Create time for self-care without guilt: 4 science-backed ways to shorten your kids' bedtime routine

One of the biggest barriers I work through with women is finding time for self-care. For some, it's time to sit and read in silence. For others it's the time to do their therapy exercises, get a workout in, meditate, or do some journaling.


The other issue I often help women work through is the stress around getting their younger kids to sleep. It's not uncommon for the evening bedtime routine to take 2-3 hours and cause stress hormones to spike when your sweet little baby gets out of bed for the hundredth time obstinate in the fact that she just HAS to have one more drink of water before she can fall asleep, or another book, or a hug, or potty break, or "please, please walk with me one more time!"

After they are finally down, all of that motivation and resolve you had about trying to squeeze in a little yoga before bed is out the window. You're exhausted, yet you're wired (those stress hormones at work). What do you do? Reach for a glass of wine and sit.

No judgment here. I've been there plenty, *plenty* of times.

However, when your goal is to generally feel better, whether that's by getting in more exercise, sleeping better, not drinking as much, eating a cleaner diet, or dealing with your stress better (or ALL of this, which is usually the case), this seemingly endless cycle is a HUGE barrier to getting the results you really, REALLY want.

The struggle is real.

It's HARD to be super mom and wear all of the other caps you wear in a given day. So, it's easy to tell yourself you deserve that wine at the end of the day. And you DO. You deserve ANYthing you want. However, sometimes we have to decide what we want more.

So, working on improving that bedtime routine can be a win-win for you AND your kids!

I know you love your kids and what the best for them, so know that these tweaks to their schedule will totally benefit those beautiful, growing, little monsters (monsters, darlings, tomato, tomahto...).

Also know this- these tricks can fit into any parenting style. Whether you live and die by sleep training, or are all about attachment parenting, it doesn't matter.

Again, no judgment here. You do you, friend.


Here's my top 4 things I share with mom clients and friends who are trying to find a little more time in their days. And guess what? These will all work for you too, my dear, as they are not age-specific.

1) As soon as your child wakes up, open the curtains and let some natural light in. The very first thing. The natural light helps to normalize circadian rhythms which are day-night cycles that primarily respond to light and darkness. These are produced by our internal clocks that tell us when it's time to sleep and wake and can be affected directly through visual stimuli via the hypothalamus.

Circadian rhythms produce sleep-wake patterns- exactly what we're looking to influence in our kids in this situation, as well as hormones, eating, digestion, etc. Dysfunctional rhythms have been implicated in a number of chronic conditions like obesity, depression, and diabetes, so you will also be contributing to your child's long-term health at the same time.

This is also a great way to reduce or eliminate any reliance on melatonin, a controversial topic for kids and adults.

Here's how:

If your child is an infant, pick him or her up and bring them directly over to a window while you have your good morning snuggles. This doesn't have to take long, you just want to get some natural light in his or her face to stimulate the brain.

If your kids are a little older and wake up on their own, encourage them to open their curtains as soon as they get up. If you get up first, you can help them develop this habit over time.

Obviously, every home and family are different, and it won't be this easy for everyone, but see if you can't find a way to get your kids' faces bathed in natural light- even on cloudy days- as soon as you can in the morning.

2) Ensure that their last nap of the day ends at least 4 hours before bedtime. Yes, this might mean waking a sleeping baby, but once their body adjusts you won't have the need. For infants who are still taking multiple naps a day, you may have to adjust the morning nap(s) to make this work. There's a ton more info out there on how to do this that's outside the scope of this article, so I recommend talking with a gentle sleep coach who will help you with your individual needs.

Just remember, we want our kids to have a chance to get tired between their nap and bedtime.

3) Earlier bed times. Yes, I get that this will be scary to many of you, so hold tight and hear me out.

Remember that stress hormone cortisol? As humans, we have a distinct pattern of cortisol levels that occurs daily and can be graphed out. We refer to this as the cortisol curve. Cortisol levels should peak in the morning, contributing to increased energy levels to get us going, and then it should gradually decrease, with the lowest levels occurring at night to help us feel sleepy before bed. Cortisol slowly rises as we sleep to start the cycle all over again.

