No Sleep for The Weary: Back to School Bedtime Routines

No Sleep for the Weary

Summer is winding down, but that doesn’t mean that’s what your kiddos are doing. No sleep for the weary! As we are sliding back into the school schedules, kiddos can have schedules that are easily thrown off by summer adventures, fun and lots of activities. In my opinion, that’s how it should be.

School is in session and kids have to get up at a certain time and be somewhere in the morning. They need that sleep to function properly. We all know what happens when a baby or toddler doesn’t get enough sleep. Their summer behavior has to change on the dime and this can be HARD not just for the child, but for the parents! So, because of popular demand I am writing a few things that I know about behavior as most of my job was analyzing behavior for special education.

I know it is not exactly natural to look at sleep like a behavior or habit, but that is what it is exactly. Looking at this as a habit can change how you run the whole “wind down” schedule before bedtime.

Now before you think to yourself “Oh, she thinks she has it all together and her kids sleep until noon- so she thinks she can tell me how to do it.” NOPE NOPE NOPE – My kids are good sleepers and I attribute it to structure BUT we have our moments, A LOT OF THEM. My evenings look like your evenings. I did not read a lot of sleep training books, I didn’t follow a certain one because no two children are alike and I am not going to put those expectations on them–but I am sharing what I do that may work for your family and some tips I would give to the parents I worked with in the past.


Let’s Dive In – Shall We?

If my kids were to tell you our bedtime routine, this is what they would say to you:

  • Mama takes us to the bathtub where she allows us ONLY 50 toys each to play with. She then pours a burning, acid-like substance over my head, in which she claims is “tear-free”. I scream even though it really doesn’t burn my eyes at all. It just seems like the appropriate reaction.

  • She then dries me off with a towel that is NOT warming me up, I feel like I am in the arctic tundra. So, I continue to cry and act like the towel is covered in cactus thorns until she carries me like an infant wrapped in a towel. I really prefer the towels be warmed in the microwave.

  • I move to my room and I also think its appropriate that I act like a fish out of water as my mom attempts to put me in my pajamas. It’s a perfect time for the pajama dance. I don’t care that my sisters are crying and it takes my mom 15 minute to put my pants on.
  • Then we go back to the bathroom where we brush hair and teeth. When my mom brushes my hair I prefer it sound as though she is performing an exorcism on me until all of the knots are out. I am not sure why Mom thinks she needs brush my teeth for me. I am more than capable of sucking the toothpaste off my toothbrush and out of the tube of toothpaste independently.
  • Choosing a book is pretty cut and dry. I tell my mom “The animal book” 85 times until she picks the animal book that I didn’t even realize was in the bookshelf in the first place. I yell “not that animal book, the other one” for a good 15 minutes until there is actual steam coming out of my Moms ears.
  • After reading, I pick all of the stuffies I want to sleep with that night. If I forget a stuffie or change my mind, its no problem, I just scream for Mom and Dad. She seems to love locating the stuffie I want – especially when I don’t remember where I left it.
  • I love to hug and kiss Mom and Dad and ask 45 questions like “If the moon was made of BBQ spare ribs, would ya eat?” type questions. Its important that each one is answered. I can’t let Mom and Dad off the hook that easily.
  • Going to bed is a lot of work for us.


My version is slightly different, but you get my drift. Even though schedules are INSANE IN THE MEMBRANE, they are important. This time of the day is truly the busiest and craziest for me, but I stick to a firm time and this is mostly for my kids expectations.

In all seriousness, here is why:

Habit is defined as: “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up: this can develop into a bad habit.” I will never forget when we moved out of Baldwin Park and I would accidentally get off the exit to our old house out of habit repeatedly. It is instinctual in all people.

Bedtime is a HABIT! It may not be seen as a habit or behavior, but it is. Every night you put your children to sleep, if you have a good routine, it will produce successful sleep in children. What I studied in this area was called a “habit loop” and this is what we use for Ella and will mirror with the twins.

How does The Habit Loop Work?

C u e :

The cue is the trigger for the habit or routine. In this case, it is the usual time to begin “bedtime.”

R o u t i n e:

The routine is the sequence of behaviors that you do at “bedtime” to settle your child down. (Bathing, reading, cuddling etc.)

R e w a r d:

A refreshing night of sleep for the whole family.

This is where I can help – If you are saying “well this is NOT what my house looks like” or it works and your child wakes up multiple times or you need to lay with them all night until they fall asleep, or take for instance putting a baby to sleep– if they need a bottle of milk multiple times during the night (learned hunger). If this is your family, keep reading…there is more for you.



Let’s apply the habit loop to your scenario:


Example 1:

The cue: your child is having difficulty falling asleep or waking up at night.

The routine: lying down with them so they fall asleep.

The reward: a few hours of sleep until they wake up again in the middle of the night.


Example 2:

The cue: your child is waking up at night.

The routine: drinking a bottle of milk.

The reward: a few hours of sleep until they wake up again in the middle of the night.

Okay, so here is what you can do to change the loop.

-You can change the routine slowly, by “camping out” or other sleep training methods. I don’t know what works for your family but it is never too late to sleep train. You can also try “cry it out” but it can be more painful for Mamas. Changing the cue usually means changing the bedtime. If your child is feeding at night, the cue is weening off the feeds slowly.

