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How To Help Kids To Sleep When It's Light Outside

We might all look forward to the lighter mornings and evenings, but it’s not so great when it comes to sleep schedules. Luckily Fiona O’Farrell, eumom’s resident sleep expert, is on hand with some great advice on how to minimise disruption for your little ones:

The brighter mornings and evenings often mean disruption to our children’s sleeping patterns. To help counteract the impact of the  light on your child’s sleeping patterns, there are reassuringly some things you can do to help ensure a smoother nighttime sleep for your little one.

1. Environment

  • Blackout curtains are worth investing in. The ones which stick to the window are better as they will block out all light. You can still hang your regular curtains over the blackout ones.
  • If your child does not like total darkness (many don’t,) I recommend leaving the bedroom door slightly open with the hall light on. You may need blackout curtains for your hall to minimise daytime light if you have large windows.
  • A small dimmer light beside the bed often offers reassurance to young children who may wake during the night and find it difficult to get back to sleep because their imagination is vivid.
  • From the age of two to three onwards your child’s imagination is developing. This is something to be mindful of when considering your child’s bedroom environment: Large cuddly toys on shelves, dressing gowns on the back of the door can be scary when your child wakes during the night, and these may be perceived as something totally different, such as monsters.
  • Check your child's bedclothes and the temperature of the room, as more daytime light usually means warmer weather. If your child is too hot or cold this will impact on sleep.
  • Keep the bedroom free of all toys and clutter. Toys indicate playtime, and while your child continues to wake during the night he will want to play with the toys if they are visible.
  • Check for spiders and similar small insects. These can be very scary to young children and their fear should be respected.

2. Routine

Longer daytime hours can often mean a stretch in bedtime. However, overstretching your child’s bedtime can result in overtiredness, which means your child will be more likely to resist going to bed, resist going to sleep and tend to wake during the night with early morning waking happening more frequently.

  • Ideally for toddlers, a bedtime guide of between 6pm to 7pm will help prevent overtiredness. While we as adults might think this is very early, we must remember our little ones' brains are very active at this age and as a result, their brains can become overloaded and overtired. A bedtime guide of between 6pm-7 pm will help prevent your child’s brain becoming overloaded, and will help their brain develop and learn to their optimum during the day. By the age of three years, your child’s brain will be approximately 90% that of an adult's, which is really amazing when you think just how much their brain is developing and learning.

  • Parents will often say to me their child does not appear tired, but rather full of energy late in the evening. The reason for this is your little one has gone into what I refer to as ‘the second wind of activity’ where they tend to be more ‘hyper’ active. This is a real sign of overtiredness, rather than not being tired.

  • Developing a bedtime routine will help your child unwind both their body and brain in preparation for sleep. When the routine is consistent, your child will know what is coming next. Toddlers love boundaries, it helps them feel secure, so if you haven’t already started a bedtime routine now is a good time to do so.

  • The important thing about a bedtime routine is it must be one that will work no matter where you are. Parents often ask me about incorporating a bath into the routine and my advice is a bath is not always feasible every evening. If your child is already overtired, the bath can be more distressing than calming where your child will want to play, becoming more active rather than relaxed.

I always recommend keeping the bedtime routine simple and short. Prolonging the bedtime routine can result in your child becoming more alert than calm.

Some ideas are:

Begin the bedtime routine after the evening meal. Help your toddler into their pyjamas, brush teeth, visit the toilet, let your them pick one short story book. Encourage your toddler to get into the bed for the story to be read. You might like to gently hug your toddler whilst reading the story, followed by a short massage and then something to indicate the end of the bedtime routine: This is a parental preference and might be something like a short saying/prayer/gratitude etc, followed by tucking into bed.

It is important you keep the routine the same every evening.

For toddlers whose imagination is very vivid, you might like to place a spray bottle beside the bed so your child can spray away all the monsters. This is a nice way of giving your toddler control and helping to reassure them.

A sun clock is a good way to help your toddler develop an understanding of when to get up in the morning. This can take some time to help establish an understanding of the concept.

The key to helping your toddler sleep during the lighter evenings and mornings is to:

  • Prevent overtiredness.
  • Be consistent about bedtime.
  • Incorporate a consistent bedtime routine.
  • Facilitate an environment which will help sleep.

You can find more tips from our eumom Sleep Expert Fiona O'Farrell in our Baby Sleep and Toddler Sleep sections.

Find out more about Fiona's work with sleep and child development, and get advice for your child on her website: fionaofarrell.ie.


About the Author

Fiona O’Farrell is a Paediatric Occupational Therapist, specialising in baby development, premature babies and is an experienced sleep consultant, validated by the department of health. For information on workshops and sleep consultations visit fionaofarrell.ie or Facebook. Call Fiona on 0879144323

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