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Why Wont My Child Sleep!?

We've all been there. The dreaded bedtime battle. It almost seems as if it is a right of passage for parents these days. But it doesn't have to be! Follow these sleep tips and we'll have your child drifting off to dreamland in no time!
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It’s late. You’re tired. They’re tired. Everyone is tired. Your patience is gone and you feel the anger and resentment rushing through your veins.

“Just go the *#@% to sleep”

“Why wont you sleep!?”

These are words I have said to myself…many times! (twins are hard LOL)

It is in these moments that our insecurities run wild. Our anger flicks a switch inside our brains (ever heard of the amygdala!?) and our “animal brain” takes over. This causes us to act instinctively rather than consciously. In fact, it is ridiculously difficult to think rationally when we are experiencing big emotions like anger, resentment, and defeat.  

Bedtime turns into a battle, and we feel incredible pressure to win. We ‘must’ win!

We worry that if we give in, if we lose that battle, then…

  • We will be seen as weak parents
  • Our children will walk all over us
  • They will never go to sleep
  • Evenings will be ruined  F-O-R-E-V-E-R…..and 
  • You’ll end up with a codependent adult child living with you until they’re 40!

But herein lies the problem. These are irrational thoughts. 

It’s a vicious circle really. Our culture, and social norms are part to blame (but that is a whole other blog!)

Even just using the language “bedtime battle” can set this tone. Psychology tells us that our language choices matter. Speaking positively, you are more likely to feel positively and so on. 

The phrase bedtime battle implies a conflict, that we are at war against our children. It implies that, as parents, we need to win (we are bigger and stronger right?). Which naturally leads to resentment and insecurities, as listed above.  

What is worse, it goes against the serve & return nurture sequence that we know is so important to child development and also risks breaking attachment – both of which are suuuper important for long term health and quality of life.

So I try to avoid using the term bedtime battle (or even the nap equivalent of “fighting naps”) whenever I am talking with parents. And, I encourage you to take a look at your vocabulary too.

Why? Well because we are not at war with our children. And, I think it is safe to say that no-one wants to step onto the battlefield on a daily (or even weekly) basis. 

So how do we make peace?

The answer my friend, lies in prevention, connection, and planning

Prevention

This piece is all about setting the stage for sleep. 

Often bedtime can become difficult simply because the child is not tired enough. Think about it for a minute. What would happen if you went to bed when you weren’t tired? You would probably toss and turn, you might pick up your phone or turn on the TV. Maybe you’d even get back up and try again later.

Have you ever tried to fall asleep with someone yelling at you to go to sleep? Exactly. LOL

Knowing basic sleep biology is important here. 

We have two main sleep forces. Our circadian rhythm is determined by the sun, our daily routine and to some degree our genetics. We also have our sleep drive (sometimes called sleep pressure). 

In order to get good and sleepy both of these factors need to be paired in a sort of harmony. 

Perhaps, the biggest thing that comes into play for kiddies is sleep pressure. Think of it like a balloon. We need that balloon to be full come bedtime, or there will be no pressure to help push that child into dreamland. If you’ve got a floppy weakly inflated balloon, there will be no push for sleep.

Ideally, the sleep pressure balloon will be linked in time with the circadian rhythm because this is what is responsible for the release of our natural sleepy chemicals like melatonin.

Too much daytime sleep, or poorly timed naps can lead to bedtime resistance simply because they are not tired enough to sleep. So can lazy days i.e. not enough exercise or activity. Or not enough stimulation. Babies, toddlers and kids of all ages need to be learning and moving! Their brains and bodies are developing at such a fast rate. They thrive on this. 

(On a side note – I have never met a kid who is getting too much exercise. Hint hint LOL)

Often parents are stressed, and try to make life scheduled, calm, and predictable. While it is true that little ones (and parents) thrive on routine, it can also get a bit boring. They neeeeeed stimulation. Too much of the same, and well…you just plain don’t tire them out enough. 

Ever notice how well they sleep on the days you go on a day-trip (even if you spent half the day in the car)? What about on the days where you go somewhere new? This is why!

Of course the opposite can be true. Overtiredness happens too. However, I hesitated even writing this here. Why? Well because overtiredness has become a sort of buzz word in the sleep community. It is treated sort of like a scapegoat. All sleep problems seem to be blamed on overtiredness, with a recommendation to extend naps, or move bedtime earlier. Unfortunately it is a whole lot more complicated than this. 

It is true that the human body produces increased cortisol (the awake hormone) to counteract that inflating balloon, especially as the balloon starts growing too big. It is also true that increased cortisol can make it more difficult to sleep, and can lead to a poorer quality of sleep too. Kids can get sort of wired and hyper. And, trust me, it is much easier to just let that phase pass, than to convince a squirmy child to lay still. LOL I call it ‘bedtime bonkers.’ 

