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Bedtime Too Late

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Sleep > Bedtime Too Late


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17-month-old up till 10:30 or 11pm

July 2004

I am writing on behalf of a friend who is struggling with bedtime and her 17 month old. Her situation has been unique in that during baby's first year dad was dying; he passed away as she turned one. As a result baby was never set up with a bedtime, instead mom would set her in front of the tv after dinner and a bath. She typically doesn't fall asleep until 10:30 or 11:00 pm, then wakes during the night. Her mom is exhausted, a combo of sleep deprivation and grief. She is getting some help with the grief, but now we need to work on changing baby's bedtime (we're aiming for 8:00p), as well as the bedtime ritual. ''Cry it out'' is not an option... mom tried this three nights and baby never fell asleep and ended up with a raw throat. Mom is understandably protective and wants help to teach baby to sleep without causing harm (physical or psychological). What suggestions do you sage parents have for us? Rachel


Sympathies to your friend... this is a tough one to answer because I don't know the child's schedule? Does she have one? It would help to get her first on a consistant schedule? Also, I noticed that my 17 month old girls have changed in their own sleeping patterns and one likes to stay up one hour later (9:00/9:30)than her sister. If your friend can give her daughter an early dinner, say 5:00/6:00 p.m., then play, then bath, then story time in bed by 8:00/8:30 p.m., try putting her daughter in her bed with her and with small night light read and maybe sing songs and finally lay down with her on the bed, holding her until she falls asleep. This works for my girls, and then I tranfer them to their cribs. If her daughter wakes up in the middle of the night, your friend ! should just bring her to bed with her if she doesn't already. Grief and exhaustion is hard, and she'll need wonderful friends and family to assist her and her daughter to get through this tough time. All the best! Leah
8pm might be a little optimistic for a toddler who's currently staying up until 11. Generally changing bedtimes means adjusting naptimes -- we needed at least five hours between naptime and bedtime. The other thought I have is that this might be a circumstance where sleeping with the toddler makes a lot of sense. It's calming and sleep-inducing for both mother and child. This way both of them might get more sleep. Is the mother in touch with Pediacare? That's an organization that helps families where a parent has died. A friend who was widowed a year or so ago, is finding the group she's in very helpful. Her child is older-- school age-- and is also in a bereavement group there. anon
My heart goes out to your friend. My child was a terrible sleeper until recently. When we switched his bedtimes, I found the following advice helpful:

1. set up a routine so the child will have an inner clock that will alert him bed is coming. In our house, its put away toys, feed the kitty and brush teeth. Then read a book in bed. Keep the order the same every night. Kids thrive on rhythm, it makes them feel secure that they know what is coming next. Also, it reduces any ''battles''.

2. Move the bedtime up every night by about 15-20 minutes so the child slowly gets used to the new time. If the child is going to bed at 11 now, it will probably take 2 weeks, but s/he will get there and will eventually physically be ready for it.

3. Don't let the child watch TV -- much too stimulating for a young mind, especially before bedtime. warm wishes to you all, Kim


''Crying it out'' never worked for my son either. But I tried a sort of ''sleep weaning'' (that's what I called it, anyway). The goal was for my son to be comfortable falling asleep by himself. So first I started by sitting on the bed until he fell asleep, but not laying down with him. I did this for 2 or 3 nights. Then I would sit on the floor next to the bed for a few nights. Then on the floor but farther away from the bed. And so on, until I was even sitting in the hallway for a while! As long as he knew that I was nearby, he felt comfortable and gained confidence. You may also try waking the baby earlier in the morning so that he will be more tired earlier in the evening. And then making naptime earlier too. But! I would not eliminate a nap. Some kids get overtired and really wound-up without a nap at that age. Good luck. Ruth

18-month-old up till 11pm

Does anyone have advice on how to get a wide-eyed toddler to bed before 11 pm? Suddenly, my 18-month old has become a night owl. She has always been difficult to put to bed, but we usually managed to get her to sleep in her crib by 9:00 at the latest. Now, however, she seems to get a second wind, (often around the time Dad comes home from work) which keeps her going and going and going...

