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Late bedtimes & bedtime battles - is there any hope?


I’ve already discussed early rising anguish in a previous blog. But competing with early rising for top spot on the weary parents hit list of sleep woes, has to be late bedtimes and bedtime battles.


Some may argue late bedtimes and bedtime battles are one and the same thing.


After all, often a bedtime battle is what leads to the bedtime being so late in the first place.


But in my experience this is too simplistic.

  • Sometimes there’s not much of a battle, it’s just bedtime has crept later and later and you don’t know how to get it back to a decent time.

  • Sometimes bedtime might not be super late, but everything leading up to it has just become a massive battle ground.

Whatever situation you’re facing, the below should help. So grab a coffee (I’m guessing if you’re reading this you might need it!), find 5 minutes and take a read.


Managing expectations


At the risk of sounding like a broken record, there’s only so much sleep your little one can get in a 24 hour period. Something has to give somewhere. It’s unrealistic to expect to get both the relaxing child free evening you want and a leisurely lie in the next day.


If you’re trying to battle late bedtimes by putting your little one to bed super early because you’re craving some adult time in the evening - you have to accept they may wake early once they’ve had their fill - in which case you then might be facing an early rising problem.


So take a step back and think about what is realistic for your little one in terms of bedtime and the overall amount of sleep they need in a 24 hour period.


My naps blog has some rough guidelines on how much this might be based on age if you’re looking for some guidance - but remember, you’re always best to work with your little ones' individual cues.


My 5 steps to tackle late bedtimes


Having said all this, I know sometimes late bedtimes can get out of hand and become a bit of a habit you don’t know how to get back from. If you find yourself in this situation, follow my 5 steps to try and bring bedtime to a more reasonable hour:


Step 1 - Make sure your little one is waking up at a decent time


First things first. If your little one is falling asleep late and subsequently waking up late, you need to try and reset the circadian rhythm a bit. To do this:

  • Wake them up a little earlier each day, moving it in small increments until you get to a more appropriate wake-up time. 15 minute chunks work better in my experience.

  • At the same time, you’ll need to be tweaking the time they go to bed at the end of the day, so they’re not going to bed too tired from the earlier wake-up...I hope you’re following me!

With some adjustment, you should eventually get your little one going down to bed earlier and waking at a more reasonable time, building enough sleep pressure from that wake-up to go to bed earlier again at the end of the day.


TOP TIP: When making these adjustments with the early wake-up, try and expose your little one to as much bright light as you can as soon as they wake up to really reset that circadian rhythm and incorporate lots of exercise, preferably outdoors, during the day.


Step 2 - Dim the lights in the evening


As part of Step 1, it will help to dim the lights gradually earlier and earlier in the evening. You want to aim for the lights to be dimmed about 2 hours before the ideal bedtime. Sit down and do a bit of maths and work out a little schedule for how you can sync this with the shift in bedtime.


TOP TIP: Within this 2 hour window, think about limiting screen time if your little one has it so you don’t mess with the sleepy hormone melatonin being produced, which is going to help them get to sleep. Instead, think of some good and distinctive wind-down activities you can do in the lead up to bedtime.


Step 3 - Make sure dinner isn’t too late


We’ve all been there after a late heavy meal, lying in bed, eyes wide open, as our body frantically tries to digest. It’s the same for your kids.


Eating too late can really mess with their body clock.


I know sometimes it can’t be helped, but try wherever you can for them to be eating no later than about 2 hours before the intended bedtime. As part of this, think about the foods and drinks you’re giving, especially to older kids - anything caffeinated is obviously best avoided in the lead up to bed.


TOP TIP: This 2 hour window fits in nicely with the dimming of the lights mentioned in Step 2. So you could think about setting some calmer lighting for dinner time - which often makes for a calmer eating experience in my experience anyway. Win, win.


Step 4 - Make sure the bath isn’t too hot


How many times have you heard to give your little one a nice hot bath to help them sleep? Well, this advice isn’t actually very helpful. We all have to achieve a slight drop in body temperature before we can fall asleep and also we know how uncomfortable it can be when you’re too hot to sleep. So a super hot bath is one of those bits of advice best avoided.


Step 5 - Try bedtime fading


If you’ve tried all of the above and not getting anywhere, you could try a technique called ‘fading’.


