The Sleep Lady on Finding Your Kid's Bedtime Window
Often we miss our kid's bedtime sleepy cues because it's a busy time of day. We may be cleaning up dinner, looking through mail, catching up with spouses... But try to be extra aware of how your child acts from 6-8pm. If you miss your kid's "sleep window," that natural time to sleep, his body will send out a rush of the stress-related hormone cortisol, make him wired and create a second wind. To him, it probably feels like you slipped a double shot of espresso into his drink!
So if he's ready for sleep at 7pm but you keep him up until 8pm, he's going to have a hard time getting to sleep. He's more likely to wake up at night and/or too early in the morning. This cycle can lead to poor naps, which leads to an overtired kid, which leads to poor nighttime sleep. Our task is to correct this cycle before it becomes a self-perpetuating downward spiral!
Some sleepy cues are common and simple, other are subtle. It takes a little practice to spot the signs because not all kids are the same. Here's what to look for and how to make bedtime appropriate for your kid:
- Look for sleepy cues! Eye rubbing, yawning, becoming less active or maybe a little listless.
- Create a sleepy environment! If you have trouble detecting your child's signals, keep one eye on him and another on the clock. Try going into a quiet, dimly lit room and engaging in a very gentle activity when you think nap time or bedtime is approaching. The signs may then appear.
- Do the math! If you feel your child's sleep cues are difficult to read try doing the math backwards. Review the sleep averages for your child. Let's say you have a 2 year who tends to wake by 7am. The average 2 year old needs 11 hours of sleep at night so that would mean that your 2 year needs to be asleep by 8pm.
- Adjust bedtime! Although I usually recommend making bedtime adjustments gradually, 30 minutes at a time, sometimes with a kid under three you can make the changes quickly if you learn to recognize his natural patterns. For instance, if your 20-month-old is used to going to bed at 10pm, but you can see he's drowsy at 7pm, you don't need to spend days gradually adjusting. Just put him to bed at 7pm from here on out!