I struggled a lot with my elder one and his sleep. He was a very irregular sleeper, would not go to bed till wee hours and would sleep only about 3-4 hours at a time. It completely changed when he turned around two years and one of my friends suggested me to follow a routine. Since then, through a lot of trial and error I have devised my own routine and a check list which has helped me immensely. Now both my sons sleep around 8:30pm and sleep at a stretch for about 11-12 hours.
Following is a list of things that I consider are important to maintain a good sleep routine (Relevant to age 2 years and above):
Follow a schedule: Plan a schedule for your child. If you want your child to sleep by 9pm (Ideally yes) the process for bedtime should start by 8pm. I recommend the following steps for creating a schedule:
- Dinner at 8pm
- Hot water bath and some fun play time in the tub at 8:30 pm (I know in India a lot of mothers don’t give a bath at night, I also tried it hesitantly but now I can vouch for it) Not only it is good for hygiene, a hot water bath tends to have a relaxing effect and water play will for sure tire them down.
- In the bed by 9 pm
In order for the schedule to work, two things are very important:
- The child should be mentally prepared that he/she has to sleep in next 1 hr. Keep telling him/her during the dinner that Bath time is in 30 minutes and sleep time after that.
- Consistency: If you have never followed a schedule with your child, this is going to be very very difficult. But don’t lose heart, continue the effort and be consistent. It doesn't matter how unsuccessful initial days are, if you keep the consistency your child will gradually pick up the routine.
Avoid late evening naps: If you want your child to sleep by 9pm, avoid a nap after 5pm strictly. Even a half and hour nap in the evening will freshen the body up completely and give them enough energy to be up till 12.
Avoid sugar content an hr before sleep time: In India a dinner is usually followed by sweets. Please avoid this tradition. Sugar in their system will give them enough energy to be up for next 2-3 hours. Avoid
Physical activity: Make sure their evening is packed with lots of physical activity. This is not only important for a good night’s sleep for also for their overall physical and mental development. If you are not able to take them out daily to a play area, plan in advance clear your schedule for the evening and device games to keep them and you physically active for 1-2 hours in the evening. (I normally plan my meals a day in advance and prepare dinner before 5 pm)
Use rewards in the starting: If your kids are late sleepers, it will be very difficult to induce them to sleep early; one of the thing that can support you for some time is cooking up a reward system. In our house we follow a weekly reward system (based on stars), each start represents a good habit/good deed (including good sleep habit) and by end of the week if the total is 10 or more my Kid gets the bigger reward (In his case its mostly 1 hr of television, because otherwise through the week he is not allowed to watch it).
Train them to sleep on their own: The reward system will work for sometime but generally after a few days/months in the routine, they should be able to sleep on their own. Their body will adjust and will start getting tired by the fixed hour of sleep. When this happens, you child should be able to sleep on his/her own. I do not recommend bed time stories/poems etc because kids associate with them for a very long time and it becomes a daily cycle which is very difficult to break. I use to just sit next to my 2 year old when he started sleeping on his own, even breaking this habit became a issue.
Always put them to bed happy: Following a routine for the first time can be difficult and will result in a lot of tantrums however try to make them sleep with a happy face as much as possible. I always always tell my elder one that I love him a lot and I am there in the house with him, so he doesn't need to worry about anything.
Bedroom environment: Though I read a lot about creating a special environment in the bedroom, I strongly suggest to NOT follow it. Reason is, if the child gets use to of sleeping only in a typical environment like only with lights on, soft music playing, with a favorite toy etc etc, he/she will become dependent on it for sleep. The child will find it very difficult to sleep in any alien environment, or with/without light, with noise. This is why we see a lot of cranky kids on trains. My goal is to maintain a good routine with basic things, that i can replicate anywhere even during travel (A bath can be replaced with a hot sponge)
And I strongly suggest avoiding TV in the bedroom. It will tempt them.
These points have helped me a lot and I sincerely hope that it is useful for each and everyone who reads it however do note that each child is different hence not everything I discussed can be applied to every child. The key is to realize the importance of a routine and discipline and take it forward from there.
Best of luck, lets build beautiful memories
Image courtesy peasap