4 Tips for helping your toddler go to sleep without bedtime fights

Getting kids to fall asleep at bedtime can be a Herculean task. Toddlers and young children are infamous for their anti-sleep antics, so much so that it has been well-documented in books, TV shows and movies for years. But what some scientist are coming to realize is that this may not just be because of the rebellious nature of young children--it may actually be caused by bedtimes not lining up with biological rhythms.


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One of the things that has stuck with me out of all the sleep research I did during my son's infancy, is that according to pediatrician and child sleep expert Dr. Marc Weissbluth, most children do much better with an earlier, consistent bed time. His suggestion is that older infants and toddlers should hit the sack sometime between 7 and 8 (if they are napping well during the day), because that is when their bodies are most susceptible to sleep. This made a lot of sense to me, so even though I'm a night owl and my son's bedtime tends to creep a little past 8 most nights, it's been working very well--so well in fact, that he typically sleeps between 11 and 11.5 hours straight through the night, at 19 months old.

Recent research out of the University of Colorado, Boulder, seems to have further proven the importance of getting your little ones bedtime right. For years, scientists have studied the circadian rhythms and effects of hormones on adult sleep, but very little research has been done on children. However, sleep scientist Monique LeBourgeois has discovered that the average pre-school age child experiences a surge in the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin around 7:40 p.m. and falls asleep easily about an hour later. But every child is a bit different and sleep cycles are continually changing.

So what does this mean for us as parents? Basically, we should be periodically taking the time to monitor our kids' behavior so that we can shift their schedules according to their current biological rhythms, rather than holding to a set bedtime for years on end. Here are a few other things you can do to ease bedtime woes:

1. Make naps a priority. Every sleep expert agrees that daytime sleep is crucial when it comes to avoiding overtiredness in babies and toddlers. And since overtiredness often results in a miserable cycle of fighting sleep, you want to avoid it at all costs.

2. Nix the electronics. Electronics such as televisons, cell phones and tablets, give off a type of light that confuses the circadian rhythm, and you should avoid letting your child use them around bedtime. Instead, have them engage in soothing activities like reading and doing simple puzzles.

2. Have a set routine. Routines are comforting to children--they like knowing what to expect and thrive when those expectations are consistently met. A set nightly routine that begins 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime will signal to your child that it's time to wind down and get into sleepy mode.

4. Get the light right. Try dimming the lights in your home leading up to bedtime, to once again signal that the day is coming to a close. Then make sure that your little one's bedroom is dark enough for comfortable sleep, but not so dark that he doesn't notice daytime until hours after it's begun. Natural light is an important signal to the body that keeps the sleep-wake cycle on track.

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