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Toddler Hell: Also Known as Bed Time

What? Bedtime at your house is delightful? BULL. You wouldn’t be reading this if that were the truth.  We have experienced “Bedtime Hell” for the last 6 years.  My children do not fall asleep alone, stay asleep, sleep through the night, or any of that other crap that sleep trained kids do.  Hell, my kids still sleep with us 50-75% of the night, on any given night. (Did you read my post on bed sharing?)

About 7:30pm each night, my husband casually asks, “Hey, are you going to start putting kids to bed?”  And then I give him THE LOOK. You know what I’m talking about… that look of death, like, “Why in the bloody hell can you not do bedtime E.V.E.R.”  (oh, because you either fall asleep WITH the children or BEFORE the children.)

Our Average Night: (with 6, 4, and 2 year olds)

  • Brush Teeth
  • Pick Books
  • All kids lay together while we read 2-3 books and then rub backs
  • Someone needs to pee
  • Someone wants more water
  • Someone else needs to pee
  • I don’t have enough hands to rub everyone’s back simultaneously
  • The third needs to pee (Yes they all pee’d before bed)
  • Good night kisses to 6 and 4 year old, take 2 year old to other room
  • Lay with two year old who begins to torture me (full body thrusts, head butts, aww sweet snuggles – just kidding – groin kick, full on screaming… aww there’s that sweet snuggling baby I love.)
  • 20 minutes into torture, I start to win and he’s almost asleep
  • 4 year old walks in to ask a question I couldn’t give a crap about
  • Battle with 2 year old begins at square one again (Silently praying for peace to come)
  • 30 minutes later: Victory. For how long? NO F’ING CLUE, but someone will wake up at the EXACT MOMENT MY HEAD HITS THE PILLOW.

Add to that, I’m 31 weeks pregnant and not exactly hormonally balanced right now.

While I can bitch and complain about the hard times we have had with sleep since becoming parents, we seem to be getting a little bit better at it with each additional child we have.  What’s the saying? The more work you have, the more efficient you become?  Ya—that seems to be us.

I will preface this article with the fact that we do NOT believe in sleep training.  If you came looking for that, then click away now.  While my children are not natural sleepers (one even has a melatonin deficiency – aren’t we lucky?), I still would never consider training them to sleep.  I’ll save the research for another article, but I promise you that sleep training is not the answer. No matter how tired you are, how defeated you feel, there is a reason and a season for everything.

I must say, my family is happy.  We are so full of love.  Our sleep has gone from non-existent to somewhat normal (for us anyway) over the years.  I will praise bed sharing throughout infancy and toddlerhood.  It kept us sane.  Once children are ready, we move them to their own full/queen mattress on the floor together. Hello Co-Sleeping!  Siblings sharing a BED (not just a room) allows them to still feel safe. This was a brilliant idea by us.  It bought us extra HOURS each night.  The key here is to make sure the path from their room to your room is safe (baby-gated if needed) and lit with a nightlight, so they can wake up and walk to your room.  OMG the glory in not having to go get the toddler and bring him to your bed! He just walks in and snuggles up. No tears, no waking a parent.

Listen to your child’s needs, meet them, love them through even the hardest nights, and remember the child you are raising (and how these moments can impact him).  BUT, you need sleep.  He NEEDS sleep. You need ADULT TIME. Netflix, wine, and sex…  SLEEP CHILDREN SLEEEEEEEEEEP.    So you put a plan into action. Wait, first you need a plan.

SURVIVING BEDTIME

(Do as I say, NOT as I do – because we, apparently, SUCK at bedtime.)

The internet is full of crappy advice, so weed through it carefully. Remember that you are the adult. You CAN do this.  It will take work and time, and if you are like us, you will throw in the towel after two nights and go back to “what works” because your children’s will is greater than yours and the glass of wine is calling your name.

But if you are on a serious mission (like we have been about 1500 times), then take all of the advice that I have researched…. And then let me know if it works.

WAIT – one more note:  NO ONE sleeps through the night.  Do you wake up for a sip of water? Adjust the pillow? Pee?  You cannot expect your toddler to do something that you cannot do.