If we miss the window where cortisol levels are optimal for sleep, we notice that "second wind" when our kids get slap happy, stubborn, or just plain start to meltdown out of nowhere. That comes from cortisol levels spiking, and then we have to wait for them to settle back down to baseline again. This also contributes to a less restful sleep with more night awakenings and even an earlier wake-up time, two things that kill our own sleep!

That window usually occurs much earlier than we think. In fact, many pediatric sleep experts say that younger kids (toddlers, preschoolers, and even into kindergarten for some) should be ASLEEP between 7:00 and 7:30, which also allows them to get the necessary sleep they need to be up by 6 or 7am.

Which means you may need to START bedtime as early as 6:00 or 6:30 so you have time to go through whatever routine you may have. You may need to rethink this routine, particularly when you may not be home from work and eating dinner by then. Read on for a few ideas!

This topic is complex when we think about how different all of our families are, so consider ways to get *as close as you can* to what may be "optimal" and go from there. What's important is that you understand the concept behind the early bedtime so you can make intelligent shifts to make it work for you.

So, yes, I totally get it when this early bedtime suggestion can freak you the eff out. Therefore, I encourage you to consider the following:

What would your evening look like if your children were fully knocked out by 7:30?

What would you do for yourself?

Would you get to sleep earlier?

Is the time spent trying to get your kids to stay in bed quality time spent together?

Would you be less stressed and perhaps sleep better?

How would this change support the goals you have for yourself?

3) Limit or perhaps eliminate screen time before bed. In attempts to get the kids to bed sooner without sacrificing quality time with your kids, this might be easier than you think.

Remember how I told you to practically stick your kids' head out the window in the mornings? Well, letting them watch TV, play on a tablet or phone, or use any other light emitting device basically does the same thing.

The light reflected into their sweet little eyeballs stimulates their brains making them think it's not quite time to sleep. Probably not a new concept for you since the same thing happens to us as adults, and we've been hearing a lot of buzz about this over the past few years.

Yes, I understand everyone needs to decompress after your long day, but remember, we're creating more time for you by cutting this out/down. Also, connecting with your kids in a fun or calm way will do you way more benefit than doing whatever it is you do while your kids are in front of a screen.

Substitute this for a little extra playtime in the tub, read an extra couple of books, play a game, or even have a little dance party earlier in the evening if you need some movement. Even better? Let the kids choose from a few options you supply.

4) Get any stressful or high energy activities out of the way as early as you can. For some kids, brushing their teeth or taking medicine can be a huge source of stress. For some adults, pre-bedtime play is non-negotiable as they want to wear their kids out before bedtime. Because these things may cause those cortisol spikes that delay sleep, we need to be strategic with when we do them.

Let them run around and physically play as early as you can in the evening. If there's no time earlier, consider choosing more restful movement instead. Doing some gentle stretching or a few yoga poses with them is a great choice. If you plan for a little screen time in the evenings, consider a Cosmic Kids yoga or meditation activity which is free on YouTube and really fun for kids. My kids love pulling out my yoga mats and pretending to be exercising like me.

Another trick to help bedtime go more smoothly is from my favorite dental hygienist. Choose one time a day where you help them brush their teeth, and another time where it's all them. Giving them that independence can work wonders at heading off the tantrums surrounding toothbrushing.

If they're scared of the dark or being alone, consider having them draw their fears to get the ideas out of their heads. Next, have them change something about their drawing in a way that makes them feel safe. We've been using this technique with out oldest daughter, and it's so helpful.

The whole idea here involves giving your kids' bodies the time to let the cortisol levels drop from any stressful moments before you want them to fall asleep.

Now that you've got some tools in your pocket to support your kid(s). Let's go back to those questions from above:

What would your evening look like if your children were fully knocked out by 7:30?

What would you do for yourself?

Would you get to sleep earlier?

Is the time spent trying to get your kids to stay in bed quality time spent together?

Would you be less stressed and perhaps sleep better?

How would this change support the goals you have for yourself?

Being very clear on WHY you're trying to make these changes- which aren't all that easy, will help you stay focused to get you through the transition.

You really can do this if you want to, and YES, you do deserve to have some time alone or with your partner in the evenings.

Let me know what's working for you. Share your tips below that have helped streamline your children's bedtime routine creating more time for yourself. I can't wait to hear them!