5 Steps to an Easier Bedtime

The end of the day can be really tricky for a lot of families. Bedtime represents one of the biggest separations our children have to face every day and because of that sometimes they have a hard time letting go and falling asleep. Today we’re going to talk you through 5 steps you can take right away to help make bedtime a little bit easier on everyone. We hope that by doing so you can shift your perspective and make bedtime an enjoyable part of your day. 

Step 1: Connect and get on the same “team” as your baby or toddler before starting bedtime.

 Bedtime represents one of the biggest separations our children have to face every single day. The act of letting go and falling asleep can be seen as a big separation from us (even if we’re supporting them to sleep), so we need to make sure that we go into bedtime feeling really connected. This will help babies and toddlers to feel like their connection “cups” are already full, which makes it less likely that they will need to stay awake longer to make those connections with you. 

We also like to think about this as getting back onto the same “team”, as our children, especially if you have a toddler at home. There are some days that are just frustrating. You feel like you’re setting the same limit over and over again and by the end of the day you might be feeling a bit checked out or just overall disconnected from the little people in your home, almost like you’re opponents in this game of life. Well if you’re feeling like that going into bedtime, everything is going to feel so much more difficult because we’re all wired to resist those who we’re not attached to, or not feeling attached to in the moment. 

So how do we do this? How do we ensure that we’re on the same page and feeling connected before we even start bedtime? We play. This of course is going to look very different based on the age of your child(ren) and their stage of development but we want to do our best to get them really laughing with us (without tickling) and get them running around if they are at that stage developmentally. If they’re younger, we might pick them up and have a dance party with them in our arms, or maybe we just get on the floor with them and stay present and observe what they’re working on doing. No matter what the activity, we want to put away distractions and screens for this connection-building play for 15-20 minutes. The act of laughing together reduces stress and anxiety for both you and baby and also releases the bonding hormone, oxytocin, which will leave you feeling more connected, and your child more willing to listen to and follow your lead. 

Step 2: Build a predictable routine that everyone enjoys and include the transition to starting your bedtime routine. 

Bedtime routines are such a valuable part of bedtime because they allow us one last chance to really connect and also help our babies unwind from the excitement of the day and transition from awake to asleep. Before we get into the actual routine part of this, we want to take a moment to talk about the transition from full play to the beginning of your bedtime routine, and how we can make that transition a bit easier for everyone, by making it more routine itself. 

In a lot of families, convincing a baby or toddler that it’s time to stop playing and start moving toward the bathroom or bedroom is a bit of a tall order because we’re asking them to stop playing. Instead, we want to extend that connection building play from step one and continue the play into your routine. Now that doesn’t mean we’re running around in the bath of course, but just that we don’t have to get all serious when we’re transitioning to bedtime. Depending on the age of your babies, you might play a song that signals it’s time to head for bed after it’s done, or maybe you give a few warnings of how much time they have left to play before the transition will take place. Whatever it is, you want it to be consistent and predictable so they’re not surprised when you declare bedtime. They know that every day after the song ends, or mom gets to 1 more minute that the transition to bedtime comes next. 

Then let’s add some play to that actual transition itself. Going up for bath or bed isn’t much fun, but hopping like bunnies or slithering like snakes is so much more exciting. In Elli’s house she plays with the idea of separation in a playful way by getting her boys on the bottom step and counting them to ensure they’re right there. Then she makes up something she has to look for or do really quick (lately it’s been checking the porch for deliveries), and very playfully tells them to stay right there. Of course, as soon as she turns around they take off up the stairs and sit in the bathroom waiting to be reunited again, which of course is done with an over the top “oh no where did they go now?? I can’t find them?!? OH THERE YOU ARE I MISSED YOU SO MUCH!” 

You can pick any type of play that your family enjoys, but it’s a lot easier for everyone and we find there’s a lot less resistance when we extend the play into this transition. 