Our previous nighttime rituals no longer work (reading and lullabye music)--she just gets up and starts roaming around the house,looking for toys and wanting to play. The past couple of nights we've put a video on which has proved successful in calming her down and getting her to sleep a little earlier than 11, but we're a bit uncomfortable with this (for fear she'll become addicted). The later it gets the more obstinate she becomes. If we try to divert her from her course she gets hysterical. Even turning out the light sets her off. We've tried shortening the length of her nap which, so far, hasn't had any impact.

(Developmentally, she seems to be going through a big spurt, with new words and skills almost every day. Perhaps this is having some effect?) Any suggestions (besides letting her cry it out)? Debbie


Our daughter went through a difficult bedtime settling-in time around 18 months. Brazelton suggests that the growth spurts really do keep a child up, or wake a child up as they keep practicing in their sleep. So maybe that is the cause of the current phase. What we did was to have a regular bedtime in the crib. If she started crying, one of us would go back into her room and either pat her, or pick her up to hold for a minute, then put her back in the crib. Then we would try to leave the room. If it became clear that she was going to cry and fuss, one of us would sit in the room, in the dark, until she fell asleep. Sometimes it took 30-45 minutes of just sitting and gently humming or saying reassuring things. She would cry a lot sometimes while I was there in the dark (or if my husband was there in the dark and she wanted me). But I feel differently about this crying than leaving her to cry it out alone. The phase passed in a few months. Sometimes it was hard to give up my evening time to sit in the dark...but it did pass. Good Luck!! Karen
At about the same age (18 mos), or younger, my daughter stayed up late (10:30-midnight) for about 9 months to a year. Our doctor could recommend only trying to eliminate or shorten her nap, which was unrealistic for her care-taker Monday-Friday, or wake her up earlier, so she'd be more tired at night, which was unrealistic for me, and hard to do, anyway.

After awhile, I figured out that each kid has her own sleep pattern, although generally they need about 11-13 hours/day if they're toddlers or preschoolers. And that pattern may change somewhat: Now my kid is usually asleep by 9:30, gets up an hour or so earlier, and resists settling down for a nap. (She's 4-1/2 now.) There is variation in the amount of sleep we need as adults, so why shouldn't that be true for children as well? I don't agree with trying to get a kid to sleep if she doesn't seem tired, or waking him up if he's clearly needing more sleep. Unfortunately, we sometimes have to do the latter, in order to get to work and school. But I gave up trying to get my kid to sleep in order to have more time for myself, because it just doesn't work, not at this younger age at least.

There's a good book called something like "Helping Your Child Sleep Through the Night," sorry I can't remember the authors' names. But ultimately, we just had to wait until she was ready and tired enough to go to bed and fall asleep earlier. Nancy


3 year old can't fall asleep

July 2002

HELP! My almost 3 year old daughter is taking 1.5-2.5 hours to fall asleep at night. She is silent the whole time, just tosses and turns. My husband and I take turns sitting in the room reading til she falls asleep. She usually naps from 2 -4 p.m. and goes to bed between 7:30 pm - 8:30 pm. But even on no nap days, it takes a long time for her and on those days it is pure hades in our house by 5 pm. What to do?? Cut out her nap (which I really think she still needs)or just hang on in the hopes it will get better?? Anyone else been here? Jen


