be very clear about what you want it to look like. If you want your kids to be in bed at 8:00 you have to set up things and show up in a certain way that is conducive to you achieving that. And you will have to keep doing it over and over and over and over again. You will have to repeat the new pattern until it becomes the default. They say that a new habit takes at least 21 days to kick in and about 3 months to become the new way. It will take patience and a lot of self-compassion. Go easy on yourself!
I know, it sounds simple for me to say as I type this from the comfort of my home office, but trust me, with three teenagers in tow, I’ve been there and it’s not as hard as you think it might be. However, I would say that you do have to be relatively organized to pull it off and pull it off well. This is not a fly by the seat of your pants affair!
Before I finish up on the importance of consistency, think about this: if you go to bed at roughly the same time every night, you get into the habit of it. Yes? It’s now the night before you are due to fly back East and you will have to get up at 4.30am. As such you decide to go to bed early but guess what…you just can’t get to sleep. Kids are no different! They adapt to the patterns that exist. If their bedtimes are all over the map, their sleep times will be all over the map. If they go to bed late, they will not be able to suddenly go to bed early and vice versa.
If you are about to embark on resetting the bedtime patterns that currently exist in your home and they are later than you want, you might have to do it gradually by bringing bedtime earlier in smaller time increments to make it easier for your child to adjust to.
Make sure you go straight to Part 2 of this blog post to get Tips 5 – 10. It comes with a special BONUS download to help you get started.
Before long, your bedtime struggles will be a thing of the past.
PS. If you enjoyed this blog post, you might also enjoy Episodes 79 and 80 on m podcast The Parenting In The Thick Of It Show. They are both on bedtime and finding ways that work.