How Long Should Bedtime Take?
If bedtime is a challenge in your home, there are certain things you can try, based on your child's age and what milestones they are going through.
The National Sleep Foundation states that falling asleep should take 10-20 minutes for a healthy person. If your child is falling asleep in less than 8 minutes, they may be overtired, so I suggest increasing their overall daytime sleep or moving bedtime earlier.
If bedtime is consistently taking longer than 30 minutes, you may find the following tips helpful:
➡️ If you have a newborn, bedtime can take a long time when they’re overtired and fussy. Days outside the womb are over stimulating and exhausting for a new baby.
💁🏻♀️ Tip: try reducing stimulation, particularly in the late afternoon and evening. Turn off tv, music, dim lights etc. Try doing skin to skin with your baby or wearing them in a carrier or sling to help calm them. If they are inconsolable by bedtime, try moving bedtime a little earlier to see if that helps.
➡️ If you have a little one around 4-5 or 8-10 months of age, they might be going through a developmental leap and learning many new skills. This can lead to sleep disruptions and fussiness at bedtime or increased night wakings.
💁🏻♀️ Tip: try giving them lots of daytime practice of their new skills! Provide them with extra support if they seem upset at bedtime or showing some signs of separation anxiety if you try to leave them alone while falling asleep. Feeding, rocking, cuddling, singing to sleep (and more!) are all great strategies to help your little one to fall asleep. Use them to your advantage!
➡️ If you have a child, typically over the age of 1, who is becoming more active, walking, running etc., bedtime can become a struggle if they haven’t burned off enough energy for the day.
💁🏻♀️ Tip: try making sure your child gets lots of exercise during the day. They often need more than we anticipate. Sometimes one trip to the park isn’t enough. Try setting up a pillow obstacle course in your home or doing some silly play or dancing in the evening. For most kids, being active right before bed gets them too wound up, so give it a try with your little one and see how much time they need after some active play in order to wind down for sleep.
➡️ If you have a child whose nap is affecting bedtime, it may take your child over an hour to fall asleep! This could be a child on two naps, whose second nap is too close to bedtime, or a child on one nap, whose nap is too long for them as their sleep needs decrease.
💁🏻♀️ Tip: We often don’t know that we need to reduce daytime sleep until we start to see the effects on bedtime. For a child on 2 naps, try moving bedtime later or shortening the second nap. If those don’t work, you could consider dropping to one nap. For a child on one nap, try shortening their nap by 15-30 mins at a time. This can be tough, as they may be cranky when you wake them, but it could have a positive effect on bedtime and they will adjust to the shorter nap in time.
Remember that it doesn't necessarily mean something is wrong with your child if they take longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep. You may just want to try tweaking some things to see if improvements can be made. If bedtime can't be shortened, you may have a child with sensory sensitivities who simply needs more time to wind down before sleep. This is something you can discuss with your health care provider.
⭐️ Your emotional state plays an important role at bedtime. If you are stressed and tense about bedtime, your child will be also. Try to make sure that you are winding down and feeling relaxed heading into bedtime. Get things off your 'to do' list before bedtime and maybe even get into your pyjamas yourself. This way, you might be able to better enjoy the bonding at bedtime and not be bothered if falling asleep takes a little longer some nights!
BOTTOM LINE: There needs to be enough sleep pressure to fall asleep. Bedtime battles are a sign that your child is not tired enough and you need to tweak things, most likely less daytime sleep or a later bedtime. They could also be fighting the separation that comes at nighttime. Check out my article "The Power of Emotional Connection: Part 2 - When Saying Goodnight is Hard" for practical strategies to help your child feel connected to you at night!
💡 PRO TIP 💡: If you've been trying to put your child down for at least 30 minutes and it's not happening, take a break! 😰 Leave the bedroom, do something relaxing for everyone and take some of the stress off all of you. Try again in 15-30 mins when they might be feeling a bit more tired and you'll have some restored patience.
Photo: William Fortunato
Reference: What is Sleep Latency? National Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/sleep-latency. Aug 26, 2021.
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