Why is bedtime so hard?! As a sleep consultant, this is one of the most common refrains I hear from clients. Whether it’s all the tears when you put your baby down or several visits from your kiddo after you’ve said lights out, bedtime is the time of day that parents often dread—and with good reason. But sometimes we make bedtime even harder for ourselves by falling into a few common traps. By dropping these from the program and incorporating some of my everyday hacks you’ll hopefully be set for a smoother routine for you and your littles. 

Here are the most common mistakes I see at bedtime and some easy fixes you can start tonight.

Early bedtimes when baby is used to going to bed late

Many of my clients crave the early bedtime they read so much about or hear their friends raving about, but if your kid is used to dozing late their body just won’t be ready for early sleep (no matter how much you want it to be). If their bodies aren’t ready, you’ll likely see more protesting and funny business until their later bedtime arrives. Some babies will treat that earlier bedtime like a nap and wake up a few hours later. For older children, it could mean several water requests, protests for one more book, and demands for a ponytail because their “hair’s hot.”  

Quick Fix For Tonight: Gradually adjust bedtime in 15-minute increments. This slower transition helps your child adapt and lets their body catch up with the new earlier time. 

Screens at wind-down time

Bright lights—including those from screens—can interfere with melatonin production, making it harder for children to fall asleep. Although your child may seem calm while watching or playing with screens, their brains are going a mile a minute thanks to that extra light and stimulation. Even if the app, game, or show promises ‘easier bedtimes, ’ science says otherwise

Quick Fix For Tonight: Dim the lights and turn off screens at least an hour before bedtime. Replace screen times with quiet activities like coloring, stickers, or cuddly book time

Ignoring sleep environment factors

Are you trying to put your kiddo to bed in a sunlit room? Are there too many sounds or blue lights (yup, blue lights from a baby monitor or humidifier can illuminate baby’s room without you realizing)? What about room temperature? The ideal sleep environment is cooler than expected, at 62-69 degrees Fahrenheit or 17-21 degrees Celsius. Make sure you know the temperature of your child’s room and dress accordingly.

Quick Fix For Tonight: Ensure the bedroom is cool, quiet, and dark. Use black electrical tape to cover any of the lights cast by electronics like humidifiers and mounted wall cameras. Consider using a white noise machine to drown out house noises and ensure that bedding and clothes are comfortable and seasonally appropriate.

Poor dietary choices before bed

When a kiddo whines “I’m hungry” at bedtime, we’ll do anything to get them to sleep quickly. But what your child eats right before bed can significantly impact their sleep quality. Heavy, rich foods can cause discomfort and indigestion, while sugary snacks can lead to spikes in energy at just the wrong time.

Quick Fix For Tonight: If your tot is hungry before bed, swap out sugary snacks for something light and nutritious. Sleep-inducing options may include a small bowl of whole-grain cereal with milk, a banana, or an egg. Avoid large meals and sugary, caffeinated, or spicy foods within 2 hours of bedtime. 

Messy bedtime boundaries

While it’s essential to provide comfort and reassurance at bedtime, when kids become too reliant on their parent’s presence it can hinder their ability to fall asleep independently (and I imagine if you’re reading this article, that’s what you’re hoping for!). This over-reliance or parental intervention can make it hard for your baby or children to fall asleep quickly without some assistance (eg. patting backs, laying with your child to fall asleep, or unintended co-sleeping). Furthermore, if bedtime boundaries are unclear (the timing, how many books happen during the routine, when snacks are offered, etc), kids will continue to push until they are established. 

Quick Fix For Tonight: Gradually reduce the amount of time you spend with your child as they fall asleep. If you need reinforcements, find a method or professional to help you develop a plan that feels right for your family. And don’t be afraid to set some bedtime ground rules! These might include when lights must be off, how many stories you’ll read, and what happens if they leave their bed after bedtime. Consistently enforcing these rules gently but firmly helps children understand the structure and feel more secure within its confines.

The bottom line? You don’t have to dread bedtime! You can try any of these ideas as quickly as tonight. Having open and clear communication with your parenting partner and child will make these new routines effortless for the entire family. Remember, boundaries and structures feel good to kids. And heck, you may get to start your Netflix binge a bit earlier, too! 

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