We have definitely been there. When we asked our daughter's preschool teacher for advice, she said that the nap might be the culprit, but to be aware that kids don't just give up naps all of a sudden -- there may be times when they don't need it, and then they can go back to needing it again. So we ended up experimenting and found that it was best to keep nap time but to limit it to an hour a day. That way she had stamina until bedtime, but she was tired enough then to fall asleep almost as soon as the lights went out. All this happened a few months ago, and by now our daughter seems to have reset her clock so that she only naps about 45 minutes to an hour on most days; she still takes longer naps when needed, and she can also make it through a day without a nap at all. Hope this helps. Lauren
I would stop sitting in the room with her. Kids need to learn to fall asleep on their own and they can't do that if you're with them. Sometimes my son doesn't fall asleep right away, but he knows to stay in his toddler bed. He just hangs out and talks to himself. Even if he isn't sleeping, he is resting (and so am I!). Anon
My son is almost 2-1/2 and also has trouble winding down at night. We lie down with him and usually it will take about 1/2 hour until he is asleep. He naps for 1 to 1-1/2 hours in the late afternoon and bedtime is 9:00. 7:30-8:30 seems VERY early for your little one. Why not try quiet play/reading in the evening and pushing back her actual bedtime to 9:00? You would lose some reading time, but could get some other household ''puttering'' done while she winds down before bed. My experience with cutting out the nap has been the same as yours-- don't do it yet, she doesn't sound ready! Good luck! Judy
I would suggest that the nap begin earlier - can it be from 1:00 to 3:00 instead of 2:00 to 4:00? Our 4-year-old is also a nightmare if she doesn't nap - she naps for several hours on the weekends, though at preschool they nap from 1:00-3:00 and then wake them up. She is one of the last in her group to still nap, but I firmly believe and teach her that every person's body is different and that her body needs naps. Our daughter's bedtime is 8:00 and always has been. She tends to fall asleep around 8:30, though she's in bed at 8:00. After reading books and singing songs, though, it's lights out. I do not stay in the room with her. I do tell her that she can talk or sing quietly to her stuffed animals if she wants to, and she normally does that until she falls asleep. By the end of the week she falls asleep more easily as she's more exhausted (as we are). I agree that it would be better for you not to stay in the room with her and try to get her used to falling asleep on her own. I have trouble falling asleep as well, so I can relate to your child's inability to settle down. My mind keeps racing even when my body is exhausted and it's very frustrating. Lori

Trimming 3-year-old's bedtime ritual

July 2002

We have a very active three-year-old boy who goes to sleep at about 10 or 11pm with two bottles, about a half-hour or more of chewing on mommy's hair, and many many ''t-rex ice cream store'' stories. Obviously, we made a big mistake when he was younger by letting our exhaustion rule the way he learned to fall asleep. Does anyone else have this problem, where a child has multiple sleep crutches? Should we deal with them all at once (no bottle, no mommy) or one at a time? We are thinking of establishing a routine of bath, book (maybe one bottle during book?), and then we tell him goodnight and leave the room; we figure the first couple nights or so he'll get up a lot and cry a lot, and then calm down after that. Is this a realistic expectation? He naps at preschool (too long in my opinion--about two and a half hours) and falls asleep by himself there. But when he's home on the weekends, he won't fall asleep for his nap unless we give him a bottle and drive him around. He still needs some kind of a nap--if he doesn't have one he's so unhappy around 4pm and for the rest of the evening. Do we use the same technique for his nap? Thanks for any advice. Jodi


There was an article about this in Family Fun magazine a couple of months ago. One suggestion that they had was making your bedtime expectations very explicit with your child (e.g. one bottle, two books, then lights out)and then devising a reward system to reinforce the behavior. For example, you could get a little calendar, and every night your child follows the routine, he gets a sticker to put on it in the morning. If he is old enough to understand numbers, you could even build in that after 3 days or 5 days of stickers, he can get some reward (a trip to the zoo, a desired toy). I actually did the sticker thing for my two year old daughter's naps and was amazed at how it changed things. Instead of getting into a power struggle around her sleeping, I was able to say things like, ''I really want to put a sticker on your nap chart today, but we can't if you don't settle down.'' It puts you in the position of being on the same side as your child instead of embattled with her. Hooray for that! -- Ilana
We went through this with our daughter, who is now 4.5 years old, just around the time she also was three years old. Our bedtime routine with her was nuts--books, songs,handholding, drinks, snacks, and then sitting with her until she fell asleep. (Even with all that, she used to come out of her room DOZENS of times before falling asleep.)It was an absolute nightmare. We realized we had to change it because a) it was exhausting for us; and b)we were about to have another baby, and there was no way I'd be able to handle a bedtime routine like that with a newborn baby to take care of, too.

So while I was still pregnant, we trimmed the bedtime routine little by little. We announced that from now on, she would have just three books, max, and one song. Then we announced that she could read to herself as long as she needed to, but I wouldn't sit by her bed waiting for her to sleep anymore. This met with some protests (we generally like a more collaborative method of making household rules, but this was a desperate situation) but not too bad. Today (a year later), she gets three books, a drink, and rarely asks for songs. She still stays up reading, but that's fine. For awhile we reverted to giving her snacks in bed (healthy snacks), but I've put my foot down on that one again, due to the risk of tooth decay and unwanted critters in her bedroom.

