I love my kids so much it hurts. I miss them anytime I’m away for more than a few hours. I go into their rooms and look at them sleeping when it’s been a few hours since they went to bed.
But I’m not gonna lie. When 8:00 rolls around it is time. for. them. to. sleep.
The sanity of every parent depends on their children going to sleep at a decent hour and letting them have just a few hours of peace and quiet in the evenings.
But it’s becoming the norm for parents to fall into bed exhausted at 10 or 11 pm after *finally* getting their children to sleep.
And I’m not even talking about pre-teens here — I’m talking about 2-4 year old toddlers who are running around like wild banshees after being put in bed 11 times.
The ones making piles of pillows to leap off of the bunk bed into.
The ones that are sneaking out of their rooms and into the kitchen to raid the fridge at 10 o’clock because it’s been four hours since supper and they are genuinely too hungry to sleep.
If that’s you, then this article is for you.
I understand that this won’t fix those who are dealing with mental handicaps and chemical disorders, though it will help with every chid in existence, from 12 months to 20 years.
Each of these tips teaches children that evening is a time for winding down. They train their mental rhythms to recognize that sleep is imminent and help their bodies prepare for that.
And the end result is a child that is very secure and has pleasant evenings and restful nights.
Because we are humans. And as humans, consistency is equivalent to security.
So here are a few things that our family of 6 does that ensures that our children will settle quickly and sleep well:
1. Turn Off ALL Electronics 30 Minutes Before Bedtime.
It’s time to read books, build block towers, take warm baths, have a pillow fight — anything other than looking at strobing white and blue lights that are screaming to their tiny brains that “IT IS DAYTIME! STAY AWAKE BECAUSE THE SUN IS ALIVE AND HAPPY!”
No, really, that’s how their brains interpret the lights and colors of electronics.
When they look at a TV or computer screen the instincts and training of thousands of years of DNA tells them that it is time to get up.
This is called a circadian rhythm, and not much jacks with it like a TV. That’s why it’s possible for people who usually fall asleep at 9pm sharp to binge watch an entire season of Walking Dead.
So turn it off. Turn off the hyper rock n’ roll rhythms while you are at it.
I’ll confess, we occasionally do a kids’ yoga session right before bed, but it doesn’t actually seem to wind the kids down as much as it makes me sleepy, so I should probably push that back to the 1 hour before bed mark too.
2. Lower The Glycemic Index (That means nothing sweet or carby) Of Foods Before Bed.
Did you know that fruits are some of the top “energy jolt” foods you can consume?
That’s right. An orange for a bedtime snack is a really, really, REALLY bad idea.
It’s hard to work with this. Especially since adults loooove their dessert at dinner time. But making sure that sweets and fruits are cut off around 3:00pm has made our household function so much better! I make special desserts for an afternoon snack on a regular basis, but the kids all know that we “don’t eat sugar before bed.”
Limiting dinner foods, and especially bedtime snacks, to foods that are high in fiber, protein, and healthy fats will help your child feel full and content through the night and dramatically cut down on the morning hangries.
We don’t often have a need for bedtime snacks, because dinner at 6 and bed at 8 works great, but if we eat an early dinner than I like some of the following as bedtime snacks:
- A glass of milk and a handful of pecans or almonds
- A small bowl of unsweetened yogurt with a sprinkle of granola and a tiny drizzle of honey
- a cheese stick and a couple of crackers (not animal crackers or graham crackers, which are cookies in cracker form, but something more like Ritz or Triscuits)
- a meat and cheese roll up
- a wheat tortilla rolled up with nut butter
If there is any reason that the dinner to bedtime time frame stretches to the 3-hour mark we make sure that there is a snack available! Kids won’t sleep if they are hungry.
3. Make A Simple Routine And Stick To It.
Children need everything to be a process that prepares them for the next thing.
They need warnings.
And more warnings.
Make a habit of taking three or four simple things and doing them in the same order every night as a routine. Even if you get home from an event 3 hours after bedtime, or are in a hotel room, or visiting family, just stepping into the actions they are used to will help them wind down quickly.
For us, our oldest is 7 and goes and gets ready for bed by himself, but he mirrors our routine with the three tinies because it’s what he has been doing since he was 6 months old.
- We do bedtime prep (clean hands and faces and teeth, pajamas)
- We sit in a circle and each choose something we love to thank God for.
