When your little one calls out for you at the ungodly hour of 2 am, life as a parent gets very real. Sleep deprivation, or as I like to call it the “mombie” stage of motherhood is the making or breaking of the best of us. Believe me, after four years of this stage, it’s only just started to get better!
Creating a perfect bedtime routine is all down to you and your babe. I mean, it really isn’t a one size fits all kind of deal. So from parent to parent, this is what we have built as a family to ensure a better night's sleep for everyone.
Stick to a bedtime window
Regardless of how regimental you are as a parent, having a bedtime window has made life with our little girl much more manageable. To this day, nailing a precise bedtime has never worked for us. However, 7:30 pm is the cutoff time. This is when the lights are off, we get snuggly and share a book together. Sleep usually comes soon after.
When you have a set bedtime, everyone gets used to the pattern. It’s like your body naturally starts to wind down in preparation for that moment. You might have a mad half an hour before bed, where your little one feels the need to wear down the carpet, but this is a bedtime signal for us.
Letting my little one know she is safe and secure in her room has helped make bedtime less of an ordeal all round. Everything from the soft carpet on the floor to the glow of simple fairy lights has made her room a haven for sleep. For the summer months, when everything is brighter, we install a light-cancelling blind. The allusion of nighttime works wonders and keeps the bedtime window in place.
Turn the screen off!
From experience, letting our little girl watch TV up to the point of bedtime rarely ends well. Bright colours and vibrant music are all stimulating. As you can imagine, suddenly switching off from a high dose of dopamine just before bedtime has never ended in a good night's sleep for us.
Turning the screen off at least an hour before bed will help your child to relax. Do some gentle colouring or talk about your day together to create a calm atmosphere.
Brush your teeth!
Getting your babe to brush their teeth isn’t always the easiest ride. We’ve had every excuse under the sun. To date, my favourite has to be the classic “I’ll do it tomorrow, Mummy!” Alas, tomorrow usually has the same consequence, and the vicious cycle of not brushing her teeth starts again.
To combat this, I have made toothbrushing the highlight of her day. I have created the “brush your teeth, brush your teeth” song that involves some spectacular dancing and actions - she loves the whole performance! She has also enjoyed my storytelling skills, where she has to use her electric toothbrush to put out dragon’s fire and save the townsfolk from her teeth!
On the plus side, an electric toothbrush has taught my little one how to brush her teeth more efficiently than when she was using her manual. With dentists recommending that children brush their teeth twice a day for two minutes, it was a no brainer for us.
Baths are a great sensory experience for your child, where they can get lost in their imagination and have fun, but also relax their muscles. In our household bathtime has become a lifesaver!
Building bathtime into our bedtime routine has given my little one some of her best nights sleep. A natural phenomenon happens where your body’s temperature warms up while in the bath. When you step out, your body cools down quickly. When this happens your mind realises it is nighttime and you start to relax. Perfect for bedtime, wouldn’t you say!?
Bathtime is also an excellent way to bond with your child. You can step into their imagination and explore the water world with them. A happy child tends to mean better sleep! So what better way to build positivity and confidence in your child than spending quality time with them.
Stories shape who we become. If you think back to when you were a child, there will be books and characters that have stuck with you into adulthood. With that in mind, think of how precious reading to your little one really is, and doing it as part of their bedtime routine will set them up for life!
When you share a story together, you are investing in your child’s development and building solid communication and language skills. Think of reading as an avenue to your little one’s future. Your child’s imagination and understanding of the world all start at home.
In our home stories and bedtime go hand in hand. Although we read at every given moment, there is a definitive end to the day when you are curled up together at bedtime. Voices become more hushed, and the stories become an entryway to dreams.
The classic lullaby
From the moment you first realised you were pregnant to when you hold your babe, your little one has listened to your voice. It is one of the most familiar sounds to them in the whole wide world. Now imagine the power of that voice!
Singing your child to sleep may make you feel uncomfortable, uneasy or even dare I say it afraid, but your little one’s bedtime is not all about you. It is, however, a time for your child to feel at ease and to feel at rest. So, what better way to help them than to sing a soothing melody or hum their favourite tune.
From the nursery rhyme classic to the likes of Ed Sheeran, my little girl instantly relaxes to the sound of my voice. Sometimes she will join in too, which is parent-child bonding at its finest! Usually, when we have shared a moment like this together, she will drift off more peacefully than the average evening.
The final toilet break
Waking up in the middle of the night with an uncomfortable bladder is not a formula for a good night's sleep. We’ve all been there! If your little one is anything like mine, she will want to drink as much as possible up to the point of bedtime. This inevitably ends one of two ways - she goes to the toilet just before bed, or she forgets and wakes up at midnight.
Reminding her to go to the loo before the lights go out is one of the staples to a successful bedtime. Even when she was in nappies, I would change her just before putting her down. There’s nothing worse than a squidgy nappy after all! So, make sure there is a final toilet break before bed!
Being woken up in the middle night is one of the harsh realities of parenthood. Broken sleep and restless nights are all part of the package deal. Despite what you may think, your little one calling out for you isn’t because they want to play mind games with you! It is simply because they need your reassurance, a cuddle, or they just need to go to the toilet.
For three months after my girl was born, we experienced the allusive “fourth trimester.” I felt like I was never going to sleep again and was convinced for a while that she would never be out of my arms. When I think back, I was attached to her as much as she was to me. The only difference was, I needed to heal postpartum and figure out what motherhood even was.
Now, at four years old, my little girl still needs to know I’m there. The feeling of safety and comfort let her feel more confident in sleep. But, four years of little to no sleep have certainly taken their toll on my mental wellbeing. Then, just like that, I was given a weighted blanket, and my restless nights suddenly did a 180! The pressure of the blanket feels like a warm hug, and because of that sensation alone, my little one feels like I’m there in the room.
After all this time, sleep is a welcome friend again.
Words are so powerful that the simple phrase “goodnight” is a finality. As soon as I say the word, you can feel my little girl relax instantly. Her muscles soften, and the quietness of sleep takes over.
For a while I got her to say goodnight to her favourite toys. She would hug and kiss them before her final send-off for the night. At that moment, she claimed a part of the bedtime routine for herself, and it was liberating for both of us.
A simple goodnight is one of the best tools we have as parents. So use it well!
One size doesn’t fit all
Nothing can prepare you more for parenthood than when you are living it! If I have learnt only one thing from motherhood, it’s one size doesn’t fit all. Whatever your expectations are for you and your family, make sure they are one’s you can live up to. Believe me, I’ve been there too!