As parents, this magical hour takes on a life of its own. We either look forward with unprecedented anticipation to the quiet world after lights out, or we dread the impending reemergence of little feet for drinks of water, one last bathroom trip, “He won’t be quiet!” tattling rounds, and “I forgot to tell you…” episodes.
If you are teetering on the edge of bedtime insanity, or you simply realize your child is not getting needed sleep, here is one simple seven-minute habit that can help all of us rest soundly.
How It Started
I believe sleep is a life-skill. Like most other skills, it can be learned. Every individual will have their own proclivities, again like everything else in life. With effort, though, sleep habits can improve.
We have consciously worked to teach our kids how to be good sleepers and expected that they would be.
And on the whole, our kids are pretty good sleepers. Of course, we all have our bad nights sometimes, but typically, the kids go to bed, stay in bed, and sleep through the night.
So I was taken off-guard when I realized that one of our children had started getting out of bed an hour or more after he went down, without having slept yet.
His day-time behavior was actually the first change I recognized.
He seemed to upset more easily and be more anxious. We even noticed him blinking his eyes more.
Then I noticed that he was not going to sleep when we put him in bed.
Sometimes when kids do not fall asleep at night, we think, “This child just doesn’t need as much sleep.” While that might be true for some, most 3-5 year olds need 10-13 hours of sleep and most 6-13 year olds need 9-12 hours of sleep.
If our kids are not getting that much sleep, there are probably influencing factors outside of sleep needs.
At this time, there were some life-changes happening for our son.
I still am not sure whether the changes caused some anxiety which kept him up, or if less sleep affected his day-time mood causing the anxiety.
The chicken and the egg.
Either way, once I recognized the issue, I knew more sleep would help him.
So with my “Let’s learn this skill” mentality, we found a simple solution that worked for him.
The Simple Fall-Asleep Solution
We had a conversation about the importance of sleep for our minds and bodies, and he expressed some frustration at not being able to fall asleep.
While he was laying in bed, “Thinking, thinking, thinking,” other kids might be wound-up, excited, or over-tired. This technique can help with all of those.
When I asked if he would like help learning how to fall asleep better, he responded with an enthusiastic, “Yes!”
We talked about how we fall asleep when our minds and bodies are calm, or relaxed.
In my former life before having children, I was a high school health teacher. One of my students’ favorite days of the year was when we practiced stress relief techniques.
While the students thought they were just laughing, resting, and snacking the day away, I realized that these skills were some of the most important they could learn.
We live in a high-stress world, and some personalities lend to even higher levels of anxiety. Learning how to relax on demand is a valuable skill-set for all of us.
We would do well to teach our children these techniques, and that is what helped my little one sleep more soundly.
The First Two Minutes
Each night, I led him through a short guided relaxation.
After doing the last bathroom trip, saying our “one last thing,” and giving our nighttime hugs and smooches, he got comfortable in his bed. He closed his eyes and let his mouth be done for the day.
He was to imagine himself in the story I told.
I spoke calmly and quietly, modeling slow, deep breathing as I spoke.
I took him through a scene rich in senses, beginning in a nature setting I knew he would appreciate.
His shoes were off and he could hear specific sounds, smell specific smells, and feel specific textures.
The Next Two Minutes
After exploring and enjoying the scenery, he would lay down.
Now he could feel the soft sand (or earth or grass) under him.
He let his toes relax and feel heavy and sink into the sand.
He let his feet relax and feel heavy and sink into the sand.
His ankles, legs, hips, up to his head, and out to his fingers.
Everything, one body part at a time, was relaxed and heavy and sinking into the sand.
It was completely warm and comfortable.
Minutes Five and Six
Now that his body was completely calm and relaxed, he could feel his breathing get deeper and slower.
With each breathe in, he would think about a worry or a concern of the day. With each breathe out, he would let that worry go for the night. Tomorrow would be a fresh day.
In and out.
Slower and deeper. Letting all the worries go.
The Final Minute
Now his body was relaxed and his mind was settled.
He felt really comfortable and ready to rest.
He might hear people’s voices, he would know when mom left the room, but he did not need to worry about anything going on around him.
He was ready for the night.
He knew he was loved, and we would see him in the morning.
A Good Night’s Rest
Sometimes, after finishing, I’d hear a quiet, “Good night, Mom. I love you.”
Most nights, I did not hear from him until morning.
We both enjoyed the calm nightly habit.
Slowly, I noticed things change for him during the day too.
While life did not stop, we both saw the benefit of getting a good night’s rest.
I loved that he no longer fought the nighttime frustration of falling asleep either.
Most nights, when bedtime rolls around, I am honestly ready to be done with the day. It is not my most patient of times. However, making this seven minutes a priority for calm was worth it.
Overtime, he did not need me to guide him through the relaxation anymore. Some nights the natural anxieties of the day did not bother him, and other nights he relaxed himself.
That is the ultimate goal.
Raise a child who can relax and sleep on their own, and you are raising a child who will be healthier and that much happier.
Are you ready to sleep now? I am! I hope this helps you with your little sleeper. What else have you tried that helps your kids fall asleep at night? Please share your experiences in the comments. I encourage you to experiment with creating your own guided relaxation, as you can tailor it specifically to your child. However, if you’d like it, here is a script we basically used.