Did you know night wakings and bedtime battles could sometimes be caused by too late? A common myth is that keeping your child up later will ensure they are good and tired and they will sleep better. This is completely false! Keeping your child up later can actually have the opposite affect because the boy is working harder to keep it awake. Let’s take a look at why this happens, what signs to look for, and what you can do in the future!
Our body’s natural sleep-wake rhythm is controlled by the release of two hormones, melatonin and cortisol. Both are triggered by exposure to light. Morning light exposure triggers the brain to begin producing cortisol to wake the body up. In the evenings, the setting sun and less light exposure tells the brain it is time to begin releasing melatonin to prepare our body for a night of sleep.
What does this have to do with bedtime? In the evenings, cortisol levels will dip as melatonin rises, making your child feel sleepy in preparation for bedtime. This typically occurs between 6:00-8:00pm. This is the perfect window for bedtime because the body is READY for sleep! When this bedtime window is missed your child’s body realizes it needs to stay awake, so it begins producing cortisol again. This is often referred to as a “second wind” and often mistaken as “my child has too much energy to go bed.”
The truth is, your child’s body is so tired, it is working overtime to stay awake and bedtime needs to happen ASAP.
What are some signs to look for that bedtime is too late?
1. Hyperactivity, Irritability, Clumsiness.
When the body is tired it simply does not function as well. You child may be less careful of running into things or carrying toys. You may notice they escalate much more quickly and struggle with self-regulating. And the most common sign parents see is more energy at bedtime. This, as I said before, is the body’s attempt to keep it awake and a sure sign that bedtime is too late.
2. Bedtime Battles.
Do you dread bedtime because you know it is going to be a fight? Or is your child a master at asking for “just 1 more (insert the most random need you can think of here).” When your child’s body is working hard to stay awake, they are going to have much more energy to put towards stalling or fighting off bedtime.
3. Frequent Night Wakings or Early Morning Wakings.
A side affect of too much cortisol in the body at bedtime is difficultly staying asleep throughout the night. If bedtime is too late, it is not uncommon to see more frequent night wakings or even early morning wakings around 4:00-5:00am. The body’s attempt to stay awake works against its ability to fall asleep and stay sleep for long stretches throughout the night.
If any of these sound familiar, then it is time to make some changes.
Here is what you can do:
Shift your child's bedtime 30 minutes earlier. This means dinner and bedtime routine would need to be earlier too. Begin with 30 minutes and hold for 3 days. After 3 days, if you are continuing to see these signs, shift again – this time 15 minutes earlier. Hold for 3 days and shift another 15 minutes if needed. If your child is older, you may see some resistance and that’s okay. Change is hard, but if you are seeing any of the above signs, your child is overtired and NEEDS the extra rest provided by an early bedtime.
Establish a bedtime routine to help make the transition from playtime to sleep time. Make bedtime a positive and enjoyable time. I don't mean get your child riled up right before bed, but use this time to spend quality time with your child reading books, singing songs, talking about their day. Check out this blog for more on how to create a routine you can start tonight!
Set clear limits and expectations. Communicating expectations so your child knows and understands exactly what will happen is so important. Take some time to sit down with your child and set clear limits of what you expect at bedtime AND exactly how many times you will return to their room after lights out.
1-2 visits is a reasonable amount. Once you've reached the limit - STICK TO IT. No more returning after the limit is reached. Allow your child space to fall asleep on their own.
Introduce a lovey (after 12 months). This could be a blanket or special stuffed animal or maybe even an old t-shirt of Mom or Dad’s. Something they can snuggle as they fall asleep and through the night.
Remember, change takes time. You will not see changes overnight, but if you are consistent, in a week or two your child's sleep should be back on track! If you’re still struggling after making these changes there may be a deeper issue causing the sleep struggles. In this case, let's get on the phone! I would love to chat with you, get to the root of your sleep struggles, and give you plan that will have everyone sleeping well again. Schedule a free 15-minute Introductory call here!