Competing Activities at Bedtime
Over the last few weeks, we’ve been looking at the four main causes of most sleep problems and how to fix them. We’ve talked about how to make sure you are tired at bedtime, setting up regular bedtime routines, and finding healthy sleep dependencies. The fourth big cause of many sleep problems for both adults and children is competing activities. This one might seem a little too obvious, but sleep isn’t the most fun or exciting thing in the world (especially for kids), so of course, if there are other more fun things to do at bedtime, we are likely to choose fun over sleep. For most adults, we at least recognize the importance of a good night’s sleep and understand the impact of our choices if we don’t get to bed on time, but many children don’t yet have the reasoning and planning skills required to make good decisions at bedtime, which makes choosing fun over sleep all the more tempting.
Setting Limits at Bedtime
One of the best ways to help your child at bedtime is to set clear and reasonable limits, make sure those limits are transparent, and stick to them. Make sure your child knows what the nighttime rules are, what is available or unavailable, and when certain things are ok or not ok to do. But remember, rules are only as good as the person enforcing the rule! Don’t make a rule that you can’t (or won’t) stick to. If you tell your child electronics are over at 8 pm, ensure that is the case, every night! Make sure you’ve thought through contingencies for if your child follows the rule or doesn’t follow it and don’t forget to reinforce good behavior. For example, if you say TV turns off at 8 and your child turns the TV off at 8 on their own, how will you recognize their stellar rule following? If they don’t turn the TV off at 8, how will you respond? Make sure you have planned out your responses to both situations ahead of time, explained the contingencies, and stick to it!
Having a consistent and clear bedtime routine that involves transitioning away from high-energy fun activities and electronics, and moving into quieter and less exciting activities at least a half hour before bedtime can be really helpful. Set a time limit for when certain activities (electronics especially) end for the night and stick to it. Most electronic devices like phones, tablets, and TVs actually come with apps/settings where you can have the device automatically shut down at a certain time at night, which can help a lot with arguing, negotiating, or refusing to relinquish devices. These nighttime lock modes are helpful for tends and adults that have a hard time getting away from their devices at night too!
One of the biggest competing activities I see at bedtime for children is wanting parental attention and repeatedly getting out of bed to try to chat, ask questions, or make requests. One thing you can do to try to decrease this is to set aside some special quality time with your child during the bedtime routine. Think about what things your child is usually trying to get from you AFTER you put them to bed, and try to make sure they get their fill BEFORE bed instead. Does your child often want you to come into the room to cuddle after they have gone to bed? Set aside some special cuddle time before bed instead! Does your child suddenly have lots of questions they need to ask you after they’ve gone to bed? Sit down for a chat before bed and talk about things that usually come up, like what’s on the schedule for tomorrow, or what other questions they might have for you. The goal is that by the time your child is getting into bed they feel like they’ve already had their needs met and can relax and get to sleep. For children that really struggle with needing a parent around to be able to fall asleep, this sometimes involves further intervention. Typically, I like to use either a bedtime pass program or a strategy called time-based visiting to slowly fade out parent presence. We’ll talk more about each of those strategies in upcoming blog posts, so stay tuned!
Competing Activities at Bedtime for Adults
Getting lost in competing activities at night isn’t just a problem for children, it’s one of the most common sleep problems I see with adults too. Many adults tell me “I know I should be going to bed at X:00, but I just end up distracted or doing other things and the time gets away from me!” The most common competing activities I see for adults are: catching up on work/chores/prepping for the next day, electronics (TV, phones, tables), laying in bed worrying or thinking and having trouble “turning off” at night.
The same rules apply for adults. Having a clear and consistent sleep schedule at night, being aware of the time and your sleep schedule, and setting limits for yourself are important parts of getting a good night’s sleep. If you have trouble setting limits with electronics, look into apps or phone settings that will automatically limit your use at night. You can set timers on social media apps to stop you from engaging after a certain time, or you can even buy timed lock boxes for electronic devices. If self-control isn’t your forte that’s ok- there are apps for that! Try to end engaging/exciting activities such as electronics at least a half hour before bedtime and transition into quiet, calm activities that don’t involve a lot of light and don’t involve a lot of stimulation. One of the best activities at night for adults is journaling or writing. You don’t have to do anything fancy, just spend a few minutes getting whatever is buzzing around in your brain out and on paper, and then put it away for the night. This can help if you have trouble “turning off” at night by physically getting things out of your brain and then putting them “to bed” before you go to bed yourself. We’ll get into more detail in a future blog post about learning how to quiet your mind so you can fall asleep quickly, but journaling is one of my favorite go-tos! Remember, your to-do list will still be there tomorrow, and you’ll be much more effective at getting it done if you’re well-rested!
When to See a Professional
Now that we’ve talked through the four main causes of sleep problems and some simple solutions you can try for each, you might be wondering if you should just go it alone and try to fix the problems yourself, or if you need professional guidance. As a sleep consultant, my general recommendation is to try the simple solutions here first on your own, but if you don’t see results within 2 weeks of consistent implementation, it’s time to talk to a professional. Sleep is the most important thing you can do for your mental, physical, and emotional well-being. Getting professional sleep help is an investment, but an investment that will have far-reaching and long-term effects. If you’re ready to take back the night for yourself or your child, contact me!