Bedtime battles are a huge stressor for many parents — particularly for those with young children. With busy lives and busy little bodies, creating a set bedtime routine can be tough, but not impossible. In fact, a good night sleep is critical to your child's health and your family life. Making just a few changes in your nightly habits can make a world of difference in the lives of your little ones.
In her article, Getting Kids to Sleep Using a Bedtime Routine, Dr. Kimberly DeRuyck says, "Insufficient sleep is linked with a variety of consequences, some of which include: irritability, delayed motor responsiveness, poorer memory and focus, and an array of health problems."
If you find yourself struggling to get your children off to dreamland, here are some tips that can help.
1. Have a set bedtime
Many parents make the mistake of putting their child to bed too late, claiming that she just doesn't seem tired. Jennifer Waldburger, co-founder of Sleepy Planet, counters, "Once a child is overtired, a stress hormone called cortisol is released. (This hormone) makes it hard to settle in and causes a child to wake up more throughout the night and wake up too early (in the morning)." If your child is consistently irritable in the mornings, try putting her to bed 30 minutes earlier than her normal bedtime.
2. Create a sleep-inducing environment
Using a fan or humidifier are great ways to block out barking dogs or noisy streets. Blackout curtains will help darken a room, instantly creating a shuteye atmosphere. Try to turn off TV and video games at a set time every night. Your goal is to send the message that it is time for bed. Period.
3. Keep it simple and predictable
Most baby sleep books echo the same routine for baby: bath, book, bedtime. The same routine can be applied for toddlers and preschoolers. Children thrive on structure. Obviously, traveling, illness and holidays can throw a wrench in a routine, but if you continue the course after dilemmas arise you'll find your little one settling back into what he knows and craves. Bottom line: If he knows what to expect every night, bedtime will become less of a power struggle.
If your child is anything but compliant when bedtime rolls around, think about offering a reward for each night she goes to bed without a fight. Stock up on dollar store toys or suckers as incentives to hit the sack. After a week or two of consistency, your child will probably have learned "the routine" and will be able to go to sleep with little or no enticement.
5. Consistency is vital
As mentioned above, children crave structure and like to know "what's next." You may have some rough days for a week or two coaxing your child into a new routine — especially if you, as a parent, have a history of inconsistency. Try to keep in mind the long-term goal: Getting a more rested child and having a schedule you can both look forward to. After all, bedtime isn't just for kids. It's also a time for parents to reconnect with themselves and their spouse.
Bedtime need not be a daily clash of wills. Remember to experiment with an earlier bedtime, get the bedroom "sleep ready" and stick to the plan. If you stay the course and endure the rough patches of establishing a routine, you will not only discover a well-rested child but a much happier mommy and daddy.