Silly bedtime for kids leads to better sleep

A silly bedtime routine helped my kids sleep better, created a fun bonding time and helped ease my anxiety.

If you’re like, oh, a bazillion parents everywhere, bedtime pushes the anxiety meter up and up until it quivers near the “losing-it” mark.

The mere mention of toothbrushes and PJs sends my kids into spastic overdrive, running naked around the house, screeching with hilarity, hiding beneath sheets yelling: “You can’t find me!”

It’s the sort of scene that sounds cute when you’re not the mom, or when you’re the mom but it’s a few days later, or when the kid is 27. But in that moment, following 30 minutes of dinner negotiations and I’m eyeing the clock like a shuttle launch countdown, I’m in no mood for tomfoolery. I repeat my demands a million times but it’s open rebellion and I’m losing control. The more I insist, the more they giggle and squirm, trying to break down my stern-mommy exterior with laughter and I open my mouth to let loose on them lectures and follow-my-rules dictations. Anger and impatience rise up, yells explode and tears flow, but finally I gain obedience (with a side of stewing for me, sadness and burst joys for them) and I ask that unanswerable question: “Why do I have to get angry for you to listen?” Blank stares, a shake of my head and, with everyone calm and submissive, we gather for a quiet bedtime story, move on to hugs and five kisses and seal the day with a wish for sweet dreams. Then I feel like complete crap for losing it. Later in the night I wake to my oldest crying about something, usually once, sometimes twice, a bad dream or something that upset her in the day. She has never slept well.

But one magical day (can you hear the tinkle bells) I read this post: the benefits of laughter at bedtime. The author and parenting coach, Kate Orson, is a friend I met through a blogging group . I’m not sure I’d have ever come across this idea but I’m so glad I did.

When I read this:

Roughhousing, and lots of giggles, can help children release any stress or remaining tension from the day. It also helps to build the connection that children need to feel safe to separate from us and fall asleep.”Tweet: Giggles help kids release stress, build connection they need to feel safe. -@kateorson #momlife @walking_on_mom(<–Click the birdie to Tweet that!)

I was skeptical, but it’s easy enough to try, so:

quickmeme.com

quickmeme.com

The Research Says …

Besides, take a look at what the Mayo Clinic says about laughter: Not only does it make us feel better and more relaxed it actually changes our physiology in a good way, making us healthier! I apologize for the excessive exclamation points here, but this is fascinating!!!

If that wasn’t enough, this study found laughter increased melatonin, the hormone that gets us ready for sleep.

With that I launched the official start of “Silly Time,” complete with spreadsheet tracking because 1) spreadsheets are awesome and 2) because I don’t trust my brain to remember what worked and what didn’t. Sure enough, the nights we did “Silly Time” before bed, everyone slept through the night. If we didn’t for some reason — we ran out of time or I was just too tired — someone woke at least once with a cry, a bad dream, something. Only two times on a silly bedtime night did my kids wake, but it was not out of stress, it was because they needed something — water or a night light. After a month, I stopped tracking — there’s no need. It worked for us, so now silly bedtime is part of our bedtime routine for the foreseeable future. 

Here’s a simple way to track your efforts (I used Y or N to mark if there was a correlation):

sleep time chart

And here’s the kicker

Not only did it work for my kids, it showed me a few things about myself:  That the bedtime anxiety I blamed on my girls was my fault. That when I give in to children’s need to play, something turns inside me. I feel the power within our minds to CHOOSE our mood, and that’s a powerful lesson for any stressful moment.  Tweet: I feel the power within our minds to CHOOSE our mood #momlife @Walking_on_Mom(<– Click the birdie to Tweet That)

If I’m grumpy and tired and, darn it, I just don’t care about silly bedtime, I grudgingly begin, half-hearted winding up and they start to laugh and they look at me, not just at me but they search me, beaming; and I give it a little more effort, and I force a silly face and they spin with hilarity; before I know it I have completely chosen this moment, this engagement, this new mood of levity and it takes me over; I’m flipping someone onto my back so that their feet become my bunny ears and their blond locks my bunny tail and we bounce from room to room and they can hardly breath from laughter; I chase them down with pull-ups and when I catch them I put the pull-ups on my head and they scream: “NOOOOO those are MINE,” and they fight for me to get them dressed for bed and I put their pajama bottoms over their eyes and their tops on their kicking feet and they cry out in fits “OH MOMMY YOU’RE SO SILLY YOU DID IT BACKWARDS!” And we all fall down, dressed and ready for bed.  They tuck in happily and I leave transformed.

