How Do You Deal With Difficult Bedtime Behavior?

Reviewed on 6/25/2021
difficult bedtime behavior
Here are a few tips to help you win the bedtime battle with your toddler and get them to fall (and stay) asleep

As your child transitions from babyhood to adulthood, getting them to fall asleep and stay asleep can be a constant battle. While bedtime behavior problems are common, it’s important to intervene before they grow worse and lead to sleep deprivation.

Here are a few tips to help you win the bedtime battle with your toddler.

10 tips for dealing with bedtime battles

1. Start when they’re young

Try to establish good bedtime habits for your baby as early as you can. If they already have a sleep routine as a baby, it will be easier for you to continue this when they become a toddler or preschooler.

2. Be consistent with their bedtime routine

Be consistent. Ensure that your child sleeps around the same time every day. Try following the same routine of having a warm bath, brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, listening to music or  story, saying goodnight and then going to sleep. A good nighttime routine will help condition your child’s body to understand when it’s time to wind down.

3. Limit screen time at night

Many parents find it tempting to turn to the TV or iPad at night to make their children calm down and stop bouncing around at night. However, this tactic may have the opposite effect and cause delays in falling asleep. According to a 2013 study, the blue light emitted from electronic devices  is often disruptive to sleep.

4. Be choosy about what your child watches

If your child does end up watching a little TV, avoid anything that will disturb them or cause scary dreams. Shield them from hearing evening news programs, since hearing about accidents, natural disasters, and crimes can make it difficult for your child to relax. 

5. Address their nighttime fears

If your child is unable to sleep, talk to them and try to figure out the underlying cause. Are they scared of a monster hiding under their bed or mysterious noises in the closet? Try telling stories, pretending you’ve vanquished the monster, or playing a quick game to get their minds off their fear.

6. Remind your child to pee before going to bed

Although this applies to every toilet-trained child, this is especially important if your older child is still having bedwetting issues.

7. Make sure the room is dark but not too dark

Since a dark room can help your child to sleep faster, try installing room-darkening shades in your child’s bedroom. If your child is scared to be in pitch black darkness, you can put a dim light in the room.

8. Give them a comfort object

Whether it’s a stuffed animal or their favorite blanket, giving your child an object they’re familiar with can help them feel a sense of security and help them fall asleep. You should only do this when your toddler is a bit older, however, since putting objects in your baby’s bed carries the risk of accidental suffocation.

9. Train them to sleep on their own

Creating poor sleep associations, such as rubbing your child's back or keeping the TV on until they fall asleep, means that they will come to expect this every time they can’t sleep. It’s best to train your little one to fall asleep on their own. If they wake up crying, try waiting for 10 minutes until they soothe themselves, stop crying, and go back to sleep. 

10. Beware of caffeine before bed

Caffeine is not only in soda but in chocolate and other snacks as well. Read labels and make sure caffeine isn’t a hidden ingredient in your child’s nighttime snack. Caffeinated drinks or foods should be avoided at least 3 hours before bedtime.

When to talk to a pediatrician

Dealing with difficult bedtime behavior may take time and patience. 

However, if your child’s bedtime issues are more severe and nothing seems to work, talk to your pediatrician. They may be able to determine whether your child has a sleep disorder or another underlying issue that needs to be treated.

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References
Foley LS, Maddison R, Jiang Y, et al. Presleep activities and time of sleep onset in children. Pediatrics. Feb 2013;131(2):276-282.

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