As in, bed time really bugs me these days!! I’ve somehow gotten away from some of the parenting philosophies I hold dear and it makes me feel like I’m practically parenting on a whim. What happened to “no means no?” Or, the lessons of self-soothing? And, the importance of bed-time rituals? It’s just gone straight out the window and it didn’t stop there. We’re talking serious regression here.
First of all, let me do a quick humble-brag and say my first-born is an excellent snoozer. This child is actually the perfect sleeper. The day she turned eight weeks old, she slept 8 hours straight and has yet to change that pattern, except in a “positive” direction. She takes a bath (well, now a shower since she’s in second grade and all), brushes her teeth, puts on her head gear, reads the latest Geronimo Stilton book for 30 minutes, gets kisses and hugs, goes to sleep, and we see her again in the morning, all bright eyed and bushy tailed. Seriously!
Baby Brother William was born just after Eliza turned two. She continued her exceptional nocturnal routine, while he did what newborns are supposed to do: wake up every hour, feed every hour, etc. Eventually, William joined the good sleeper club and 2006, 2007, 2009, and 2010 were filled with solid zzz’s for the Green Family.
Baby Brother Ryan was born in 2011 and two months later William was diagnosed with a blood disorder and childhood epilepsy all in the same week. Nothing like major medical trauma/drama and the birth of a baby to throw a wrinkle in our entire lives, especially bedtime routines and sleep habits. Actually, I think it was only when we knew William would be OK that I even thought about sleeping again.
Those are pretty good excuses, so I think we can write off 2011. But, it’s now 2014! William’s blood disorder has gone into remission, his epilepsy is well-managed, and Ryan is now almost three and a half! This mama needs sleep – NOW. Why can’t I put an end to bedtime battles, both boys ending up in our bed every single night, and musical beds at midnight (most nights I end up in at least two different rooms)? After all, I feel like I’m a pretty firm parent when it comes to discipline and am a pretty optimistic problem-solver.
Then, another WHAM moment.
I realized I simply hadn’t taken the time to sit down, make a plan, and seriously implement that plan. Let’s face it. The idea of an uphill battle when you are already sleep deprived is the best excuse in the world for procrastination and excuses. I had been putting this off because, in my mind, it was easier to fall into bed, exhausted, and react to whatever the night brought than actually take charge and proactively change these challenging behaviors. I anticipated a HUGE amount of resistance and it takes a phenomenal amount of energy and commitment to stick to your guns. (By the way, I think that’s an old Southern saying. I don’t literally have guns. I’ve never even shot a gun, now that I think about it.)
So, I went back to basics and made a commitment to my parental responsibility to foster a healthy sleep environment. Here’s what I did and how we are slowly – but surely! – making progress with bedtime:
- I admitted to myself that a small part of me really likes sleeping with my munchkins (warm little bodies, all snuggled up – the idea is so precious).
- I recognized that the reality is no one is actually sleeping well between the tossing and turning (otherwise known as toddler sleep Olympics). Sound sleep is imperative. It is vital to good health for everyone and happier parenting for us.
- I put a baby gate up for Ryan. This way I don’t have to close his door (we can see in, he can see out), but he is confined. I offered words of support and encouragement from the hallway, but did not give in to the crying, begging, or screaming antics. (After three nights, that ceased completely and now the gate stays open. Bedtime has now become a special and peaceful time of quiet songs, relaxing stories, and cuddles.)
- I came up with a reward system for William for staying in his bed all night. He earns special game nights or extra reading time for pulling an all-nighter on his own mattress.
- I wrote down our bedtime schedule, determined bed times for each child, and made adjustments to weeknight activities for a few weeks so that we were home to practice. Dinner: 6:00pm, Bath/Showers/Teeth Brushing: 7:00pm, Stories/Reading: 7:30. Bed times: Eliza: 8:15, William: 7:45, Ryan: 8:00. (Note: Times do not reflect age or birth order in our house, but rather the amount of sleep each one needs. Click here for the recommended averages based on age.)
- I then stuck to it – no ifs, ands, or buts. OK, one “but.” Don’t forget that there are some sleep disturbances that are developmentally appropriate – nightmares, sleep walking, etc. – and also extenuating circumstances, such as illness or special occasions. Otherwise, I went out of my to not fall victim to my own excuses (“I’m sooo tired just this one night…”, etc.) and I was brutally honest with myself. I had to truly want to make changes in order for them to happen.
So far so good, but I know that changing behaviors is a marathon and not a sprint. Many experts remind sleepy parents that it can sometimes take up to six months to genuinely change sleep habits. Sound utterly exhausting? It does to me! However, the good news is that a few weeks is generally the average. My inspiration comes from a quote I recently read: “If you don’t have time to do it right the first time, when will you find time to fix it?” Essentially, I might as well put the effort in now, because it’s only going to take longer or be worse down the road, as I’ve learned!
By the way, here are a few more tips to help bedtime go more smoothly:
- Allow time for plenty of exercise and outdoor play during the day.
- Don’t allow any kinds of electronic screens in your child’s bedroom.
- Turn off screen time at least an hour before sleeping.
- Stick to a consistent bedtime routine.
- Give lots of hugs, kisses, and snuggles during waking hours.
Good luck and sleep tight! Don’t let the bed bugs bite!