To change a cue, you should always substitute desirable routine for a better one example: getting rid of paci, replacing it with a favorite stuffie. IF you are changing a cue with a toddler over 2, I would suggest printing a sample schedule (sample below) and having them check it off. When a toddler is in control of something, it seems to go a bit smoother. We will think they are in control of this one.

Habits are INGRAINED: changing them takes patience, effort and consistency. Consistency with the time you perform “bedtime routines” are important. Your child will then know what their expectations are. If things are flex, they will not cooperate as much, leaving more stress for you to juggle.

It is very easy for old habits to resurface if you take a vacation or your child gets sick. When this happens, just remember what interventions you used in the past. Life happens, so you can intervene when it does. Don’t let this discourage you – just prepare for it.

Lastly, think of other sleep habits (good and bad) that may be affecting your child’s sleep and your own? Try to apply the good habits to the Habit Loop.

Kids crave structure, consistency, and routine – As this can be insanely hard to change, it is not impossible. It takes work and is WORTH it. I am not the pro at this but its in my nature as an educator to be consistent. I have seen first hand the benefits of this in students and my own children.


M Y  G O – T O   S A M P L E S

PopSugar Printables: Download Samples of visual schedules here

Trip Clip * Create your own schedule here: Drop in the scheduled items that work for your family dynamic, download and print.

Pinterest Routine Printables


MY SCHEDULE (You can use as sample):

5:00 – Hard stop to prepare for dinner, warning “dinner in 30min”. (I usually set a timer on my phone to get Ella aware of time since she is almost 3 and doesn’t really understand what 30 min is.” I feed twins solids while Ella is waiting for dinner. I usually multi task and prep her dinner also.

5:30—Ella dinner and twins either snack on puffs or play while Ella eats.

6:00- All girls in the bath. One twin in the crib with a teething toy, one in the bath with Ella (rotate) Ella is in bath the entire time.

6:30 – Out of bath, brush teeth, PJs, wind down (wine down), low key play and reading

7:00 – Twins last bottle & bedtime (last call for food/drink for Ella)

8:00-8:30 Ella’s Bedtime (we read a lot of books before 8:30 and try to minimize television as this stimulates her)


Tips on Healthy Sleep Habits:

These are tips I would share with a lot of the parents I worked with as we had a lot of students that would sneak their iPads into their bed and stay up all night. This was helpful to a lot of moms, including myself.


Nemours: Wake Back to School Sleep Schedule

7 Tips for Keeping Healthy Sleep Habit

  1. Be consistent.

Keeping a consistent sleep schedule without changes, even on weekends, is really helpful. It can even help keep kids’ circadian rhythms (the body’s internal clock) regulated.

  1. Maintain a soothing bedtime routine to wind down and relax.

A consistent and relaxing bedtime routine will help signal to your children’s bodies that it’s time to sleep. Establishing “quiet time,” reading a book, hearing a bedtime story, and performing other relaxing activities like taking a warm bath or shower can help kids prepare for bed.

  1. Limit screen time before bed.

Turn off the TV and other electronics an hour before bed and keep their mobile devices outside the bedroom. Studies show that the light of screens (cell phones, tablets, laptops) can confuse our bodies into thinking it’s still light outside, making it harder to fall asleep.

  1. Create a calm sleep environment.

Having an environment conducive to sleep makes a huge difference for kids. That means making sure kids have a dark and quiet room, a comfortable bed, and a comfortable room temperature (68–72 degrees). White noise machines or a fan can also be effective in soothing your kids to sleep by creating a consistent and rhythmic sound. Playing soft, calming music (think classical) can also help them to sleep.

  1. Nix caffeine within six hours of bedtime.

This includes sodas and other caffeinated beverages that can interrupt a child’s natural sleeping patterns.

  1. Avoid big meals before bedtime.

Meals with oversized portions or spicy foods can cause discomfort from indigestion and make it hard for kids to fall asleep.

  1. Exercise after school.

Physical activity in the afternoon can help ensure a good night’s sleep by tiring kids out during the day. Some kids find it harder to sleep if they exercise too close to bedtime, so make sure to encourage exercise when it works best for them.

s h o p:  My Top Picks for Sleep Must Haves

|click the images to add to cart|

Hatch Baby Rest Sound Machine / $59.99

Night light and sound machine – light colors that promote circadian rhythms and melatonin production. Controlled by smartphone

Dohm White Noise Sound Machine / $44.93

Originial White Noise Machine – the sound of rushing air without actual air. I have these in every room we sleep in. Love these little white machines!

Little Hippo, Mella Ready to Rise Children’s Trainer / $49.99

Alarm Clock, Night Light, and Sleep Sound Machine

***Love this: KEEP YOUR KID IN BED LONGER AND GET MORE SLEEP – MELLA uses colors and facial expressions to teach your kids when it’s time for bed and time to wake up. Half an hour before it’s time to wake up, MELLA will glow yellow, signaling it’s almost time to start the day. When MELLA turns green, it’s time to wake up!


Bedtime Schedules/ (prime)

Reward charts or schedule check off lists help a parent create a solid bedtime routine. Encouraging the quality sleep that everyone needs. These provide a step-by-step routine that rewards children for the preparation of bedtime and their efforts throughout the night. This promotes the toddler being in control of the schedule and also positive reinforcement for completing tasks.

Okay, now that the reading is over, digest & click on my Prickly Pear Margarita Recipe, I assume you will need it after implementing a new sleep schedule. I got you Mama!

I pray this is helpful for you – would love to hear your success stories or if I can help in any other way. Happy Sleeping Mamas!


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