Bedtime Battles
Twelve Tips for Easier Nights


Bedtime is one of those issues that comes up again and again with parents of kids of all ages. Here are some things that work for us.

1. Routine
Consistency can make all the difference with small children. Having a predictible routine generally makes bedtime go much easier. An example routine would be: bedtime snack, brush teeth & jammies, read 3 books in bed, sleep. For my kids, we had to stick to the routine exactly. If I gave in and read a 4th book, they'd be wired and asking for more all night. When it was predictible, they'd often roll over and go to sleep after that 3rd book. Be sure the time stays fairly consistent, too.

2. Find your own path
Never listen to anybody who tells you that you have to do ____ or your children will be ruined forever. If co-sleeping works for you and your child, it's the right answer for you. If it doesn't, it's not. We co-sleep with our little ones and it's perfect for us. Avoid people who lecture you about what you're doing wrong with your children and trust yourself.

3. Make noise
Have a baby who awakens the moment you put him down? What works for me is to make little sleepy noises as I ease babies down. They're used to a little movement and noise from us. Sleepy noise and heavy breathing often gets them back into a sleep state very nicely. Keep your face close by and breathe and murmur just a little bit until his breathing is regular again.

4. Know it's normal
Is your 6 month old not sleeping through the night? Most don't! While some babies seem to crash for enormous stretches of time, that's not usual. Pay no attention to people who talk about their babies sleeping through the night and act like yours should be too. In the first place, the definition of "through the night" may be from midnight to 5 a.m. In the second place, it differs from infant to infant and there's nothing you can do about it. Breastfed babies tend to sleep for shorter periods of time, too, because breastmilk is easier on their tummies and is quickly digested. And yes, it is common for children over 12 months to still be waking at least once in the night.

5. Have empathy
Believe me, I know it can be nearly unbearable to deal with a little one who's on a sleep strike or keeping you up all night. Drawn out bedtime battles can make us nuts, and being sleep deprived ourselves our tempers are often shorter than usual. Try to put yourself in your child's place, though, and understand how he feels. Babies often wake and cry because of colic, teething or plain old loneliness. Sometimes they're too hot, uncomfortable or in pain and have no way but wails to let us know. Kids also fight bedtime because they really miss us and want that extra time with us, even if it's with mom or dad mad at them. Little kids have very big fears of the dark, of abandonment, of bad dreams and more. We've all had nights where we just didn't want to be alone or couldn't get to sleep no matter how hard we've tried. Sometimes life is especially hard and you need someone to be there, especially when you have no way to meet your needs yourself. The more you can remember that, the easier it is to keep things in perspective.

6. Sling them to sleep
When baby Jack was fussy and just wouldn't sleep, my fleece pouch was my lifesaver. I would pop him in and then walk and dance around and he would nod right off. There was not a single time in his babyhood, no matter how upset or overtired he was, when it didn't work within 10 minutes (usually far less). Mine was from (adjustable fleece pouch) and he and I both loved it. And nope, no kickbacks were involved in the making of this paragraph. :)

7. Know your naps
Remember that babies will need fewer naps as they grow. First they nap off and on, then perhaps have a morning and afternoon nap, then an afternoon one, and eventually none. Every child is different. As they grow, they need fewer hours of sleep. If your child is fighting sleep at night, it may be because she's still taking long naps during the day that she no longer needs. On the other hand, skipping naps completely can lead to overtired kids who spend the last few hours of the day unbearably cranky and then get a second wind. If your little one seems to be going to sleep too late at night, try shortening her nap in the afternoon and gently waking her after an hour or so. Be sure that you're not making bedtime so late that it's after she's already got her second wind, too.

8. Look for sensory solutions
Most of us have certain conditions that we have to have in order to sleep well. There has to be a fan running or total dark or a heavy blanket. Kids can have the same sensory needs. Be sure pajamas are soft enough, covers are heavy or warm enough and their needs for light and sound are met. Victoria needed a light on for the first years of her life and I let her sleep with it on (I turned it off after she was asleep). Eventually she outgrew it and now needs it to be pitch dark. We got her a sleep mask for those nights when her sister has the light on and it works like a charm. Soft music, a burbling night toy or even a white noise machine may help your little one drift off easier too.

9. Send them off with a snack
Bedtime snacks not only fill their bellies for the long night ahead but can also help calm them down for sleep. Chewy foods like bagels are great for calming wiggly kids. Foods rich in carbs and the amino acid tryptophan encourage sleep and include dairy products, soy, poultry, rice, seeds & nuts, and cereal. Avoid fats, large meals and caffeine.

10. Set the stage
An hour or so before bed, start making the environment right for sleepiness. Dim the lights, lower noises and avoid TV (or make it low and something the kids find boring). Also avoid activities that rile kids up-- tickling, wrestling, jumping and exercise. Try soothing activities like yoga, massage, a bath or simply cuddling and talking in low voices. When Jack (3) is fighting sleep I hold him close and talk in a very low, sing song voice about what he did that day. Poetry lulls all my kids to sleep, as does singing. Heavy weight and pressure (like from a cuddling hug, thick blanket, tucked sheets or being swaddled) can make older tots tired too, while it can bother others. See what works for your particular child.

11. Read up
There are some great books that offer lots more information. The Baby Sleep Book by Dr. Sears and The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night by Elizabeth Pantley are both highly recommended.

12. Remember it will pass
When you're sleep deprived and your tot is on a bedtime strike, it can seem like you'll never sleep again. All little ones go through stages where they fight sleep, change their sleep patterns, wake more often and so on. Things will level out again soon. Babies go through sleep changes when they're teething, going through a developmental growth spurt or when their routines have been altered. It does pass. Even the most draining of their current habits will pass, I promise.

People who say they sleep like a baby usually don't have one.
~Leo J. Burke

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