The transition from daytime and its multitude of activities to the quiet solitude of bedtime and sleep can often be a challenging time for children and parents alike. Whether one is a child or an adult, our days are often filled with numerous obligations and tasks, people to interact with, television and computer screens to engage with and entertains us, and physical activities such as work, exercise, play, etc. For some people the activities of daily life may be exciting and exhilarating, while for others there may be a fair amount of anxiety and challenge posed by them. However for all of us, letting go of the day’s events and setting aside unfinished business (whether it be work or play) can at times feel difficult. Learning to do this, however, is a crucial skill in understanding how to care for one’s own body, mind, and emotions.
Why is bedtime important?
While it is important to acknowledge that differences exist between individuals, families, and cultures, any simple internet search will tell you that sleep is a vital function of the human body. Our sleeping hours are a time during which all of our body systems can repair themselves and grow at the cellular level. Its also a time when our brains can rest and process thoughts and emotions brought about through our daily lives. While newborns might sleep as much as 17 hours/day and older adults may sleep only 6 or 7 hours/night these hours are critical for our survival, our growth and brain development, and our ability to function well throughout the day. Ultimately bedtime is about sleeping and preparing ourselves to sleep. Additionally, for parents the time between your children to bed and going to bed yourself can provide a much-needed opportunity for “me-time” with oneself or “adult-time” with one’s partner. Acknowledging the importance of these realities is an important step towards managing the transition.
Why bedtime can be challenging…
Simply being aware of the importance of bedtime is not always enough to facilitate a smooth transition when the time comes. As alluded to above, bedtime can often be challenging because it can be really hard to let go of activities of the day, as well as to feel at peace about the upcoming challenges tomorrow may bring. Often prior to bedtime we might be engaged in playing games or watching programs that are stimulating or exciting. One of the biggest challenges faced by children and adults alike might be that going to sleep requires us to detach from our friends, siblings, parents, children, etc. For children this can be especially daunting, as they are constantly using their caregivers to help them regulate their emotions. As adults, when bedtime approaches it can be easy to get into the habit of ruminating about things that have to be accomplished in the near future. All of these things may contribute to resisting the transition from the daytime into sleep.
What can we do to make our bedtime experience easier?
The first thing to do is always to recognize and bring awareness to the challenge. Children who are anxious/afraid when this time comes will benefit greatly by their parents acknowledging how hard it can be to relax into the night’s activities. It is natural for children to feel scared of detaching from their parents at times, and helping them to feel seen and understood will help with their resistance. Creating small routines or rituals can also be immensely helpful. Predictability as to what will happen can help alleviate the fear of uncertainty that may arise during this time. Having a regular bedtime and a pre-sleep routine can make a huge difference. People of all ages can benefit from taking a few minutes to talk about or journal on the day’s events in order to help them feel at peace as the time for sleep draws near. When we try to go to sleep but still feel sad, angry, or afraid about the things going on in our lives it may be much more difficult to get adequate quality sleep. For adults it might also be very helpful to include making a list of the upcoming day’s needs a part of one’s bedtime routine. Feeling at peace about the current day and confident about the upcoming one can help us to relax more fully during the hours or minutes before turning off the lights and lying down.
Transitions of all sorts can be challenging to navigate. Acknowledging the daily transition from waking to sleeping, and the struggles it brings, can help to transform bedtime from a time of stress into a time of rest and joy. By learning to handle this small transition with increased mindfulness and gentleness, we prepare ourselves and our children to more easily handle the larger transitions that life presents… and when those do arise, we’ll be better rested and ready to embrace them.