Sound Sleep Guru

Bedtime Fading and Sleep Training

One of the most common pitfalls I find myself falling into is letting my daughter’s bedtime shift later and later. It’s partly because of my own tendency as a night owl to drift later but also partly due to the dramatic changes in the light dark cycle that occur in the northwest as we approach summer (Sunset is 9 pm). It is also more likely to occur over a long three day weekend like Memorial Day.

My go-to strategy for dealing with this is a type of sleep training is called “bedtime fading.” Bedtime fading is an evidence-based strategy that helps with bedtime resistance and bedtime tantrums.

The way it works goes like this:

  1. First determine the time your child is currently falling asleep (let’s say 10 pm). Add 15 minutes and that will be our target bedtime (10:15 pm).
  2. Plan for a consistent bedtime routine: books + cuddle, potty, bedtime. Ration out your timeline and stay on schedule. The bedtime routine should be less than an hour.
  3. Plan on a wake time using an estimate for the sleep requirements for your child’s age. My daughter is 2.5 and naps for 2-3 hours so I will plan for 10.5 hours of sleep at night. She needs to wake up at 7 am so that means her goal bedtime would be 8:30 pm.
  4. Make sure to curtail prolonged or late naps during the day. Also avoid short naps during car or stroller rides.
  5. When your child falls asleep within 15 minutes for two days in a row then you can advance the sleep window by 15 minutes. We would repeat those steps for 10 pm, 9:45 pm, then 9:30 pm and so on. I would repeat this until we reached a desired bedtime of 8:30 pm.
  6. You may need to temporarily adjust the wake time a bit later so your child isn’t too sleep deprived (please consult your pediatrician to discuss a specific plan).

Bedtime fading works because it utilizes the child’s homeostatic sleep drive and circadian entrainment to rebuild and reinforce the new sleep schedule. It also creates a paradigm shift away from struggling at bedtime. The concepts are similar to CBT-I which is used for adults with insomnia.

‍Have you ever heard of bedtime fading?

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