All of this is true. Science tells us so…

BUT 

I want to highlight that society’s expectation of sleep needs ALSO differs VASTLY from what the research shows. Believe it or not, but it is NOT normal for kids to sleep 12 hours a night. 

My best advice here…Pay attention to your child! Their behaviour is more indicative of their sleep needs than any chart you will find.  

Connection

This section is all about connection. Maintaining that peace. (and for those of you who have been in the trenches for a while….making amends and starting fresh)

For many littles, bedtime is the one time of the day, where they get their parent’s undivided attention. This is especially true for working parents. 

When you think about it this way, why would they want to go to bed? They want to spend time with YOU – all of you!

I hear about this a lot from Moms as they transition back to work after maternity leave. Often bedtimes become difficult and night waking increases. A lot of times this is when parents start bed-sharing (if they haven’t already) as this is a way to connect with our children. 

One way around this is to boost our connection during the day. 

Now, I am not meaning to overwhelm you by implying you have to spend massive amounts of uninterrupted 1:1 time with your child all day, every day. (Though it would be amazing if you could!)

But, you can make a world of difference by intentionally chunking your time. Try to have a couple of small 15 minute blitzes where you focus on connecting with your child. Involve them in your activities. Engage them in conversation. Look in their eyes. Cuddle their soft skin. 

Believe it or not, but this actually can improve sleep!

Planning

So what does planning have to do with bedtime? 

I think we can all agree that life is easier when we are prepared right? When you have a plan, and you know what to expect, there are a lot less unknowns. It’s easier to stay on track. 

If you know that bedtime takes forever, plan for it. Plan for an easy and relaxed night. 

It’s all about the little things

If you are relaxed, your child is more likely to relax.

If you have had nothing but difficult bedtimes lately consider clearing your evening commitments so that you don’t feel rushed. No, not forever, but this process takes some time and it works best when you give it your best shot. 

This wisdom has been passed down by my own Mom. She has always said that the days go easier when you don’t have an agenda . This message cannot be truer.

It is always on the days where I am feeling pressured to do something, to be somewhere, to get the house clean, to do something – anything! It’s always these times that I become most frustrated, angry or resentful of my boys when things don’t go according to plan. 

So just let it go!

Live in the moment. 

I find it helps to ask myself. Will this matter tomorrow? A week from now? A year from now? 

If not…then it’s probably best to just let it go! 

Okay back to more planning stuff… 

Plan a nice relaxing evening. No, not the whole evening (kids have a lot of energy to burn and we don’t want to stop that balloon from inflating), but an hour before bed is a good place to start. Think of some activities that you can do together (remember that connection piece we talked about earlier). Puzzles, colouring or blocks work well

Cut the screens (yes this includes the TV). Dim the lights and throw some Gentle Baby Essential Oil Blend into the difffuser. This helps let your bodies unwind and know that sleepy time is near. 

Then as you prep for bedtime make sure YOU are ready. 

Run through your own internal checklist (or write it down if that is more your style)

  • Have you have eaten dinner (we don’t want you hangry)
  • Are you calm? If not take a minute (or a few) to help get you there
  • Oh and make sure that your bladder is empty (cuz having to pee will make anyone a little rushed! LOL)
  • The next step is to start the bedtime routine. 

You probably already have a bedtime routine with your child, whether you realize it or not…

A bedtime routine is simply the list of things that you do to get ready for bed. As parents, we tend to kiss our children and or say things like sweet dreams. Some of us sing a song, or read a story. 

It sounds simple, and it can be. But it can also work against you if not done correctly. It’s a very misunderstood and underutilized strategy for improving and maintaining a healthy sleep pattern.

Don’t have one? Or unsure if yours is doing the trick…then check out my FREE Ultimate Guide to Bedtime Routines.

You know what, scratch that. Just download the guide. Even if you have an amazing bedtime routine, my guess is that you’ll learn something to make it even better!

Now, before I go, a quick disclaimer. These are all important factors in a healthy bedtime, but they are not the only variables. If after incorporating some of these tips and tricks, you find that you are still having problems, then please reach out to a professional for help. Sleep doesn’t have to be a battle.

Sleep well friend,

Maisie Zzz

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Maisie Ruttan

Maisie Ruttan

Maisie helps tired parents to get more sleep! Using a holistic and integrative approach that prioritizes attachment, intuition and overall wellness, her goal is to get the whole family sleeping! Her background is in psychology and nursing, having spent years helping parents with sleep, stress, and parenting challenges. She is also the parent to twin boys. She gets how exhausting it can all be!

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About Maisie

Maisie is a Holistic Sleep & Family Wellness Specialist. Her background is in Psychology and Nursing having spent years counselling families on sleep, stress & all things parenting. 

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Calling all Gentle Mama’s!  

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Come learn some sanity saving tips and tricks to get your little one loving bedtime.