It really did work; it really can be done. And our bedtimes are much more peaceful now. I suppose some people will say do it cold turkey; I think you have to consider your child's temperament. Anonymous


As it happens, I have a 3 year old boy with a pretty elaborate bedtime routine too. (And like yours he takes a late, long afternoon nap and stays up pretty late, about 9:30, which I'm OK with, becaue I work until 6:30 p.m.) Until recently his routine consisted of four books, with milk and snack, then prayers, then mommy singing 4 songs with lights out (particular songs in particular order), then I had to give him 3 hugs, kiss his finger, kiss his toe, and shake his hand. Then I would be called back for a drink of water, and to put a towel on his tummy, give him some ''water medicine'' (he would say his tummy hurt and he needed medicine - I would give him water in a spoon)etc etc etc. It seemed like every night one new thing got added to the list (and all the others stayed on). His dad (who had 3 children before this one) lost patience with this at the point the ''secret handshake'' was added to the drill, but I was convinced it couldn't be altered. How it came to an end was I got sick one night - could barely walk - and had to bow out of the routine. Daddy explained I was very tired and we were going to read two books, I would give hugs, and then Daddy was putting him to bed. There was a slight protest, but not much, and to my total amazement, he was in bed with lights off and quiet before I'd even limped to my bed. I would try explaining to your 3 year old you are going to do things differently, and spell out exactly what you are going to do (2 stories, milk, whatever), and then do it. Three year olds can understand quite a bit, and they can count! Mine also really likes knowing what we are going to do before we do it. Be nice about it, and calm, and also talk about how much fun you will have in the morning after a good night sleep (''after you go to sleep, then you will wake up and we will have breakfast etc etc.''(I think it helps if they don't focus on just the getting to sleep part.) If your boy is like mine (much more interested in the big Mommy routine but not so needy with Dad) I think it helps to have only stories with Mommy and then Daddy comes in for the big finish, solo. Good luck!!!!!!
P.S. Final tip - I notice he gets more needy and obsessive the more tired he gets. Try starting the routine a little earlier. Fran
I found my 3yr old's bedtime stretching to 1-1/2 hours.I've cut it to about 30 mins. Now, he brushes his teeth, puts on pajamas, then we read two books in the rocker.After reading I rock him for about 5-10 mins. You have the right idea about the bedtime routine. You're right he will protest greatly at first. Your expectations are realistic. As far as the nap I found my 3yr old frequently doesn't nap on the weekends. He power naps for 15-30 mins.usually in the car on the way home. I think he is phasing out naps slowly. Like your son he needs some kind of sleep during the day. If you want to keep the naptime going try a naptime routine similar to the bedtime one. Good luck. glenda
Great ideas already given for trimming the rituals. We never *ever* violate the two books routine, daddy reads one, mommy reads another. Daughter gets to pick the stories, and who reads which one, and who goes first. But when you get routine-creep, it is absolutely possible to change it to save your sanity.

When my daughter was in the ''jack in the box'' popping up and screaming for an hour as we put her back down repeatedly stage (such joy) we instituted a ''Mommy will sit with you and count'' response. She needed something calming, and we figured it would help her learn numbers, too. (I remind Daddy regularly that the teenage years are ahead and I will soon enough lose favored-parent status. Sometimes he's not even jealous, just pities me ;-) ) .

Soon, counting to twenty got really old for me, and I got tired of nodding off in the chair in her room. I told her I would count to ten, count one time only, and then she would go to sleep, I would go get ready for bed and see her in the morning. Now it's just a quick counting to three, and usually she drops off right away. I also remind our daughter at bedtime that she won't be missing out on anything, because we will all be sleeping, including the dog, and we will all have fun the next day.