Ok NOW on to the experts:  (With my own experiences thrown in)

  1. Alter the diet. You may not realize just how processed foods, dyes, chemicals, and junk can hurt a body.  By cleaning up the diet, sleep may come more naturally.
    • While my kids are not expert sleepers, taking gluten from the diet (We did gut healing diets – and already were process/dye free) increased the length of sleep time. It was a huge life adjustment, but the diet change made everyone happier in the end.
  2. Start winding down for bed early in the evening. Toddler brain cannot switch from stimulated to unstimulated just by saying “bedtime.”  About 2 hours before bedtime, the environment needs to be calm and quiet.
    • This may mean you must give up any social life. Oh and this combined with the next piece of advice makes no sense to me…  Wind down early, but turn the TV off 2 hours before bed?  Between 5-7pm, I’ll just sit and sing to them all while I put them in a bedtime trance.
  3. Put away the screens about two hours before bedtime. One of the main disturbances to sleep, especially for kids, is the use of screens too close to bedtime.Focus on other activities such as playing with toys or pretend play.
    • I have tried and failed with this, as my husband doesn’t get home from work until 7:30-8:00pm. After an entire day of homeschooling, imaginative play, cooking, and keeping children alive – I’m done. Pour the wine.
  4. Keep the same routine, every day. Toddlers thrive on knowing what is next. Don't think of bedtime as a chore that's taking too much time. Think of it as the best part of the day, when you get premium quality time with your little one. Toddlers fight this and resist moving along with the bedtime routine, need a clock, rather than you, to be the bad guy. Create a chart with photos of your child doing all the steps of the bedtime routine, with a clock time next to the photo. Then point to the photos as you go through the routine every night. Over time your kid will begin to move herself through the routine. Allow plenty of time. It won't exactly settle your child down if you get impatient or angry.
    • Ummmmm… I think our 7:30ish pm brush teeth and pick a book is a good routine. Baths happen every few days, and I’m lucky in PJ’s are actually on by the time everyone is in bed. I have too many kids, and enjoy NOT being grid locked to a clock. This is one of the reasons we homeschool – the freedom of time.  But I understand the idea behind this.  I do need to work on my bedtime patience…
  5. Toddler Biological Clocks. If you miss the bedtime window, you could be screwed. According to science, the brain has a window of time that makes going to sleep easier. If the window closes, a second wind is created, and the brain has a harder time processing things. Research shows 6:30-8:00pm is the general window, but I would argue that it depends on when the day starts, nap occurs, and the activities of the day. But I’m not a scientist.
    • You know this point. The point when you say, “Crap. We should have started this 20 minutes ago when everyone was happy.”
  6. A hungry belly is not a fun thing to wake a toddler up at 2:00am.  Providing an extra source of protein before bed is a great way to create a longer sleep cycle. Yogurt, oatmeal, a turkey and cheese roll-up are all great ideas.
    • NOTE: TREATS ARE NOT HELPFUL. Put away the cookies, the ice-cream, the crap that tastes so good.  Teaching good habits will pay off.  My kids love fruit or yogurt as a snack.
  7. Peaceful sleep environment. Whether you have a family bed, a co-sleeping sibling bed, or are trying to transition a toddler into his own bed, the environment needs to be just right. It needs to be dark, with a red light night light, and set at a comfortable temperature. Using a sound machine to drown out any noises from outside the room will be helpful too.
    • Check. Check. Everything is peaceful except my two year old.  He is NOT peaceful at bedtime.
  8. Exercise and Fresh Air. Physical activity and vitamin D (sunshine!) is needed throughout the day to ensure that the toddler is tired enough by bedtime.
  9. Stay Close. Let your child know that you are nearby, doing dishes, putting your pajamas on, etc. and will be back in just a few minutes.
    • Our view: Go to your child if they call to you.
    • Whether you co-sleep or are in different rooms, remember that toddlers seek the comfort of your presence, sometimes many times a night. Let them know that you're only a call away.
  10. Crying.  Sleep experts suggest using words like these if your child cries for you, cries in general, and has a hard time falling asleep along:  "I hear that you're worried...I will be very close by...I will always come if you call....I know you can fall asleep without me."
    • Have these experts met a toddler? 
    • Our view: You spend your entire grown life looking for someone to make you feel safe, you should not have to do the same throughout your childhood. Children should not ever have to fall asleep alone.  Laying with them for 10 extra minutes will not kill you.  If your toddler (like mine) does not want to sleep alone, then why force him? Just love him. 

DID YOU KNOW?

  • Toddlers physically grow during sleep. Studies show that a human's growth hormone is the highest in the night. In fact, by 30 months old, toddlers have gained about four times their birth weight, grown an average 2 to 2 ½ inches per year and acquired most of their baby teeth. No wonder they wake up at night!  That’s a lot for the body to be doing!
  • Also keep in mind that the actual amount of sleep your toddler needs may differ from others. Every child is different.  If yours is happy and healthy, then his sleep needs may be being met.

Our kids are only little for such a short period of time. It isn't always easy dealing with night wakings or sleep deprivation and I know it is frustrating for a lot of parents. I think it is important though to realize that it will pass, things will get better. You do not need to teach your child to self-soothe using cry it out. Your child will learn that skill with time on their own. In the meantime, if these tips are not working and you are frustrated, get some help. Ask your partner for help, or hire a helper during the day so you can have a break to nap, rest, or just take a mental break from parenthood.  This will allow you to relax your way through bedtime easier at night!

 

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