Most parents want their baby to sleep early to ensure that they get as much rest as they need. However, many parents struggle with the fact that – for various reasons – their baby either refuses to sleep or takes a very long time to get to dreamland.
There are several things that you want to take into consideration to make bedtime less stressful:
1. Look at your baby’s schedule
If your baby’s bedtime is between 10-11pm, your child is most likely waking up around 9-10am every morning. This schedule might be normal for working parents who want to come home and have some time to wind down and connect with their child.
For parents who want their child to sleep earlier, start by waking them up 15 minutes earlier for 3 – 4 days until you reach the desired wake up time. You can’t expect your baby to sleep early when he wakes at 10am, in this case. His body clock doesn’t work that way.
2. Look at the level of connection with your baby
When it comes to connecting with others, babies are just like adults. They need to be heard and understood. And when there is tension, pent-up or painful feelings, they often communicate by crying. Once these needs are met, the crying usually stops.
If your child is resisting sleep by crying, check that all her immediate needs have been met: they are fully fed, dressed in comfortable clothes to sleep, room temperature set to cool, you offer her lots of closeness by co-sleeping. But if they continue to cry when put to bed, it might mean that your baby is using her own natural mechanism to release the tension in her body. By crying all her stress and pent up feelings away, she could then relax and fall asleep easily and sleep at a much longer stretch.
(This is not the same as the cry-it-out (CIO) approach where your baby is left alone to cry and self soothe to sleep. The CIO method is from the school of thought that babies need to be “trained” to sleep on their own without any aid. Crying alone leaves the baby feeling very disconnected, and highly stressed out from the fear of being left all alone.)
Does that help to reframe your thoughts about crying when you see your baby crying each time she is about to fall asleep? She is not fighting sleep. She wants to sleep so badly but her body has full of tension from accumulated feelings in the day that she needs to release them first in order to fall asleep.
3. Connecting through play
When a toddler is very active and shows no signs of wanting to sleep even though you can see that he is tired, he is probably signaling that he wants to connect through play.
If your toddler seems hyper, she might be in the mood to play catch, hide and seek or rough and tumble with you. This may happen when your toddler needs her connection-through-play cup refilled after being empty for a couple of days. The older ones would express this a lot by saying, “Mama come play with me!”
I know that the sleep books tell you to not do any high level stimulation or activity before bedtime, but my advice is to use high level connection with your child whenever you are feeling energetic enough to meet her needs to play before sleep, or when you are feeling creative and playful yourself and you want to connect with her that way.
The important key in connection through play is the laughter that results from it. Laughter releases fear and tension from the body. The more your toddler gets to play silly nonsense games and laughs along with you, the more connected he feels with you and his feelings.
I recommend putting a timer on the amount of time you play. Some toddlers might cry when playtime is over. It would help to give him advance notice a few minutes ahead that playtime is about to end. And if your toddler still cries or throws tantrums, again, offer lots of closeness and compassion while she cries and rages.
It might help a lot to do more play time outside of bedtime so that her connection-through-play cup is almost always full. She might ask less of it at bedtime.
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