Carving a calmer bedtime.

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Every time I speak to parents about sleep, it’s the one thing that repeatedly comes up as having always have knocked them for six when it came to becoming a parent. We are told often as new parents that “just wait, one day you’ll wake up and you’ll have slept the whole night!” and that’s the end, close the book, we’ve ticked the sleep box and off we go into the sunset.

I could shout it from the rooftops; sleep is not linear. It’s not a track clacking up, up and up until you’re sailing across at an even plain forever and ever. Instead it can look like it’s small inclines at a time, or up and down and up and down seemingly ad inifinitum. And sometimes it’s a steep and sudden drop that leaves you clinging on for dear life.

We are suddenly into toddlerhood, with much better night sleep but often a too late bedtime. A small child clearly desperately tired and in need of sleep, but too wired, too excited, too everything to give in to it. We could stress, and battle, and end up both frustrated and fed up. Or we could work towards a calmer rhythm to our bedtimes, working backwards from sleep time towards steps that create an easier time for all of us.

I know, from speaking to friends and my own clients, that I am not alone in bedtimes that sometimes feel like a monstrous task to complete. It’s so true that good sleep begets good sleep, and the later bedtimes have been affecting our nighttime sleep and creating earlier and earlier morning wakings. Often fraught and more chaotic than one would hope, we’ve been taking steps towards peaceful bedtimes with the end goal of earlier sleep.

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Some steps towards carving a calmer bedtime:

  • Consider what helps you sleep as an adult. Those nights that you lay awake tossing and turning no matter how hard you try? They often have some common denominators with your own children. Sometimes eliminating those same things that prevent you getting to sleep can be the same for our children.

  • Create a familiar bedtime rhythm. Warm, comforting repetition creates familiarity and a bedtime rhythm that a child can anticipate. I definitely notice a different in Eilish’s going to sleep if for some reason we have a bath before dinner, or dinner is later than I’d like.

  • Speak through your rhythm. Listing the tasks that need to be completed, and repeating these often ensures that your child knows what is coming. We say “we’ve now had a bath, we need to brush our teeth, put a nappy on and get into pyjamas before we get into bed. Let’s brush our teeth now”, each time removing an item before carrying on. We often do this for leaving the house, getting ready for the day and more; preparing our children for what is coming

  • Be intentional in your transitions. Small signals that hint towards bedtime approaching can be powerful for children. Whether that be turning on lamps or drawing some curtains, playing some soft music after dinner, or beginning to quietly pack tidy the house, these can create soft shifts in the day.

  • Creating boundaries around screens. We are often told that blue lights can deeply affect the melatonin levels in our body, which in turn disrupts natural sleep patterns. Some recommend no screens two hours before bedtime in both adults and children. Strictly adhering to this is something that has really helped our wind down time before bed, but equally I don’t beat myself up if I use it as the occasional crutch.

  • Distract from the act of going to sleep. The funny thing about sleep is that the more we think about it, the less likely it is to come. Finding a distraction from the act can be a powerful tool in helping lull our children into sleep. We often put on a calming audiobook - we particularly like the sleep stories from the Calm app - or some soothing music.

  • Talk softly. If Eilish is particularly overtired or excited, we often have a little post-story chat in the dark, cuddled up in bed together. I usually speak through what we got up to that day, or what we might do tomorrow. Sometimes I turn our day into a little story of our own, and it becomes a story of three little mice or rabbits.

  • Do some intentional pottering. Sarah Ockwell-Smith recommends a popping-in-and-out method for toddlers or preschoolers, but I like to use this opportunity to do some tidying around our room, leaving and coming back in at intervals. I find this creates a really calm, cosy atmosphere.

  • Alleviate worries. We’ve all experienced fretting over worries at bedtime, and children experience no different. Give children time to share their concerns before bedtime and speak through them.

  • Sometimes, know when to give up. When bedtime just isn’t happening and sleep isn’t coming, get up together and try again in an hour or two. It might feel frustrating encroaching on your evening, but sometimes the simple act of giving in can remove much stress. Press the reset button and allow a bit more time for tiring them out.

How do you create a calmer bedtime in your home?