  • Put your little one down closer to the time they have ACTUALLY been falling asleep - so they’re not lying awake for ages which creates faulty sleep hygiene.

  • Then, slowly work on bringing the timings earlier, until you have a bedtime closer to what you are aiming for.

TOP TIP: I know you’ll want quick results, but it really is best to adjust timings in about 15 minute increments, meaning the whole process could take a few weeks.


My 5 steps to tackle bedtime battles


If your little one is fighting you every step of the way at bedtime and you’re dreading the thought of the next bedtime as soon as you wake up in the morning - the below steps are for you.


Step 1- Find the perfect bedtime


Easier said than done, I know. But all too often the reason your little one may be fighting you over going to sleep, is simply because they’re either not tired enough to actually go to sleep, or they’re so over tired they’ve started to release some cortisol and are then too wired to go to sleep.


You need to catch them at that sweet spot. As I always say, fiddle around with the timings and see what works. You’ll know when you’ve got it right, as they hopefully won’t be battling you so hard.


Step 2 - Work on your bedtime routine


I haven’t blogged on bedtime routines yet, but I should, because they are SO important. It doesn’t have to be over complicated and it’s always best to do the things your little one likes - some love massage, others don’t - if they don’t like something, don’t try and force it as part of any routine.


Once you find what works for your little one, doing the same things in the same order every night gives them the predictability they need in the build up to being separated from you at night.


TOP TIP: Once you’ve gone upstairs (if you have one) to start the bedtime routine, try not to come downstairs again.


Step 3 - Love bomb


I spoke about the importance of love bombing in my 8 month sleep regression and separation anxiety blog - it’s so important for all little ones, but definitely something to devote more time to if your little one is battling you at bedtime.


If their love cup isn’t full at the point you try and get them to sleep they’re definitely going to try and fill it with you however they can - even if in this instance, it’s by battling you. Much better to work on some loving connection before it gets to this stage.


TOP TIP: Singing while they're in the bath, sitting and reading books, all these things you’d do as part of your bedtime routine will help fill up their love tank. So you can see, nailing Step 2 is important in a few ways.


Step 4 - Give enough warning and set loving boundaries


Kids need warning and you can still be loving while setting some boundaries. Think about the boundaries you’re setting in the day, if they don’t have any loving boundaries in the day, it’s going to be hard for them to understand why they're suddenly being enforced at night.


Also, there’s no point frantically tidying up toys around them, while simultaneously trying to march them up the stairs to the bath with no prior warning - it is never going to go down well.


Instead:

  • You could try some big body play, tickle fights, play fighting etc to get their last bit of energy out.

  • Then bring everything down a few notches and announce some last calm games before bed.

  • Then give a 5 minute warning before it’s time to tidy the toys away and get ready for bed.

  • Get them to help you tidy away and be involved in the process leading up to bed.

TOP TIP: Instead of saying to your little one ‘do you want a bath?’ - we all know the answer to that! Tell them ‘it’s bath time now, do you want the ducks or the boat in today?’. You’re in charge of what’s happening, but they feel as though they still have some control. Within reason and without giving too many options, let them feel involved in the bedtime routine and not as though you’re just dictating the process to them - which they may inevitably want to resist.


Step 5 - Cap or scrap the nap


Please don’t hate me. But if your little one is properly resisting bedtime and it’s becoming a real battle, it may be they are ready to cap or scrap their lunchtime nap.


If the time it’s taking you to try and get your toddler to sleep at bedtime is the same length or longer than the amount of time they’ve napped for in the day, it might need to be capped or scrapped.


At the risk of you rolling your eyes, remember there’s only so much sleep they can get in a 24 hour period, less sleep in the day may be the payoff for going down easier and earlier at night.


TOP TIP: If you think they’re going to struggle without the nap fully to start with, you could gently wake them earlier and spend the rest of the time they would have been napping doing some calm reading or games. For more on naps, see my blog.


BONUS TIP - Don't go into any of this hungry! If you’ve not had dinner with the kids as you’re waiting to eat later kid free, make sure you have a snack before you even contemplate starting the bedtime routine. Adding low blood sugar into the mix is not going to help in any way!


I know the thought of approaching this can be quite overwhelming, so if you’d like some support with any of the above, please do check out my sleep support packages, or hop on your free 15 minute introductory call. Or in the meantime, head over to my Instagram page for all my latest free help and tips.


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