I have friends who do not explain anything to their kid, and never have, yet I have found it to be the best strategy for coping with almost any issue. When our daughter was an infant and we left her with a grandparent or sitter, we always explained to her what we were doing, that we would be back and what would happen when we returned. Grandma thought we should sneak away while she was distracted, our friends with older kids looked at us like we were total wackos who had been living in Berkeley too long, but it seemed respectful of her. Now, she has no big issues around departures. Going to sleep is like a departure, and raises those abandonment issues. Ann


3.5 year old refuses to go to sleep

April 2002

My 3.5 year old daughter has always had trouble going to sleep. I had a rough time putting her to bed till last year. Cutting out afternoon naps never made any difference and still makes no difference. Somehow, last year she settled into a bedtime around 9:30 pm (after warm milk at around 9:00 pm we go upstairs around 9:15 pm for brush and change, downstairs to say goodnight to dad and get a sip of water and then to bed). After some cajoling and yes, sometimes even scolding, she would fall asleep between then and 10:00pm, later than we liked but its better than midnight.

Since two nights ago, I don't know what has gotten into her. She refuses to go to sleep, no matter what we say. I have to admit that after 2.5 hours of cajoling/singing/cuddling/''letting her play for the last 5 minutes''/getting numerous sips of water, all to no result, I have lost my cool and screamed at her. Absolutely nothing has any effect, she just argues ceaselessly about how kids sometimes do this and she is just a kid and that sleeping is not fun etc. She finally falls asleep around midnight or later depending on when she runs out of gas.

We are at our wits end, we feel like we have no private time left whatsoever, it has been just 3 days of this, but it seems intolerable. We feel defeated. If anyone has any advice or has been through this, please help.


You did not mention how long you let your daughter sleep in the morning. She won't need more than 10 hours of sleep. Do you let her sleep until 8am or longer? Then she could not be naturally tired before 10pm. You can't have it both ways - early evenings and late mornings. I picked early evenings. Our alarm rings at 6am and our 5 year old daughter daughter is naturally tired at 8pm and asleep at 8:15pm every night. On weekends she'll sleep til 7am and crawls in with us for cuddles and play, and she'll be asleep by her regular bed time. A Mom
The few times that my kids flat-out refused to go to bed we took the strategy of telling them that could play quietly in their room until they were ready to go to sleep, but that we would not be playing with them or paying attention to them. It seemed to work--you can't force kids to be sleepy if they aren't and I think my kids liked being in control of when they went to bed. I have a nephew who has a hard time going to sleep and his parents have a similar arrangement of ''after such-and-such time it's time for you to be either in bed or playing quietly in your room''. They have a nightly story/ getting ready for bed routine and after that it's bedtime or roomtime. Adele
Our 3.5 year old daughter JUST learned to sleep on her own (after more than 2 years in a family bed and another year of the hour-and-a-half-a-night bedtime ritual followed by endless debates of the kind you describe, with her actually falling asleep around 11:30.)

What worked for us was this: keeping ALL sleepy-time rituals IN HER BED. Teeth will have to be brushed first, obviously, but after that DO NOT LET HER OUT OF BED. Our daughter had been having milk in bed while we read stories, and then getting up to brush her teeth, and we finally realized that was waking her right back up.

So now we do milk first, brush teeth, get in bed for stories, have a BRIEF snuggle with mommy in the bed, and then she actually goes to sleep. We had to work up to this a little....at first, we talked about the change we were making, and then, after stories and a quick snuggle, one of us sat in a chair with her beside her bed, but were insistent that we were not going to get back in her bed and she was not going to get out of her bed. For a few nights, she fussed and complained (and in extreme cases, I let her snuggle with me IN THE CHAIR for a couple of minutes, then put her back in the bed.) Miraculously, though, after just a few days, she seemed to get the idea that she wasn't going anywhere, and she began snuggling down and falling asleep within just a few minutes. We slowly moved the chair further and further from her bed, and after just a couple weeks, she decided it was okay if we left the room while she was still awake.

I would never, never, never have believed it would work--I thought she'd discover coffee and cigarettes before she'd learn to get herself to sleep. But now we actually have some time in the evenings while my husband and I are AWAKE and ALONE, and it's just marvellous. Elise


