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Get to sleep! How do you change a child's bedtime?

Boys_sleep
My husband and I are confirmed night owls, always have been, always will struggle with it! I've read studies that a predisposition to early rising or staying up to all hours is hereditary, so you can imagine that our kids are just like us. Unfortunately, we're all night dwellers in a world designed for the early bird. And (what with Everett starting school at 8 a.m. in 11 days) I'm trying to change our ways.

Let's take yesterday as a case study: I woke the boys at 8 a.m., only 45 minutes past my goal time of 7:15. Truman (28 mos) took a nap, nearly three hours in the late afternoon. I tried to wake him up starting at around 90 minutes, but it didn't 'take' until 5:30 or so. All day I did admirably on what I call Project: Schedule; we ate meals at regular times, went largely without TV, tried to have a post-lunch settle down. Around 8:00, I started my recently-established routine: bath, maybe a glass of milk, brush teeth, books, good night! A few minutes before 11, I checked on them and they were quietly playing. 10 minutes later, Truman trundles down the stairs, and we do the carry-back-upstairs three or four times before finally, it's nighty-night.

Zoinks! What should I do? I just can't seem to get them to go to sleep at a "normal" time (I'd hope for something in the 9 p.m. range). I've been working on this for a couple of months now, some days assiduously, some days (I'll admit) a bit lackadaisical. I've tried some tricks that didn't work, like spiking the milk with Benadryl (I gave up after a week feeling guilty), aromatherapy bubble bath, even reading books that all have a bedtime theme. How can a mama get a couple of energetic boys to sleep already?

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I have a couple of suggestions:

1. Start earlier. Maybe 7:00 pm is a better time?

2. Make sure the bedtime routine is not too long. We have our bedtime routine down to just under 45 minutes. That includes bath,teeth and books. It also helps to not let my girls (2 & 4) leave the area between the bathroom and bedroom once the routine has started. If they start wandering around the house, it seems to wake them up and they have a hard time settling down.

3. Limit the toys in the room. This is a hard one for me, since my girls share their room and love to play together in the morning (which allows me time for coffee and a shower before I need to be on duty).

Good luck! Truman might just adjust on his own once school starts. I hear from my friends that their little ones are so tired from all the activity of kindergarten, he might just fall asleep earlier on his own.

my daughter is almost two, and if I let her nap go past about 1pm (she goes down by 11am) it's impossible to get her to sleep at night. so you might try an earlier nap.

I have 2 boys ages 2 & 4 and they share a room. What has worked for us in the past is putting them down about an hour apart. And now that the 2yr old has stopped napping (both blessing and curse), I can put them down about 15 minutes apart because the little one is already asleep by then. Another thing that we've recently started is a "chore" chart. And one of their "chores" is staying in bed after being put down. I just remind them that they have to stay in bed if they want a star sticker on their chart (as I'm walking out the door). Good luck.

I've been meaning to post something about our own sleep issues since bringing a new baby home, but the one thing that we have read and found to be true is that you can really only expect kids to fall asleep about 15 minutes earlier than the previous night. We've been struggling getting Anders to bed before 10 most nights since I had our 2nd a month ago. He also goes back to school next week so we've been working for the last week to get him to bed at a decent hour--at least before 9! We start the routine at the same time every night, but at some point just go in, put him back into bed and stay in the room (to ensure the light stays out and no playing goes on). We go in about 15 minutes earlier every night than the previous night. And finally, after about a week of being pretty firm, he's gotten the idea that we mean it, and he's been asleep by 9ish for the last several days, and the last 2 nights he's fallen asleep on his own, which is very nice! The other thing our pediatrician recommended is to not let them sleep too long in the afternoon--our cutoff is 3PM, and a) try to get them to wake up at the same time every morning and b) and to not let them sleep in too late each morning.

I'll second the school-makes-kids-tired theory. My three year old started preschool this summer, and she naps harder and longer than ever after a day at school.

I would buckle down on the early wake up time, too. That might help to move Truman's nap time a little earlier, and bedtime, too.

Good luck!

Lots of good advice here. We struggle w/ this problem, too, and have found that if we stick to the earlier wake-up time, everything else pretty much rolls into place. (Of course, as you have found, if you're not an early riser, that can be difficult on its own...) But again, as others have said, it looks like the advent of school will help you a lot as well.

If all the planets are aligned right our bedtime routine goes well and the boys (1.5 and 3) are in bed sleeping by 8:30. However, that just doesn't always happen! I'm frustrated by the role nap plays in all of this. For the 3 year old, he doesn't want to sleep for nap until at least 3, and then he's out for about 2 hours. But then he can't go to sleep before 10/10:30 and no will lay in bed talking, singing, etc and not sleeping. But without the nap he's dreadful by 5pm. I'm thinking a "one hour or 4:00 which ever comes first" plan is in order. Any thoughts from someone with some experience on this twist to the sleep issue? The little one sleeps great, three hour nap every day, down without a problem.

I think there are great suggestions here for starting a routine. I've also heard the 15 minutes a day thought for making the change. And I wonder about not putting them down together. I can't put mine down in the same room yet because they just interact too much. I have to do it when I'm at my mom's, and it just doesn't work. Can you put them down in seperate rooms and then move them when they're asleep? That might help.

We have always had issues with bedtime too. We like to eat later, which I think is why putting the kids to bed early always seemed daunting.

We have 2 boys, ages 3 and 6, and when our oldest started kindergarten last year (we did all day kindergarten), we could head upstairs at 7:30 for a story. Plus, he was ready for dinner early (5ish) because he had such a full day. If my youngest takes any kind of nap, forget about bedtime. He gave up naps just after 2 years old, which was a bit maddening, but at the same time, we can put them to bed at a decent hour and have time to ourselves. We have to put them down together as well, or there would be fighting/crying/whining over why the other one had to go first. (they share a room). Kindergarten will make a huge difference, I was amazed! Best wishes.

