Getting Your Toddler To Sleep Earlier Won't Happen Overnight, But It Can Happen
Like all things in parenting, you'll need heavy doses of consistency and patience to make it work
The benefit of a tot with a later bedtime is that they will usually sleep in a bit in the morning, but that's really only a benefit if you have the luxury of getting a later start to your day. On the flip side, parents who know how to get a toddler to sleep earlier get to enjoy a little bit of their evenings kid-free. For many, that extra hour at night is a fair trade for an hour lost in the morning, but if your tot is naturally a tiny night owl, you'll have to work a little harder to make that trade happen.
Basically from the minute you take your baby home from the hospital, you're being constantly reminded of the importance of setting a schedule. Schedules are definitely helpful for kids, but it's not easy to establish new ones. That's what makes things so tough when your tot has a too-late bedtime. Dyan Hes, M.D., a pediatrician in New York, explains to Romper in an email that there should be "some sort of routine" for toddler bedtime, and that routine shouldn't change even if you're trying to move bedtime up. Pediatrician and author, Whitney Casares, M.D., M.P.H. echoes this advice and specifically emphasizes the importance of "consistency and patience" when it comes to toddler sleep.
If you already have a good routine, great! Just don't switch it up while you're trying change bedtime, because that routine signals "sleep" to your kid whether they think they're tired or not. Still, moving the time frame too far, too fast will likely result in a lot of frustration and ultimately failure. Instead, both Dr. Casares and Dr. Hes recommend moving up in increments over the course of a few days. "Adjusting sleep times incrementally and slowly is one of the most effective ways to ease toddlers toward an earlier or later bedtime," Dr. Casares explains, "For example, to move a bedtime from 8 pm to 7 pm, Parents can push bedtime backward by 10-15 minutes daily for 4-6 days."
For parents whose toddlers go to bed easy, this is a long but pretty easy process to follow. But, for parents of toddlers who just have a hard time falling asleep even though their set bedtime is at a perfectly reasonable hour, you may need to change up your routine a bit. "To help restless toddlers fall asleep," Dr. Casares suggests parents "create an environment that helps them get calm and cozy: dim the lights, read a soothing book, or play some gentle music."
The hour or so leading up to bedtime is also important, Dr. Hes explains. "I am not a huge fan of a nightly bath because... some toddlers wake up from a bath just like an adult wakes from a shower. This may make it difficult to then put the toddler to sleep." She also advises against "wild games, electronics, or jumping around before bed" and stresses the importance of "making the bedroom dark, because once a child sees light, they may wake up."
Changing your toddler's sleep schedule or routine to push for an earlier bedtime will take a lot of patience and persistence, and there may be some hiccups along the way. Still, it's not an impossible task as long as it's done gradually and mindfully. If it starts to get too tough, just remind yourself of that glorious extra hour at the end of the day to do whatever you want. What's more motivating than that?
Dr. Whitney Casares, M.D., M.P.H., pediatrician, author of The New Baby Blueprint: Caring for You and Your Little One, and founder of www.modernmommydoc.com
Dr. Dyan Hes, M.D., pediatrician and medical director of Gramercy Pediatrics in New York City
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