The Family Therapist is In
Bedtime Blues May Mean No One is Sleeping
July, 2008 - Issue #45
Contrary to what many first-time parents think, bedtime blues are not just a newborn phenomenon. The key to figuring out what's causing the bedtime problem is to know yourself, your child and your specific situation.

Bedtime can be stressful because we parents are tired! Children quickly pick up on our moods, which then affect how they react to sleepy-time preparation.

Are you and the kids owls or larks? Owls go to bed late and sleep later in the morning. Larks get up early in a ready-to-go mood and need to go to bed early. Differences need to be accommodated, as do schedules. Sometimes bedtime becomes difficult when a busy parent keeps the kids up later than they should in an effort to gain more "quality time."

For our kids, bedtime often is understood as a time of separation from Mom, Dad and all the activities going on in the home. Children may think bedtime is scary and lonely. Ensuring a quiet, calm environment during (and after) bedtime will help.

Children are individual in their need for sleep. Pediatricians generally recommend that, on average, an infant needs 12 to 13 hours of sleep a day and a toddler needs 10 to 12 hours. Pay attention to your kids. Do they act more relaxed and less irritable if they have a few hours less sleep or more sleep? Do they sleep too much during the day, making a regular (early) bedtime impossible? Toddlers may be taking too many naps or too long of a nap during the day.

Do your children know how to comfort themselves? Have they developed the ability to rely on themselves to calm down and go to sleep without a bottle, a pacifier, rocking, etc.? Under 12 months, it's fairly common to use outside devices to help comfort your child and get them ready for sleep. As they head toward that one-year marker, encouraging them to rely more on themselves and less on supplements helps them take charge of their own sleep routine.

Toddlers become more independent and want to control their world. Developmental growth changes may affect their sleep. Attempting to dictate the bedtime routine is common with toddlers. Use whatever soothing bedtime routines they've been used to but include some choices so they feel they have control. They may like picking which book to read, which pj's to wear, and which toys sleep with them. They don't get to choose what their bedtime is, though: That's Mom and Dad's job.

Pay attention to anything that's changed at home, that may have triggered the start of a bedtime problem.

Is there a change in the family routine? Is there a change in Mom's and/or Dad's routine? A change in the organization of the household? Were bedrooms switched, furniture changed around, or the room not as quiet? Have older siblings changed their bedtime routine? Is the bedtime routine the same every night? Some adjustment or accommodations may be necessary. Most children experience some type of sleep problems, but they can be overcome with care and patience.
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