Bedtime Conundrums – Getting Your Kids to Sleep

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Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

Getting your kids to go to sleep is arguably one of the hardest challenges of parenthood. No matter what their age, at some point your children will struggle to get to sleep and it can seem like there’s nothing you can do about it. 

Sleep is one of the most important aspects of a child’s development and they need as much of it as possible. As their brans are developing until their mid-20’s, a lack of sleep can contribute to bad moods, illness, depression and even obesity. All is not lost however, as there are plenty of constructive things you can do to help your kids get a better night’s sleep and in turn, give yourself a welcome chance to count some sheep of your own.

Plotting and Planning

Structure is essential in establishing a healthy relationship between your child and sleep. By remaining consistent to a certain plan that you develop, they will learn what to expect and begin following the specific routine you’ve put in place. The reason it’s important you create this plan with them instead of for them is that it helps them feel comfortable and empowered by the ability to have a say in such matters. Plus, they will naturally be more inclined to follow the routine when it’s one that they’ve helped put together.

One of the first things you need to establish is bedtime. If your child is currently going to bed at a later hour than you’d like, a good way to alter this is to gradually move their bedtime to the hour of your choice. For instance, say your child is currently going to bed at 9pm and you’d prefer if it was 8pm, then move it to 8:45 for a few days until this becomes normal, then change it to 8:30 and so on until you’ve reached the ideal bedtime.

This technique is called bedtime fading and has seen considerable success, but you should be careful not to overdo it, as moving it back too early or quickly can have a negative impact, so it does need to be age appropriate. For example, if it’s set back too early, your child may not be able to get to sleep at all, causing lots of frustration and making the whole process counter-productive.

The Green Room Effect

Plan for up to an hour of quiet time before your children are meant to go to bed. This doesn’t mean the room needs to become a library for an hour but instead have a few planned calming activities in place. Dimming the lights is a good place to start as it helps the brain prepare for sleep. Room lights and any lights emanating from electronic devices trick the brain into thinking we’re not tired as they lower our melatonin levels, stimulating brain activity; which means that TV’s, computers or anything with a screen should be turned off and put to the side to help them fall asleep. This is also a great time for those all-important night time rituals such as taking a bath, going to the toilet and brushing their teeth.

The Nightime War

As crazy as it may sound, there is a high chance you will face some opposition from your kids to these new rules. Crying may happen, but the best thing to do is remain calm and reassure them it’s time for them to go to sleep. Make the visit short and if you have to return into their room, space out the time between your visits and repeat your previous actions. Eventually, they will follow suit and attempt to go to sleep. There’s no need for arguments, as it will only exacerbate the situation and as long as you remain calm, they’ll be more inclined to behave similarly.

Another obstruction will be the fact they will get out of bed, a lot. If this happens, take them back to bed and tell them you will close the door (but not locked) if they get back up again. A lot of young children like to sleep with the door open, so to offer them the power over whether or not it stays open is essential. If they do get out of bed again, close the door for a few minutes. If they have remained in bed, praise them and allow the door to stay open, otherwise repeat the procedure until they finally go to bed. Praise them the day after for good actions and children will want to continue in a positive light, respecting the rules more and more.

Children will thrive through a consistent bedtime and nightly routine. Research has shown that bedtime consistency is more vital to a child’s brain development than the number of hours of sleep they actually get. Studies have also shown that children are more likely to develop behavioural problems due to non-regular bedtimes whereas children whose bedtimes became more regular displayed encouraging signs of good behaviour.

By getting your little one involved in a nightly routine, they will feel they have more of a say in their lives and are more likely to cooperate. If you can get their night into a smooth rhythm, yours will become less strenuous and you can drift off at your own leisure.