Helping Your Kids Get to Sleep Earlier – the Easy Way
Since sleep impacts so much of our quality of life from immune function to mental health, I am a huge advocate of early bedtimes especially for little kids.
If you read my last article where I explained why my kids are all in bed before 8 p.m., you know I’m fairly convinced that an early bedtime is better for everyone involved. I also know that an early bedtime can be really hard for some families to achieve, so I’ve nailed down a few of my biggest tips to help you work towards moving bedtime to an earlier time if you have a little night owl!
- - Set an early and consistent wakeup time. For most young kids and babies, a +/-12 hour night is the goal to shoot for. If your child is waking up at 10 a.m., they’re not going to be able to hit the hay at 7 p.m. without an adjustment in their wakeup time. If you want your kiddo to be down between 7-8 p.m., you want to make sure they are up no later than that same time in the morning. If you find that isn’t doing the trick, try waking them a little earlier. It takes a few days of a consistent wake time to set in, but once it does, it's a huge way to help jumpstart your child’s early bedtime success.
- - I think my biggest sleep tip has to do with aiding your child’s natural circadian rhythm. The best way to do this is by light patterns – as these, more than anything, signal to the brain what time it is and when to naturally release melatonin and other sleep and wake hormones. There is research that shows that even a few minutes of bright morning light first thing in the morning is one of the best ways to do that. It’s a bonus if you’re able to actually go outside and physically absorb the sun for a few moments – a quick morning walk to the mailbox or tagging along to take the dog out is a great way to do this. If weather doesn’t permit, opening all of your blinds first thing in the morning and having your child play in the sunlight as they get dressed and start their day is a fantastic habit to form. As far as evening goes, I try to be very aware of the artificial light we turn on in our home. This means all overhead lights, lamps, and especially screens. The best evening lighting to signal to your brain that it’s getting close to sleeping time is by transitioning soft, warm lights at that time. As the sun sets, I usually turn off the harsh overhead lights and turn on softer lamps throughout our home, it helps our brains wind down tremendously.
- - On that note, screens in general, especially near bedtime, are very notorious for being major circadian disruptors and are heavily linked to hyperactivity in kids. This is not something you want increased near bedtime. Try swapping out tablets and T.V. at night for good old-fashioned books and see if that helps make a difference in your kiddo’s ability to wind down. You may receive some pushback over the first few days, but after a while you might find that some low-key family connecting helping everyone overall, especially the ability to relax at a deeper level.
- - Physical activity is huge for sleep. Have you ever taken your kiddos swimming on a summer day and found that they’ve passed out in the car before you even get home? Not only is it obviously healthy for them physically and mentally, but exercise is the best thing in the world for sleep. This takes a bit more creativity in the wintertime, but in decent weather there is so much a kid can do outside to move their body and wear themselves out. A bonus is that you get to check off getting natural light to help set their circadian rhythms when they play outside. If your child just doesn’t seem very tired early at night or it takes them a long time to fall asleep, try upping their physical activity throughout the day and give them lots of opportunities to wear themselves out. It’s one of the surest ways to get them down earlier.
- - Having bedtime routines and rituals are especially important for young kids. After it becomes consistent, it signals to their brain what is next – sleep! When there is predictability involved, tantrums and emotional outbursts decrease, allowing bedtime to be a little less painful. For us, our evening routine looks something like this: everyone helps clean up after dinner and they play with dad while mom turns down the lights and lays out pajamas, go upstairs and get pajamas on, go potty and brush teeth, lay out clothes for the next day, and then we all spend some time hanging out in sister’s room while we read to the kids and talk with them about their days. We make sure to have dim lighting for the whole routine. We then turn off the lights and say prayers and sing a song with each child in their bedrooms, and then that’s it! There are some times where our kids ask us to come back in for this or that, but in general they know that if they are playing, talking, or not trying to sleep once we leave their room, they lose privileges the next day. For that reason, they’re pretty good about staying quietly in their beds. It does take a lot of practice and sometimes still needs some reinforcing and reminding!
If you try any of these out, let us know! What do you think is the biggest factor in kids sleep? Is there a tip that makes or breaks it for your child?