I knew last night’s bedtime was going to be tricky when I spotted my youngest son jumping back and forth across the room from his bed to his brother’s. I was right: it took him quite a long time to settle down. I don’t blame him, though; it is pretty hard to get to sleep when we are very excited about what’s happening the next day.
I feel the same way as him when we need to get up early to catch an airplane! I can’t tell you the number of times I wake up to make sure the alarm is set.
I’d like to add some points to a post I wrote last year about creating good conditions for sleep. In addition to keeping our children off screens at night, connecting with them, and making sure they had enough outside time, here are some techniques to try for helping our children who are just too excited to fall asleep.
There are two areas to consider that cause our children (and us!) to be too revved up to sleep: active minds and restless bodies. First, I’ll share two strategies for calming a child’s mind at night:
You may have heard the recommendation to make your to-do lists and write your thoughts out before heading to bed to “get things off your mind.” The same strategy can work for children. Get a blank piece of paper and ask your child to draw the thing he is feeling excited about. If your child is old enough to write words, encourage that.
Ask him to talk all about this thing/ event/ person until he feels it is all out. I suggest doing this before you start the bedtime routine. Focus on the feelings words mad, glad, sad, and scared so those feelings have an opportunity to move through and not keep your child awake.
It would be great if you have time to do this activity first and then go for a walk outside afterward. If it is already dark, hold hands and use your senses to see, hear, and feel what happens outside at night. This combination of thinking about the exciting thing first, voicing or drawing it, then walking in fresh air is incredibly helpful to let the excitement settle.
Again, before starting the bedtime routine, ask your child what he needs to feel ready for the next day. Some of the responses to this question amaze me! Perhaps you’ll hear your child say: “I need to pick my clothes,” or “I need to make a pile of the things I don’t want to forget,” and maybe, “To go see my LEGO (yet unassembled) set one more time.”
*Here are two techniques to try calming the body down: (These techniques happen after our children have completed their bedtime routine and are in their beds.)
Ask your child to lie on his back, and sit in a place where you can reach both arms at the same time. Gently, yet firmly squeeze your child’s arms right under the shoulders, then move down a little and squeeze again. Continue inching your way down the arms, slowly squeezing as you go. When you get to the hands, squeeze in between and on each knuckle, then finish up with squeezing the flesh between the thumb and first finger.
Move down so you can reach both of your child’s legs at the same time. As with the arms, squeeze both legs above the knee and continue down the legs onto the feet. Slow, firm squeezes on the feet should stop any ticklish responses. You can try squeezing in between and on the toe joints to see if that’s helpful. Again, end by squeezing the flesh between the big and second toes.
If your child lies still after you do that, try snuggling a bit before you leave. If he is still fidgeting, try this process again. Check in with your child to ask if he likes this kind of touch and adjust it (more or less firm) as necessary.
Do you or someone you know sleep better when they have a heavier blanket on regardless of the weather? I do!
Weighted blankets are often used as part of occupational therapy for children who have anxiety, sensory overwhelm, are stressed easily, and on the autism spectrum. Children without these experiences can benefit from this same strategy!
Try using a heavier blanket on your child—perhaps lower the temperature in the room to accommodate for this.
In addition to having a heavy duvet, I sometimes put my leg over my son’s legs and arm over his arms when he is just too squirmy to lie still. While doing this, I breath slowly on his face. See if this works for your child: you’ll be able to tell if the bit of weight helps or not. Make sure you let your child give you feedback if these strategies feel helpful or not.
If your child is continually agitated at bedtime, I suggest enlisting the help of a trained mental health professional or sleep educator. Not getting enough sleep can often be the root of a lot of other problems that might look like “misbehaviour.”
If you would like some resources to help with sleep and bedtime, I suggest reading The Happy Sleeper by Heather Turgeon, MFT and Julie Wright, MFT, looking through the bedtime section of my Taming Tantrums app (for iPhone & Android), or contacting sleep educator Alanna McGinn and her team at Good Night Sleep Site. I also invite you over to my Facebook page where I post positive parenting resources.