Then it comes time for the actual bedtime routine, which can look very different from family to family, but we typically recommend getting progressively calmer leading up to bedtime. You may or may not do a bath every night, you might sing songs, you might read books. Maybe you enjoy a bit of a massage, maybe you like laying beside each other and snuggling before more actively working on falling asleep. There are no rules for what needs to be included in your bedtime routine so make it something you really enjoy and can be present for (no phones during bedtime unless you’re snapping a quick pic). Whatever it is, you want to do your best to make it pretty predictable day to day so that your baby or toddler knows what comes next and can move through the routine more automatically, without you having to prompt or heavily encourage each step. 

Step 3: Experiment a bit with timing. 

There are times throughout our baby or toddler’s lives where it feels like bedtime is just off a bit. When it feels like this has become a bit more of the norm than the exception, it can be helpful to experiment with timing a little bit. We want to get curious to see what happens if we start a bit later? How about earlier? What if a nap didn’t go so long, or end so late? What if we did one less nap? Timing is one of those things that you just have to experiment with to try to get the right timing for your unique child, but if it feels like the actual falling asleep time of bedtime takes over 20-30 minutes every single time, then it’s likely you need to make a bit of an adjustment to your timing and daily rhythm. 

Step 4: Slow down and allow yourself to be fully present until your baby or toddler drifts off to sleep. 

We have absolutely been at the end of a long day where you’re feeling like getting your baby or toddler to sleep is the final item on your to-do list before you can finally take a break and have some time to yourself. In fact, in some cases we anticipate that highly coveted “me time” so much that we might not be fully present throughout the bedtime routine or feel like we’re rushing our baby or toddler to sleep so we can finally relax. While this is such a normal behaviour and experience to have, it tends to back fire on us more often than it helps us. 

Babies and toddlers will co-regulate with us. If we feel like we’re in a rush they’re going to feel that little uptick in stress that we’re feeling. That makes it more difficult to fall asleep because our bodies (and our babies’ bodies) need to be in a place of calm before they can let go and fall asleep. Think of a time where you know you just have a finite amount of time to sleep and you try to make the most of it by rushing yourself and trying to convince your body to fall asleep quickly. It almost never works right? 

Instead, allow yourself to be fully present in the moment and support your baby or toddler for as long as they need you. We find that by going into bedtime with the expectation that it may take a while we rid ourselves of the stress and frustration when it does and gift ourselves with a bit of “bonus” time when our babies or toddlers drift off sooner than anticipated, which often happens when we’re okay with being present with them. 

In some cases, this might be a really hard thing to do. If slowing down and feeling present feels like an impossible task, it’s most often a sign that you need a break somewhere in your day and a little chance to regroup. If you have a partner or other support person in your life, can they take your little one(s) for 15-30 minutes at some point before bedtime? Is there someone who can share in your little one’s sleep responsibilities so it doesn’t always fall to you to do bedtime? Can you read or listen to a podcast for a few minutes while your little one is playing or napping? If all those feel impossible, could you play some music you enjoy while you support your baby or toddler to sleep so you can stay more calm, present, and regulated?

Remember, your baby will feel how you do about sleep, so make whatever adjustments you need to so that you are able to fully show up for them in these last moments of the day. 

Step 5: When all else fails, choose more love. 

No matter how much we do to prepare for bedtime and make it easy on everyone, there are often times when it feels like nothing is working in the moment. In those moments it can be very easy to become frustrated, which of course is a very valid way to feel. We find that the easiest way through this frustration is to choose more love. Think about 5 things your baby or toddler did that made you smile that day. Give them extra kisses all over their face. Say “I love you” to them 10 times over. Laugh at the silly thing they’re doing instead of sleeping. You’re not reinforcing them being silly, you’re reconnecting when it feels frustrating and by doing so you’re relieving the tension and helping them to fall asleep with a bit more ease!

Categories: : Bedtime, Normal Infant & Toddler Sleep, Sleep Support, Sleep Without Sleep Training