Bedtime is one of those daily transitions when an opportunity for your kid’s Big Feelings shows up. It’s the ultimate stopping point for kiddos. The fun is over; they have to stop what they’re doing and get ready for bed.
“Ha, that’s what you think!” they seem to say. “The fun is just beginning!” And off they run, half dressed, mostly bathed, with a crazy laugh trailing behind them, while you stand there disheveled, exhausted, and ready to throw in the towel. Literally.
In my last post, I talked about ways to navigate the bedtime transition through healthy boundaries, a calming routine, and resetting expectations via awareness of your child’s developmental response to change.
I offered ways to share our calm, much like we see Joseph’s mom do in Mission CONTROL: A Big Feelings Adventure!, when Joseph’s Big Feelings show up in time for bedtime. Ways we can share our calm include taking deep, four-second breaths to keep the blood flow moving, choosing to whisper our words instead of yelling them, purposefully feeling the ground beneath our bare feet, drinking a glass of water, and reminding ourselves that our child’s brain has been hijacked by survival chemicals and needs a minute, and your calming presence, to come back down.
It’s also helpful to create a routine with calm, wind-down activities, like reading a “quiet” book, sharing a time of family prayer or gratitude, or snuggles with a song.
Even with all the snuggles, songs, and silent prayers for kids to fall asleep, the sillies can creep up through their bodies and wiggle their ways right out of our bedtime routine. WHY?!
Why do bodies get silly at bedtime?
There are a number of reasons your child may get the sillies at bedtime. I’ll cover some causes here, but the list is certainly not exhaustive.
Not Tired - Sometimes we are exhausted but our kids are not! Their tiredness level can change depending on if they napped, how long they napped, and how long into the day they napped. It’s also possible that bedtime isn’t lining up with your child’s internal clock. Our bodies release hormones to prepare us to wake and sleep—our kids won’t feel tired if their bodies haven’t yet produced enough melatonin, a key regulator of sleep.
Overtired - Neither will your child easily fall to sleep if he or she is overtired. While that sounds irrational, an overtired body will struggle to calm down and settle into sleep. Overtiredness is often the result of not getting enough moments to pause, rest, and reflect during the day. A mind that hasn’t had the space to be will make the space when it’s time to sleep… keeping your kiddo, and you, awake.
Overstimulation - Developmentally, a child needs certain levels of stimulating activity to keep up with the curiosity and connections of their growing brain. However, too much stimulation overwhelms their ability to cope with the experiences, sensations, noises, and activity they’re exposed to. This level of overwhelm can create irritability and Big Feelings to show up at bedtime!
Use of Technology - While technology has been a lifesaver for many individuals and families, it can also be the cause of the sillies instead of snuggles at bedtime. Multiple studies have shown that the more time children spend using a device the less sleep and quality of sleep they get. This is in part because the artificial light exposure disrupts your child’s (and your!) internal clock, impacting restful sleep. The other part is the actual content. This doesn’t mean all technology is harmful! It does mean your child will fall asleep more easily if content and timing around the use of technology is considered.
Diet - Yes, believe it or not, your child’s diet can impact bedtime transitions! Not only can a child’s overall diet impact digestion and energy levels, but caffeine and sugar too close to bedtime can fuel that second win you’re so desperately trying to calm to sleep.
Personality - You might also just have a playful, gregarious, excited kiddo! And that’s okay too. Read my last article on helping your child manage change to celebrate that playfulness (during daytime hours) and usher it into restful sleep at bedtime.
Again, this list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a starting point for understanding why your child’s body gets silly at bedtime.
How to Use a Bedtime Playlist
There are a couple different ways to use a bedtime playlist. You can have a predetermined list of songs to calm and soothe your child’s nervous system, to slow down their breathing, quiet their thinking, and calm their physical bodies.
You can also use a playlist of music as part of a dedicated time for your kiddo to get their sillies out. This can be a great addition to the bedtime routine.
Quiet the Sillies Down
Studies have shown the incredible impact of music on our brains. Music has the special ability of lighting up or activating multiple parts of the brain. Music enhances the functions of the Prefrontal Cortex (our executive functions), activates both hemispheres through language and sound, engages our memory, helps us manage emotions, and can regulate physical body experiences, such as heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle relaxation.
With this knowledge, we can bring calming music to our kids as part of their bedtime routine. We can sing together or play a list of songs that don’t stimulate, but rather calm the whole system into a cozy slumber. This can be especially helpful for the kiddo who is overtired, overstimulated, or impacted by the use of technology. (Some music will irritate an overstimulated child, so be mindful of the uniqueness of your kiddo and what kind of music (if any) helps them fall asleep.)
