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:
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- Make sure to curtail prolonged or late naps during the day. Also avoid short naps during car or stroller rides.
- 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.
- 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?