December 13, 2023

How a “Bedtime Reset” Can Help on Off Nights

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I often remind families that our kids are real human beings, not robots. So yes, while we can get your child’s sleep to an amazing and consistent place, we can also expect off-nights to happen.

As a sleep consultant and mom, I want you to know that my wonderful sleepers are also human.

So in this blog post, I will walk you through an off-night we recently had with my 14-month-old and how we handled it. I will then explain what the “bedtime reset” is and different situations when it might be a useful tool for you, too!

What Happened on Our Off-Night

A few weeks ago, my husband was working in the evening (not uncommon), so I was on solo bedtime duty with our three girls. Always tiring, but not a big deal!

I usually put Isla down first (14 months old), then Avery (4 years old), and then Olivia (6 years old); this night was heading in the same direction!

Per usual, all three girls came upstairs with me and we got Isla ready for bed and laid her down, but she instantly started SCREAMING! She sometimes fusses when we first lay her down, but it doesn’t usually last more than 30-60 seconds, and it’s not her norm. So this screaming was definitely different.

The older two recognized it right away and asked me what was wrong, and I said I didn’t know! But we were going to try to give her some space and see if she’d fall asleep, as it could just be an off night. I knew she wasn’t sick, but thought maybe it was overtiredness, as my husband said her afternoon nap was off. Or maybe her molars were coming through? We can never really tell.

So we came back downstairs for about 10 minutes before it was time for Avery to go to bed. But Isla continued screaming the whole time, so a check-in was in order.

As Avery started getting ready for bed, I did a quick check-in on Isla. She doesn’t respond well to just voice and touch, so I picked her up and she instantly calmed. I smelled and could tell her diaper was still clean, so I figured it was just an off-night.

After holding her for a minute or two, I laid her back down, and once again, she was instantly screaming. Which I certainly don’t like, but she needed to sleep, and I needed to get her sisters to bed! So I left the room and finished getting Avery ready for bed.

At this point, it had been another 10 minutes or so, so I wanted to do another check-in. Olivia was still awake, and this is when we usually have around 30 minutes of one-on-one time before she goes to bed, and we both look forward to it. I didn’t want to take away from her special time but needed to do something with Isla. So Olivia came downstairs to get our coloring ready, and I did another check-in.

Once again, the moment I picked her up, she was calm. So I sat down in the rocking chair in her room and held her for 5-10 minutes. I secretly hoped she’d just fall asleep and I could transfer her, though I knew it wasn’t likely. It was just such a strange night and both she and I needed the cuddles.

At that point, however, I had to make a decision. I couldn’t simply hold her all night, as neither of us would get great sleep. I also had another child ready to hang out and eventually go to bed, so I couldn’t just stay upstairs. But I also didn’t know what was going on and couldn’t handle much more screaming.

So I tried to lay Isla down again, but she sensed exactly what I was doing and was clinging to me. I made an in-the-moment decision and simply didn’t lay her down, but brought her downstairs for a little reset.

Olivia was a bit confused, but I simply held Isla while she and I colored together. She asked to nurse during that time, so I nursed her, but she was just awake and hanging out with us.

Then after 20 minutes or so, we tried again. Olivia and I brought her back upstairs and went through the bedtime routine again – we turned her lights on, changed her diaper, put her sleep sack back on, read two stories, sang her a song, and said goodnight.

Once again, she screamed the moment I laid her down, but this time, it only lasted around 20 seconds, and then she was asleep! I was SO relieved, and now Olivia and I could finish our special time and get her to bed.

My husband and I did hear Isla stir a few times within the first hour or two of her finally falling asleep (hello, overtiredness!), but she was able to settle herself each time and she thankfully slept the whole night, per usual!

And guess what? The next night was totally normal. It must have truly been an off night, and that bedtime reset did the trick!

So what is a Bedtime Reset?

The bedtime reset is pretty much just what it sounds like!

You are re-doing the bedtime routine. You might even take a 20-30 minute break from sleep where you do a puzzle with your little one, read more books, or build a tower. Ideally, it won’t be too active of play, but it’s a break from their room and from sleep; it’s a do-over.

You then start the bedtime routine just as you normally would. You can skip the bath and teeth brushing again, but change their diaper or sit them on the potty again, get their sleep sack on, read a book or two, lights out, sing your quick song, and say goodnight!

The goal is to alert their little mind and body that sleep is coming.

When to Try a Bedtime Reset

First, the bedtime reset is NOT something you should have to do regularly – if it becomes consistent or regularly necessary, other adjustments need to be made to your little one’s sleep!

The bedtime reset is, however, a very helpful tool to have in your back pocket for an off night. It could be useful if:

  • You’re traveling and your baby or young child is adjusting to a time change. If your little one is experiencing jet lag and is wide awake at 2 a.m., for example, I recommend you get them out of bed, spend 20-30 minutes playing, then do a reset!
  • Your little one is woken up by a thunderstorm or a nightmare and is struggling to fall back asleep. If you’ve tried to settle them so they can drift off to sleep but they’re still worked up, this reset might do the trick!
  • You’re driving late and attempting a bedtime transfer. If you arrive at your destination and your baby, toddler, or young child seems wide awake as you’re trying to transfer them to bed, they might benefit from resetting the bedtime routine!
  • If your normally independent sleeper is for whatever reason having a tough night and you can’t pinpoint what it is (like we recently had with our daughter!), this reset may be a great fit!

Again, this bedtime reset is not usually the first tool I’d recommend trying, as one or two check-ins might do the trick, but if you need to do something else, give the reset a try!

Conclusion

Just like you and I have off nights, our independent little sleepers will have off nights, too. You may end up having to hold their hand for three hours while they fall asleep, or even sleep on their bedroom floor for the night.

But hopefully having a tool like this bedtime reset will help prevent some of those “last resort” measures from happening so both you and your little one can get the best sleep possible!

Or if you’re reading this and your little one’s norm seems to be an “off-night,” we want you to know it doesn’t have to stay that way! Check out how we can help your whole family get the best sleep possible.

With Grace,

Lauren