Sleep is the number one most important thing in your life as a parent. Ok, maybe second to those adorable children that cause you to loose the sleep. As the parent of a newborn, you spend hours obsessing and plotting different tricks to help your baby learn to sleep. As the parent of a one-year-old, you freak out over the one night your child has trouble sleeping and pray it’s just a fluke. As the parent of a two-year-old, you dread the day you have to switch them out of a crib and into the twin bed, ultimately having your sleep disrupted once again. And then, just when you feel like you’re getting settled into a guaranteed good night’s sleep, your three-year-old starts having trouble sleeping and you are back to dreading the night time.
This has been the exact string of events for our three-year-old, Ella. We like to joke that we have ‘PTSD’ over bedtime and nighttime sleep after her. (Yes we say that as an exaggeration and do understand our situation is nothing like actual PTSD) She was up every two hours until she was 10 months old, and has never really been the greatest sleeper. BUT… we can discuss her infant sleep habits another day. This post is for the toddler sleep drama. The “1 more story, 2 more songs, another potty trip, 4 more snacks, scary shadows, I have a question” drama. I’m a firm believer in the more sleep the better mantra when it comes to young kids and sleep. You guys, it was taking us OVER AN HOUR to get Ella to bed!!! That’s just straight up brain damage, not to mention the added bonus of her being cranky the next morning after not getting enough night time sleep. After some careful research, soul searching, and trial and error, I have found a few tips and tricks to help us get this down to a cool 30 minutes.
- Bedtime Routine: We have always been a stickler for the bedtime routine. Since we’ve been having issues, the bedtime routine has become even more important. We’ve been starting bedtime at least a half hour early to ensure she’s in bed with plenty of time to roll around and get comfortable while still being asleep by our goal time. We also follow the same routine each night regardless of which parent does bedtime. Our routine is: brush teeth, stories (3 max, we love children’s books), bathroom break, scary spray, drink calm water, lay with her, song, sleep. It sounds like a lot, but it’s thoroughly worth it in order to make her comfortable and avoid a fight when it’s time for the actual sleeping.
- Naps: Ella’s at the age where she’s close to dropping naps. We understand that not every day calls for a nap for her, and on these days she goes to bed 1-2 hours early depending on how active the day was. Sometimes it’s just not worth it to fight her for a nap if she doesn’t really need it. However, the vast majority of days she does need it and, like I said before, the more sleep the better. She’s generally in a better mood when she naps. While bedtime is later after a nap, it’s also much more reasonable.
- Scary Spray: Ella wasn’t exactly telling me she was scared, however, we were seeing serious signs of anxiety surrounding her inability to fall asleep. I could never get a clear answer from her whether or not she was “afraid of the dark” or “seeing monsters”, so I decided to attack the possibility just in case. I took an old spray bottle we had and filled it with water and lots of glitter. I then made the outside sufficiently ‘extra’ so she would get excited about it. Right before sleepy time, we spray a few sprays around the room and I haven’t had any ‘scary’ complaints since.
- Calm Water: Ella’s number one issue with going to sleep is calming down. No matter how much we try to wind down or tire her out before the bedtime routine starts, she still gets wild the second you say it’s time for bed. I introduced the “calm water” to her which is a very special blend of water and a splash of juice. I tell her when she feels excited and needs to get sleepier, she can drink her calm water and it will help calm her body. I do realize it sounds like I’m introducing my daughter to a kid’s form of wine, but it’s truly really helped her!
- Night Light: We’ve had a night light in her room forever. While it’s not something new we’ve tried, I do think night lights are helpful.
- Laying with Her: This one honestly seems annoying, BUT it’s worth it and actually now my favorite part of bedtime! One of the tips I read in my research was to make sure your child has adequate time to just talk to you before bed. This could not be more true for Ella. She was frequently stopping us on our way out of her door to ask 700 unrelated questions – her stall technique. Now, after the bedtime routine is completed and just before it’s time for her to fall asleep, we lay down in her bed with her for no more than about 3 minutes. She gets to talk about whatever she’d like, which is often just a recap of her day (amazing!). We then sing her a quick song and walk out of the door without any stalling. 👊🏻
- Treasure Chest: If all else fails, I’m not above bribing my child. 😬 Ella responds really well to positive reinforcement and charts/point systems (she’s her mother’s daughter). While sleep is going decently well for us, we are currently working on several behavioral things with her. We use a sticker chart for these different areas so that she can check them off and feel good about the progress she’s making. That sounds much more serious than it really is! Of course, when her sticker sheet is full, she earns a reward. We hit up the dollar store for small trinkets and art supplies, put them in a bin, and call it her special treasure chest. And you know what? It’s worth every penny of the $15 it cost us. 😉
Happy bedtime to all and to a good night. 💗