Increasing sleep pressure can help to reduce the time it takes children to settle to sleep. This allows you to build an association between a soothing bed routine and sleep. Once the association is formed, the bed routine can be gradually shifted to the optimal time for your child and your family. Increasing sleep pressure can also reduce sleep-issues such as body rocking that occur in the early stages of sleep.
There are many possible approaches to increasing sleep pressure at bedtime:
1. Bedtime Fading
Bedtime fading is where you gradually increase sleep pressure at night by making bedtime later and later. For example, if usual bedtime is 6pm, then on nights 1-3 you aim for a 6:30pm bedtime, then nights 4-7 you aim for a 7pm bedtime. This gradual approach is likely to be appropriate if you are afraid that your child might react badly to a sudden shift in sleep time. By making bedtime later and later, your child should be more and more tired at bedtime, and fall asleep faster. You can make bedtime later and later until your child is falling asleep quickly, with less body movements, and then gradually bring bedtime earlier again.
Faded bedtimes also featured in a previous podcast and article: 5 Research-based Sleep Training Methods.
2. Bedtime Restriction
Measure your child’s average total sleep time* and restrict time in bed to the average total sleep time. For example a child who is in bed 7pm to 7am (12 hours) but only sleeping for 10 hours due to delay falling asleep, and night wakings, would get a new bedtime and wake time that are 10 hours apart, for example 8pm to 6am.
3. Sleep Restriction**
Measure your child’s average total sleep time* and restrict time in bed to the average total sleep time minus 30 minutes. For example a child who is in bed 7pm to 7am (12 hours) but only sleeping for 10 hours due to delay falling asleep, and night wakings, would get a new bedtime and wake time that are 9.5 hours apart, for example 8:30pm to 6am. You could try restricting sleep at nap time or bedtime.
*To measure average total sleep time you may need to monitor your child’s sleep more carefully for a few nights to a week, possibly with a video monitor. You can use the Child and Adolescent Sleep Clinic Sleep Diary to record sleep.
**Sleep Restriction is not recommended if your child experiences night terrors or sleep walking.
Please add your experiences with these approaches in the comments below. Please provide the age of your child when you tried it, and how long you tried it for. If it worked, please share the effects you saw. If it didn’t work, why do you think it didn’t work in your case?