Using the Vestibular Sense in My Practice and Your Home
In addition to using music, I love to incorporate the Vestibular Sense into my work with children and families. The Vestibular System is like the worker in the middle of the street blowing a whistle and waving a neon wand to control the traffic. It’s responsible for sorting, relaying, and passing on sensory information to the various parts of the brain from the body. Because of our Vestibular System’s powerful and important work in the brain and body, we can use it to self-regulate—to help our body find agreement between rest in the brain and rest in the body. Using certain body movements, we can tell our body to wake up or calm down.
Part of a good sleep-time routine might include gently rocking your child (mimicking the calm movement of their time in the womb), relaxing stretches or poses, gently swinging in a hammock or swing, rocking in a rocking chair, or slowly rolling on their tummy on a fitness ball.
Gets the Sillies Out
We can also use music with the child who just isn’t tired yet, who’s fighting a sugar rush, or has a playful personality. This is the dance-your-sillies-out playlist and a fun part of a bedtime routine. Pre-plan the length of time you’ll “budget” during your bedtime routine for silly dancing. Yes, there are lots of great studies on the benefit of body movement and music, but also… it’s just fun. Let your kiddo dance their wiggles out to exhaust some of their extra energy, then lead into a quieting part of your routine.
You can use apps like Spotify or YouTube or your devices list options for creating a playlist of songs for when you’ll need them. Search “Kids Dance Party” something similar to find already-created playlists, or start your own! Here are some songs you might enjoy to start with:
When You Wish Upon a Star - Nick Lachey
Rock-a-Bye Baby - Dream Baby
La La Lu - Peggy Lee
Baby Mine - Alison Krauss
Serene Melody - Toddler Songs Kids
Golden Slumbers - Linda Arnold, Ariel Thiermann
Distant Bedtime - Toddler Songs Kids
Bedtime Music - Sleep baby Sleep
Soft Music for Trouble Sleeping - Bedtime Baby
Bedtime Song - ABC Kids
Shake My Sillies Out - Raffi
Tomorrow - Mr. Rogers
This is the Way We Go to Bed - Super Simple Songs
Upside Down - Jack Johnson
Sleepy Bug - Splash ‘N Boots
The Chicken Dance -
Shake Your Sillies- The Zoogies
Bananas in Pajamas - Kids Hits Project
Happy - Calvin Duncan
I Like to Move It - Madagascar
Visual Bedtime Routine Freebie
I can’t state enough how helpful a bedtime routine is for that wake-to-sleep transition. In fact, routines can be great all day long! But since transitions to sleep tend to be the most challenging, I want to give you a downloadable freebie to get you started. Visual charts are a great way for kids to tangibly see in front of them the expectations of the routine. You can use images if they’re pre-literate or images and words if you want to support language learning. It’s up to you! The important part is that your child begins to equate the visual chart with the expectation of the routine. This preps your child’s brain to know what’s coming and eases the switch from play to sleep.
I’ve included one to give you an idea (or to use!) Feel free to use it as a model or your actual routine.
We don’t have to stay in “Why won’t he sleep?” land for very long. By recognizing what might be causing the resistance to sleep and implementing some of the strategies I’ve shared here, you will begin to see a shift in your kiddo at sleeptime. It will take some time to learn what works best for your child and your family dynamic, so be patient. But with intentionality, consistency, and patience, you’ll begin to find bedtime sweet (and successful!) rather than exhausting and frustrating. Who doesn’t want that?!
Dewar, G. (2021, May 24). Bedtime problems in children: Solutions for the science-minded parentGwen Dewar. PARENTING SCIENCE. Retrieved October 2, 2021, from https://parentingscience.com/bedtime-problems/.
Lull Team. (2018, April 27). Dance your way to better sleep! . The Lull Blog Premium Foam Mattress. Retrieved October 2, 2021, from https://lull.com/blog/dance-way-better-sleep/.
Lumiere Children's Therapy. (2018, February 26). Child therapy: Vestibular Sensory Activities. Lumiere Children's Therapy. Retrieved October 2, 2021, from https://www.lumierechild.com/lumiere-childrens-therapy/2017/05/22/child-therapy-vestibular-sensory-activities.
Music and the brain: What happens when you're listening to music. Pegasus Magazine. (n.d.). Retrieved October 2, 2021, from https://www.ucf.edu/pegasus/your-brain-on-music/.
Rahn, A. (2021, February 2). Overstimulated baby? why it happens and how to soothe it. Detroit and Ann Arbor Metro Parent. Retrieved October 2, 2021, from https://www.metroparent.com/newborn-care/overstimulated-baby/.
The vestibular sense: What is it & why is it important for child development? Children inspired by yoga. (2019, March 7). Retrieved October 2, 2021, from https://childreninspiredbyyoga.com/blog/2018/01/vestibular-sense-child-development/.