THE BEDTIME BATTLE: how to make bedtime easier!
Bedtime battles are one of the most common sleep challenges we're asked about. Many many babies and toddlers resist bedtime in the evening, ending up going to bed very late and in some cases, causing a lot of stress and frustration for their parents!
So why is bedtime such a battle?
Would you believe me if I told you it doesn't have to be? That you can have a far more relaxed, happy baby or toddler in the afternoon/early evening and a calm and peaceful bedtime? Imagine putting your baby or toddler to bed at 7 PM and then having the whole evening to just relax with your husband/partner/wife. Imagine having a nice uninterrupted dinner! Imagine being able to go out in the evening with friends!
If this is something that seems impossible for you, let's first explain why your baby may be unsettled all evening and difficult to put to sleep:
Your baby's naps have a lot to do with their readiness to settle easily in the evening. If your baby has had a lot (ie, too much) day sleep, they will genuinely need some awake time before heading to bed for the night. This can mean they're reluctant to settle easily at bedtime. If your baby's last nap is too late in the day and/or for too long (age dependant), it can also mean they're a bit too awake to go down for the night at a reasonable hour.
For a toddler, having their daytime nap at precisely the right time of the day is crucial. Too early in the day and they'll be far too overtired come bedtime; too late in the day and they'll never go to bed! Your toddler's nap length is important too and between 2-3 years the nap should be gradually reduced in length as you notice it starts to impact on their bedtime settling.
If your baby is a catnapper or a poor napper, chances are they are approaching the evening already very overtired due to a build up of the stress hormone cortisol, which is accumulated throughout the day - more so in babies who are only napping for one sleep cycle (of 45 minutes) or less. This overtiredness means your baby can seem hyperactive at bedtime and it will be very hard for them to wind down and drift off to sleep. Overtiredness at bedtime can also lead to a wake 45 minutes after going to bed for the night, night waking and early morning waking due to the cortisol still in your baby's system. Cortisol inhibits the production and release of melatonin, the sleep hormone, meaning an overtired baby will struggle to get into a deep night time sleep rhythm.
A hungry baby won't settle easily. If your baby's naps are spot on and you can rule out over or undertiredness, the next most common reason for an unsettled bedtime is genuine hunger. Very young breastfed babies can take a long time to settle, seeming asleep then suddenly waking again and needing to be fed more. This is generally a cluster feed which your baby is doing before, hopefully, sleeping a longer stretch at the start of the night. Cluster feeding can sometimes take a couple of hours at this time of night and may be the reason your baby isn't settling easily to sleep straight away. For a bottle fed baby, if your baby is drinking the whole bottle and still not settling well, make more in their bottle to start with. There should always be a little bit left over once they've finished.
Too much stimulation before bed:
If your baby or toddler is having an exciting play session right before bed, chances are they will then struggle to switch off and go to sleep. Why sleep when you could play?! For young babies, overstimulation is very common and sometimes even just bright lights or too much noise can be enough to get a young baby overstimulated. Having a nice relaxing quiet wind-down period before bedtime is a great way to get your baby or toddler good and sleepy. Close the curtains, dim the lights and read some books or sing songs. Get your child in the zone for sleep with a predictable bedtime routine.
The bedroom is too bright/stimulating:
If your baby or toddler's room is bright (from light curtains) or has a nightlight, this can cause your baby or toddler to resist bedtime. All mammals need the dark to release the hormone melatonin that allows us to fall asleep. Too much light coming into the room or the use of a nightlight can inhibit this release and your child will fight going to sleep as a result. Having a nice calming dark room will promote sleep.
Toddlers and their fluffing!
One of the most infuriating toddler behaviours is the fluffing around at bedtime once your child is out of their cot and in a bed. They will think of ANY excuse to get up and get attention from you - good or bad. Having your toddler's daytime nap in the right place and for the right length is a really crucial element to their willingness to settle at bedtime and you can't blame an under or overtired toddler for their shenanigans if the impulsive behaviour is quite out of their control. Once you have the nap sorted, you can begin to deal with your toddler's bedtime antics in a behavioural way - using the Check Method, Silent Returns or one of the bedtime strategies found in our Toddler Sleep Program.
Our Sleep Programs take all the guesswork out of your baby or toddler's day and guide you towards a pleasant bedtime at 7PM. If bedtime is a battle in your house, let us help you!
"I still remember the first time, a few days into the Program, when I put my baby to bed at 7pm and he just rolled over and went to sleep. I stood next to his cot for a full 15 minutes completely expecting him to wake up but he didn't! I went downstairs and had dinner with my husband then we had a glass of wine on the couch and watched TV. Together. I could have cried for joy!" - Emma from Australia
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