My daughter always a harder time to go to bed when she stays home all day (less activity and running around). If I take her out and do a lot of things all day, she gets really tired and goes to bed in 5 mins instead of 45 mins. -p.l.
I haven't had these exact problems but my daughter was not a great sleeper the 1st 18 months of her life and though she goes to sleep pretty easily and sleep through the night most nights now, she didn't for a long time. I do have some thoughts, for what they're worth. Is her room a safe place with quiet activities for her to do by herself if she's not sleeping? What would she do if you calmly, firmly and without any hint of willingness to cajole put her in her room at the decided bedtime, read a book and say goodnight. Would she cry? for how long? I wouldn't let her cry for very long, especially at 1st but I'd go in when she cried and reassure that though you'll miss each other you'll see each other in the morning. Tell her that she needs to sleep and that you need to sleep but you will be think about her and she can think about you. No cajoling, no drinks of water, no hanging out- just closing the door again.Is this the 1st time you've asked for help with this? It sounds to me (sorry if this is too presumptive) like even though she's talking about not needing sleep, what she (and possibly you) can't tolerate is the seperation that going to sleep entails. If that's really whats going on it needs to be gently and empathically addressed by not getting engaged in the argument/discussion she wants to have but by your telling her what she worried about in terms she might understand. LSG
We have a 2.5 year old and a 1 year old. We've been going through a prolonged bedtime with our 2 year old, which involves lots of crying, delay tactics, a need for food, water, stories, music, and all of the above. We've been advised to not ''delve into'' our child's anxiety, but to remain nonchalant at bedtime, saying a quick goodnight after a story, reassuring that we're close by and it's safe and sound to sleep. It seems to work. By indulging in the child's requests, anxieties, conversations, etc., we become a part of the problem. By downplaying the whole matter and quickly moving along, we convey that it's no big deal and all will be well. Good luck. Berkeley mom

Children 4 & 8 going to bed too late

Aug 2004

We have 2 children, ages 8 and 4, who have managed over the summer to push their bedtimes up to 9:30 nearly every night. I think its too late for kids who have to be at school at 8 a.m., and the eldest wakes up on his own this summer around 8. I am in a panic, because my husband and I do the bedtime routine together, and he does not share my concern with enforcing an earlier bedtime. Naturally, it is a delicate balance, because both of the kids are plenty tire by that time, and appear to be running on adrenaline, so they are (both) vulnerable to tantrums if pushed too hard (usually by me!) to go up to bed earlier. Ideally, I would like both in bed by 8:30, with the bedtime stories thereafter (our 8 yr. old reads to himself). Is it unreasonable to expect my husband to help implement this schedule? Don't kids need a solid 10 hours of sleep each night? I would appreciate any feedback. tired mom


We went through the same thing this summer with my 8 yo. We got lax about the bedtime routine during the summer. I finally just put my foot down (put on my ''serious'' voice) with my son and my partner. Time to go back to the routine. For us, that's dinner, bath (or just a light wash some nights) and in bed by 8pm to read for 30 minutes and then lights out at 8:30pm. The first 4 or 5 nights were reallllly hard. My son would just lay in bed and occasionally yell out that he couldn't sleep. But eventually, after having to wake him up for school in the beginning, he now goes right to sleep and wakes up just before the alarm. As far as how many hours a kid needs to sleep, I think that if a kid is not waking up rested in the morning, then they need to go to sleep earlier, regardless of how many hours that may be for a particular child.Good luck. Ruth
I sympathize with the problem here. In my own experience and that of several of my friends, dads are not as concerned about bedtimes and napping as moms, and it can be tricky to negotiate conversations about the issues. When my stepson was about 7 my husband kept him up past 9 pm fairly regularly -- mostly because they were having fun together, reading or watching something -- and the only thing that really convinced my husband that this wasn't such a great idea was seeing his older son get exhausted and crabby over time, with many morning tantrums. It was hard to get him to take my word for it before he saw it himself! But conversations about how much better the children do at school, and how much stabler their moods are, etc. did make a difference. Though my husband is fairly rule-resistant, we started aiming for an 8 o'clock in-bed-with-teeth-brushed time and eventually that became more of the routine, which allowed my stepson the rest he needed, creating more harmony all round. With our younger children I'm hoping for less drawn-out debates on the subject! household sleep monitor
Advice that I've heard for children and adults, is that your bedtime should be consistent everyday regardless of if it's summertime or the weekend. I start winding down the household about 7:30 with baths, bedtimes, etc. At 8;30, it's lights off. After 9:00 is too late. My oldest, 8 years old, is not a morning person, so in order to ensure she is at her best in the morning, she has to get enough sleep - 9-10 hours is optimal. Lena
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