We are all night owls in our family too so I relate to the late-morning waking, late nights and up and down issue. It's a struggle. My son has also fought naps since he was tiny. He is now three, and we have given up on naps entirely, hoping that he'll sleep for 15 minutes in the car to get him through until an 8:30 lights out. If he does nap, I make sure it lasts no more than an hour and is over by 3:00 pm. Then we start bathtime at 7:30. I let him play in the bath for awhile to let him get in the bedtime mood. Then I clean his bathroom while he's in there or catch up on some reading. Our routine after that is short and always EXACTLY the same, down to the number of books we read. That sameness has helped him to know that it is officially bed time. Also, I added a step to our routine after lights are out of telling a little story about when he was a baby. He loves this story time and always yawns as I tell it. Sleep usually comes soon after that. Good luck and perservere! I know how frustrating it is, and you are doing such a great job with three boys to get to sleep! They'll catch on if you keep at it.

When my son was younger, bedtime would creep later and later until he was staying up till 11:00ish. This didn't work for us because my husband and I aren't night owls and at least one of us always had to get up early in the morning to head to work. So here was our approach to shifting bedtime.

1. Keep track of how much sleep he was getting, counting both night time and nap time. How many hours did he need? Also, keep track of how many hours of awake time he needed in between waking up in the morning and going down for a nap, waking up from nap and going down in the evening (usually for him, those ended up being the same interval).

2. Decide what time we wanted to be his new wakeup time in the morning and pick a date to start the new schedule (usually a weekend so we'd both be around to deal with him).

3. Count backward from the wakeup time to the bedtime so that he's getting most of his sleep at night. Use the same approach to schedule about two hours for a nap.

4. This is the hard part! Get him up at the new wakeup time and keep him awake and moving until the scheduled nap time. We would try to have an active day, but no car trips or stroller trips when he might nod off early. Lots of wrestling with dad, working in the yard, art projects, etc. Then put him down for his nap. Wake him up after two hours no matter what (and I totally understand what you mean about waking up not "taking," but do your best even if it means a cranky kid for the rest of the day). Start bedtime at the new scheduled time, but keep it simple--probably you're dealing with a fussy, tired kid by this point. In your case, multiple fussy, tired kids!

5. Keep at it for at least three days. This is how long it takes with both our kids to make a habit out of a new schedule. The most important piece is dragging them (and yourself) out of bed at the early time every morning. Having Everett in school will help you stay on the early-morning schedule.

Good luck!

our daughter is 13 months. she had been sleeping through the night--830 pm to 5:30 or 6:30 am. an occasional squawk in the night but she could always get herself back down to sleep without us.

then, last weekend, she suddenly has begun to wake up literally screaming by about 12:30-1:00 am. and there's no going back. we visit her, reassure her, try not to take her out of her crib until it is obvious nothing is working. one night i finally gave in and took her out and ended up sleeping on the hardwood floor with her in her room. it was an awful night in terms of sleep for me although i have to admit, after bedding in with her until 9 months, it felt great to have her back with me... another night i finally gave up and brought her into bed with us. she tossed, turned, flopped and spinned donuts until i had to take her back to her own bed because NO ONE could sleep.

what is going on? is it teeth? is it separation anxiety? is it that my husband and i, both teachers, have gone back to school and her daily summer routine has been disrupted? is it a combination? we don't know what is best to do for her. we are snapping at each other and i have become a sleep-deprived, hyper-sensitive disaster.

any ideas from anyone who has gone through this? thanks!

Suzanne,
It might be night terrors. Is she totally awake when she screams from her crib? My good friend's baby had night terrors (still does sometimes) and they just had to ride it out. Is there room for a twin bed in her room? If so, you might get her out and cuddle, reassure on the twin until she is calmed down and sleepy and then try to put her back into her bed. Could she be hungry? Maybe a warm bottle of milk and snuggles in bed, and then back to her crib would help? Sounds like it may be just an adjustment time. You might ask your pedi. about night terrors. Best wishes!

thanks, kristen. night terrors! didn't even occur to me. i will do some research on that for sure. the first night that this all started--when she started absolutely screaming at 1 AM--i found her standing up in her crib facing the wall near the corner. i wondered if she'd had a bad dream and was trying to "get away" from something. it was kind of alarming and the image has sort of stuck with me because usually she faces outward towards the open room. fortunately she's been better the last few days but i am still glad to learn more about what this all may be about...who knows if it's over and when it will come back!

SuzanneLynn, my oldest had the same sudden change in sleep patterns around that age when we started giving her dairy milk to drink. We noticed she only wanted to be upright, so it was probably gas pain. As soon as we switched to rice/goat milk, she went back to peaceful nights. Cheese, yogurt, etc. have never been a problem.

And now we are trying to get her to sleep for kindergarten... a dark, empty room at the end of bedtime routine definitely helps. If she won't stay put, one of us stays with her, but we bring a book or laptop so she knows she doesn't have our attention. We ask her to try falling asleep for 10 minutes before we cater to hunger and thirst demands (of course, she always has her bedtime snack and drink before toothbrushing), and she usually nods off before asking again. Even still, she is hard to arouse 11 hours later!

Just a quick comment -- as everyon works hard to adjust the sleep schedules, keep in mind that we set our clocks back an hour (I think the first week of November this year?) --- anyway, as I've thought about trying to shift the schedule, I have to remind myself what the "new time" will be in a few months...

Hi! I am a fellow mom who helped my baby learn to sleep after many sleepless months (he was waking every 40 minutes for ten months and would only nurse to go back to sleep!) and then started helping countless other families. There is hope!

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