Setting your little one up for a successful night of sleep involves more than just a hope and a dream. We spoke to New York-based sleep coach Brooke Nalle, founder of Sleepy on Hudson, about getting your baby and toddler into the right pre-bedtime routine and the biggest pitfalls that could be getting in your family’s way of sleep success. “I use the surf school metaphor with my clients,” says Brooke. “A proper bedtime routine is like a good surf instructor, he sets you up on your board, gets you ready and sends you out just as the wave is ready to carry you.”
Here, Brooke’s tips and tricks for getting your little ones into good bedtime habits.
At what age or stage should parents start getting into a more regular pre-bedtime routine?
As a new mama, you might be craving a routine within the first weeks or you might love the openness and lack of routine, either way, it is helpful to start shaping a pre-sleep ritual around 8 weeks. Most babies tell you when they are done with their day. Try to honor that time. Once they are a bit older, you can shape their schedule more, but when a 10-week-old is ready to call it quits, listen to him!
When you meet with a client, what are some of the first questions you ask them about their pre-bedtime routines?
I always ask them when they would like their baby to go to bed; when their baby actually goes to bed; and when his last nap begins and ends. We do some planning based on these numbers and choose the ideal end of nap / start of bedtime routine. I also ask them what elements they want to incorporate in their routine. We pick and choose and craft the ideal routine that is doable.
What are some of the biggest mistakes you've seen parents make when it comes to getting their little ones ready for bed?
- Sending mixed messages. For example, a toddler begs for one more show, one more book and one snack in bed, and parent says no three times and then gives in. To the toddler it means, “mommy's routines are not fixed and her limits are not set.” He might even end up feeling less secure as a result.
- For younger sleepers, getting the awake window wrong. For example, baby has been up since 3pm, but bedtime is 8pm or baby took a long nap until 6, but the routine starts at 7pm -- and he just isn't ready to go back to bed.
- Choosing a routine that is too stimulating. I love having touch elements during the bedtime routine, but you need to be observational. Some massages wake a baby up and stimulate her. I prefer a nice bath, then getting tight and snuggled in the towel, then swaddled, and then into the DockATot (visit our safety page for full guidelines on how to safely use your DockATot).
What's your take on media (iPads, TV) before bedtime for toddlers?
As a mom of three, I need the distraction of media to parent from time to time. So please don't feel guilty or judged if you use the TV or iPad, however, I would recommend one show only pre-bath, and then nothing after. Ideally this last screen time is happening an hour or so before bed. Also, I find that iPads and phones are far more stimulating than watching one show on the good ol' fashioned TV. It is easier to monitor, turn off and on, and then move forward with bedtime.
What's your advice for parents to sanely deal with a toddler who refuses or delays bedtime?
- Your toddler might be stalling bedtime because his nap was too late or too long -- or if he missed a nap is now overtired. Either shorten the nap or move bedtime later. When my son was three, he would nap at daycare and not fall asleep until 9:30, even 10pm. It was so stressful. I had to give in until he outgrew his nap. We found a friend in our building who could play from 7-8:30pm and then we did bedtime after that.
- Have a very clear, easy-to-follow routine. Keep it simple: bath, 2-3 books tops, even consider reading books in his DockATot so he gets sleepy in the spot where he will end up sleeping. You can have a checklist and move through the routine consistently even if your toddler is not on board. If you follow the steps consistently, it will get better after a week.
What tools do you advise parents to invest in for a smooth bedtime transition?
I am all about easy, cozy places to snuggle and an easy transition into a child's sleep space. It does not work to snuggle in mom's bed and then move to a toddler's cold bed or baby's crib in a new environment. Snuggle where you sleep! Music is nice while getting into pajamas, but the I prefer quiet for reading and white noise for sleep.
And keep it simple! Have your child's favorite PJs in multiples, your books picked out near the crib or bed, and everything you might need at your fingertips, so you don't have to get up and find Mr. Bear.
Finally, all three of my children had (and still have) lovies, and they actually look forward to finding them waiting in their beds at the end of the day.
Any tips on room ambiance to help usher a child into sleep?
I like dark, cool rooms with white noise. Ask yourself, would you want to sleep where you baby sleeps? Spend some time in the nursery, is it cool enough for you, enough air flow? Also keep their cribs and sleep spaces fresh. I love sleep products that are easy to clean for a nice sleep environment for nights and naps.
Does keeping a consistent bedtime (even on weekends) matter?
It does help to keep all people—babies and adults—on the same clock, seven days a week, although, obviously this is impossible to maintain. If you have a late night with your toddler, try to allow for an easier day the next day to compensate. Most children can endure some inconsistencies, but try to get back on track as soon as you can and be willing to offer an extra late nap so your baby can actually enjoy his later bedtime.
Overall though, your sleeper will be so much happier if she is heading into her bedtime routine right when her body clock expects it, and trust me, bedtime will be so much easier.
Brooke Nalle founded Sleepy on Hudson in 2009 with the mission to help families achieve their overall health and happiness. Her customized bedtime routines and solutions have supported babies and children so they can get the quality sleep they need in order to thrive. Follow Brooke at @sleepyonhudson.