There’s always one piece of recurring advice that people always offer to expectant parents. That is, ‘enjoy your sleep whilst you can’. Parents always joyfully tell anyone without children that ‘you don’t know what tired is’. It’s true. You don’t know what tired is until you find yourself on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week! As a parent of a young child, I can definitely vouch for both these viewpoints, as can you reading this no doubt! So, what are the tips and tricks to get your child to sleep at night? Once your child is in bed (and hopefully sleeps through all night), you yourself can get a good night’s sleep too and refresh yourself for the day ahead.
As we know, all children and situations are different, and there will be good days and bad days. Wouldn’t it be great if you could be guaranteed a good night’s sleep like that famous hotel chain offers? These tips are however tried and tested, and if you try to be consistent, these should help to establish a good routine for you and your child and everyone can go to sleep nicely and wake up happy and well-rested!
Ensure enough exercise during the day
I always find that if Little C has enough exercise during the day, then she is sufficiently worn out and ready for her bed in the evening. Days where we have been stuck inside and haven’t got as much exercise as we’d hope means that her little legs are desperate to run about and she has far too much energy that hasn’t been expended. If exercise can be done outside, fantastic (the fresh air helps too) but if it’s raining then we often find somewhere else – shops, soft play, swimming etc.
Eat dinner early
It’s probably a familiar situation to you too, but mealtimes in our house take FOREVER. Factor in catering for fussy eaters and we could be sat at the table for well over an hour. Eating dinner early means that you can get upstairs at a reasonable time and not too late. There’s nothing worse than getting upstairs too late when everyone’s starting to get over-tired.
Set out clear expectations of when playtime is over
Your child has probably had a jam-packed day at nursery, pre-school or school. It’s only natural that they want to enjoy a bit of down-time at home playing with their toys (or sensible screen time). Just make sure you set out clear expectations of when playtime is over. Top tip! Your child will always try to negotiate, so if your best offer is 5 minutes, why not start by offering 2 and then they’ll think they’ve ‘won’ when you offer 5! If your child has had sufficient warning, then they may be likely to start the bedtime routine without protest or the dreaded tantrums!
Create a bedtime routine – get your child to sleep at night
Put into place a bedtime routine, ideally at the same time every night. Children are creatures of habit so it works well when they know what to expect. Ours consists of five main features:
- Bath (dependent on day) and Pyjamas
- Book, playtime and winding down
- Teeth and toilet
- Climb into bed and settle down for a final story
- Lights out
The importance of winding down
We make sure that we spend lots of time with our daughter reading books (see here for some great books suitable for young children). We also play games and generally wind down. We’ll talk about our day and answer questions. At the moment we also go through letters and numbers as that’s what she’s currently learning at pre-school. There are often lots of books read and some sort of roleplay with the dollies or us pretending to be doggies, princesses or pirates! During this time, she also tends to have her cup of milk as this tends to calm her down in the evening and help her wind-down.
Nighttime toilet training
If you are still in the nighttime toilet training stage, or have a child with additional needs who may still need protection, make sure that you are adequately prepared with whatever you need. This could be pull ups, spare bedding to hand or mattress protectors in place. It is interesting to note that children in general take longer to become dry at nighttime, even if they are perfectly potty trained in the day. So if your little one is still wearing nappies or pull ups at night, try not to worry. The CBeebies website has a great article on this, which is well worth reading.
Make sure they have everything they need
Just before we turn out the lights, we make sure that she has everything she needs. Any stalling for time requests are fulfilled once then told that’s the last thing! We use a nightlight (pink flower from Ikea) and also a groclock. We also have special comforters and toys that help her sleep.
Falling asleep and feeling secure
We turn the lights out and often one of us lies down with her whilst she switches off and falls asleep. Some nights this can be quicker than others. However, I believe that as long as she needs us to feel safe and secure, then that request will always be fulfilled. She won’t be young forever!
Some parents I know co-sleep with their children too, either in their room or the child’s. It is really down to individual preference and what you feel is best for you and your child. Do what you need to in terms of nightlights, leaving lights on or simply being there when they need you. A little kindness and hugs when they’re feeling distressed can go a long way.
Wake up calls!
Some of us are blessed with children that sleep through the night, others are not. With us, it’s a roll of the dice at the moment. There are some nights she will (touch wood) go all the way through, but quite a lot of the time there are times I need to wake up and comfort her in the night. Many, many times!
It can be quite tricky waking up and tending to her, but once I’ve opened my eyes I arm myself with what I need (dressing gown, slippers, a little torch). There is quite a lot going on in her active mind and she tends to have dreams (which she has to tell me about) or nightmares (which can unsettle her a little). When you get woken up, just make sure you’re prepared with what you need to hand (like when you’re feeding when you’re a new mum!) and a whole lot of patience.
No sooner has bedtime actually commenced, the sun seems to have risen and it’s time to wake up. Hopefully your night went well, if it didn’t then hopefully a nice shower and/or a refreshing morning drink will help perk you up.
What tips would you give for a happy, healthy bedtime routine?
We spoke to some other parents and got the lowdown on how bedtime works for them and their children. This is what they had to say:
Katie (Mummy’s Diary) –
We got our two children into a routine as early as we could. They’re 5&6 now and our routine is bath, pjs, lights down and a cup of warm milk. They know this routine now and go to bed every night around 6.30/7pm we tuck them in maybe a quick story and then leave. My daughter will stay in her bed although she quite often reads a book or plays with her toys before she settles herself to sleep. My son seems to go straight to sleep pretty quickly.
I feel it’s so important to get a routine in place as soon as possible. They both sleep through the night and stay in their bedrooms. When they do occasionally wake at night we reassure them and tuck them back in. They used to try to come into our bed but we explained that they need to stay in their own rooms. This gives myself and my husband the evening to ourselves.
Kate (Modern Mum) –
I have never had a strict bedtime, it has always been between 6.30 and 8 depending on where we are or what we have been doing. I have always ran a nice warm bath with a couple of drops of lavender oil, fresh PJ’s and a read a book in bed. Now my older four tend to take themselves to bed between 8-9 pm (they are 8-12 years old) but my two youngest still have their bedtime routines.
Leyla (Motherhood Diaries) –
I think it’s really important not to rush or stress at bedtime, as some children, like my eldest, suffer from anxiety and forcing him to bed makes him worse, which, of course, is counter-intuitive. I used the exposure and habituation technique which is all about encouraging the child not to avoid what makes them anxious and expose them (in this case my son was avoiding sleeping by himself). This was done by taking slow manageable steps to lower his anxiety. Each step led to the ultimate goal which was to get him to sleep by himself.
We did this by first, holding his hand to sleep until his anxiety levels lowered, then sitting in front of his bed. We then waited for his anxiety levels to return to normal before I moved on to the next step. And then, sitting by the door and, finally, outside the door.
Kate (Ever After with Kids) –
I think bedtime cues are so important, no matter what they are. Just a set of things you do every single night in the same order. Whether it’s a bath, story, milk, cuddles, tucking teddies away, etc etc doesn’t matter what. Consistency is key for triggering off winding down for bed.
Amy (Mum Full of Dreams) –
Ignore what everyone else says and go with your gut. Every child is different and it is perfectly ‘normal’ for them not to sleep through. Most importantly, you are not alone
Whatever the situation is for you, know that you are not alone. You may find it useful to see this resource from the NHS which tells you how many hours of your child actually needs per night. What happens with your bedtime routine? How do you get your child to sleep at night? What in particular works for you? Let us know using the comments box below or by joining the conversation on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.