“But I’m not tired!”
If your little one hasn’t yet tried this line when bedtime rolls around, just wait for it. Most of the time, you may be able to tell that even if your baby doesn’t think she’s tired - or doesn’t want to be tired - there’s a good chance that if she doesn’t get some shut-eye soon, you’re going to have a cranky kiddo on your hands. Sometimes, though, it can be less clear-cut. What if she really isn’t tired? Is it really better to make her lie down, awake and not tired, at her designated bedtime?
Some families choose to have a “quiet time” policy - once a young child has been put to bed, if she isn’t tired yet, she may play quietly or look at a book, so long as she stays in her room. This policy can help to keep bedtime from turning into a battle of wills every night. It can also teach young children self-regulation of their tiredness.
The quiet time policy can help young children feel that their points of view are being respected and can encourage independence and attention span.
There’s a reason sleep experts recommend a regular sleeping schedule, not just for young children, but for people of all ages. Because of circadian rhythms - regular biological patterns in the body that help regulate sleep cycles - going to sleep around the same time every night helps people get better sleep and feel more rested. More than that, it can actually be helpful for young children who may not yet be ready for sleep to lie in bed awake, instead of getting up and doing something. Resting, even when you can’t sleep, does help the body recharge and rejuvenate.
The quiet time philosophy also works best for families whose children don’t share bedrooms - even the quietest of quiet play can keep a sibling awake, and no family wants two sleepy kids waking up cranky in the morning.
Only you can tell what’s the right sleep strategy for your family. If bedtime is a battle, quiet time may be a compromise worth considering, since finding a way to end the nighttime power struggle can lead to better sleep. On the other hand, a consistent sleep schedule is important, and leaving the decision about exactly when to close her eyes in the hands of your toddler may not be a recipe for consistency - or maybe it is? You know your baby best. The most important takeaway is that there are alternatives to traditional ideas about bedtimes, so if you’re having trouble turning bedtime into a positive time of day in your home, it can be helpful to know that there are options out there for how to handle it.