- Then we do prayers.
- Then hugs and kisses all around.
- Then we have a goodnight blessing song that we all sing together.
- The kids each get a sippee cup and two stuffed animals in their beds with them, and we tuck them each in.
It’s simple. The whole thing takes less than 15 minutes including the tooth brushing.
But they know that once they are tucked in, it’s time to sleep.
4. Prevent Late Afternoon Naps
You’re driving home from grocery shopping and the three year old is nodding off in the back seat. She failed to nap before shopping, so after fighting with her through every store you are looking forward to an early bedtime…
Don’t. Let. Her. Sleep.
I know she will be a terror for the rest of the evening, but if you let her crash for the next hour then the scenario will look like this:
- she naps from 4:30-6pm
- she wakes up and thinks it’s noon.
- she’s up until 11 and wired the whole time.
- the next morning she’s up at her normal 6:30 am but SUPER GRUMPY.
- She naps at 10am because she’s SUPER GRUMPY.
- 10am was too late to nap, so by 4:30 she’s exhasuted and naps again.
- she’s up until 11pm…
See how that works? Trust me on this. A late cat nap, under 20 minutes, won’t wreck bedtime for most kids, but try sitting down and holding her while watching her favorite show on your phone and giving an occasional tickle or kiss to get her to wake up gently.
But don’t let her nap!
5. Get Super Active In The Afternoon
Nothing makes a kid restless like inactivity.
They need to wiggle all the energy out of their growing muscles and limbs!
Late afternoon is the perfect time to make sure they get some hearty physical activity!
If you are in a situation where there’s nowhere for monkeying, try using YouTube to find a good children’s yoga session. They can do it sitting on the hotel bed or in Grandma’s apartment, and it gets the wiggles out in a calm and orderly fashion.
But the best plan is to find a play ground, go for a long family walk, or just spend a half hour wrestling in the living room!
Group play is stimulating and exciting, but also emotionally satisfying and puts children in a more confident, peaceful state of mind.
6. Check Your Nightlights And Ensure That They Are Warm Lights, Not Blue or White Light
Blue light prevents the production of melatonin, which is the sleep hormone that lets you “turn off.”
But companies keep making cute little LED night lights that never burn out.
We recently realized that our “reading light” we had set up for the 7 year old was a blue light LED.
It would take him 2 hours to shut down after his reading time was up, and we couldn’t figure out why.
The last couple weeks we have been having him do his reading by a warm light incandescent bulb and he’s sleeping so much better again!
So make sure that any lighting in the children’s room is warm, yellow light and not blue or white! Signaling sunset instead of daylight is the goal, so the more yellow or orange the lighting, the better!
7. Dress Your Child Appropriate For Your Controlled Climate, Not The Outdoor Climate.
I once had someone laugh at me for having my kiddo in a fleece sleeer in August.
“Why does he need long sleeves and legs in the summer???”
I blinked at her, trying to be nice. “Because we keep the house as cool in the summer as we keep it warm in the winter. He’s sleeping in the same temperature year round.”
Adults sleep best in 65 to 68 degrees. But children can’t regulate their temperature by kicking off blankets or covering back up in their sleep like we do.
If you use climate control (air conditioning and heating) in your house, dress your children warmly enough that they will be comfortable if they kick off every blanket!
Socks are also a lifesaver for making kids sleep. I figured out with my first that if he was barefoot in bed than he would be awake every time his toes got uncovered. Since then I’ve kept them in socks or footies and it’s been true for every one. If the socks come off than the baby is awake.
8. Be Aware Of Physical Aches and Pains
Children are really bad at figuring out what is wrong with them.
If they have a stomach ache they may be convinced that they are dying of hunger.
If they are thirsty than it’s likely they think their throat is burning in lava.
But it’s important to be aware that kids teeth until they are three. They have growing pains. They get headaches. They get hives and have allergic reactions.
If your child had a significantly unusual amount of physical activity in the last few days (you went on a long hike, or they started a new sport) then it’s likely they need some pain relief for sore muscles.
If they have bug bites from an outdoor event than they need an antihistamine to stop the itchies.
Try to be aware of their physical state so that you can help them to relax when they are uncomfortable.
That’s all I’ve got for you at this point. If I have any Mommy Revelations I will add them to this post! In the mean time, good luck getting those little boogers to shut down!