I could not have found a better piece of sleep-time advice and I only wish I’d have learned about this four years ago.

Try this:

If you decide to give this a try, you will surely evolve your own giggle plans. But if you’d like, here are a few ideas for getting started:

  1. LAUNDRY BASKETBALL: Changing clothes we play laundry basket-ball. They toss their daytime clothes in the basket and we cheer like it’s a game.
  2. ANIMALS IN THE BASKET: Say: “You’d better not put any stuffed animals into the laundry basket,” which, of course, sends them hunting for toys to put in the basket, to which I play scream in the magical voice of HIMYM Robin screaming at Patrice “NOOOO Not the Giraffe OH NO!!!”
  3. RESCUE THE ANIMALS: Once the animals have filled the basket, someone has to rescue them so they race to rescue and safely return all the animals.
  4. NAKED BABY: Then pretend you can’t let a naked baby run around the house so you’d better chase them waving their pajamas like a wild fool.
  5. JACK-IN-THE-BOX: Let them hide under the blankets, stick out their arms and turn it while humming a song. When I stop singing, they jump up and I pretend to fall over in terrible fright.
  6. HILARIOUS BOOKS: Explore silly stories for bedtime like one of my kids’ favorites The Book With No Pictures.

It doesn’t matter what you do in the end, and once you get them started they will come up with ideas on their own. While you’re getting used to the new routine, you may need to reign it in with something that gets them focused. My kids love Cosmic Kids Yoga so I let them take turns “running a yoga class” of four or five poses and that brings them back to the room so we can wrap it up and head to bed.

Meanwhile, if you have reservations about getting silly, if you find yourself feeling, well, foolish (with maybe a hint of insecurity), check out this great read on the value of playfulness in adults and its connection with higher work performance and stress reduction.

What do you think? Were you surprised to hear about routines that emphasize roughhousing before bed? If you decide to try incorporating Silly Time into your bedtime routine, I’d love to hear how it goes for you in the comments below.

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Showing 19 comments
  • Clare O'Dea
    Reply

    Fantastic post Tara! I saw Kate’s original post and it struck a chord with me because bedtime has always been my weak point, bringing out the dragon in me. I’m delighted the new approach worked for you. I suppose this dragon can also change her spots and introduce a bit of fun at bedtime although my older girls will be very surprised.

    • Tara McLaughlin Giroud
      Reply

      🙂 ha ha, scary dragon becomes silly monster — great story! 😉 So glad you liked the post. Yes, I feel like I’m changing spots daily sometimes. 😉 I’d love to hear if you do this what your kids think.

  • Claire
    Reply

    I tried this tonight with mixed success. Going to keep trying!

    • Tara McLaughlin Giroud
      Reply

      Good luck Claire! I hope it helps with anything you’re dealing with. 🙂 Sleep issues are so hard.

  • Johanna
    Reply

    I read this earlier today and tried it tonight with my 19 month old! Bedtimes are never stressful for us, meanwhile, with our four year old and him… and we are lucky for that, I know. Our big one winds down so beautifully and has it so sorted. Our little one is still in process, and tonight we just tickled and rolled around and danced and chased up and down the hallway until bed time. I’m curious to see if he has an amazing night! Thanks for keeping my mind ticking 🙂

    • Tara McLaughlin Giroud
      Reply

      Oh great! I’d love to hear how it goes. I would try to track it over time and see if you notice any patterns. Best of luck!

      • Johanna
        Reply

        So the first night, after I wrote this, he slept ALLLLL THE WAY through for the second time ever in 20 months! So we’ve let it continue, and it is such a joy… but the next three nights have been some of the worst in a very long time, with at least a dozen wakings. But there’s obviously something else going on… and I know from my first boy’s sleep issues that this will eventually pass 🙂

        • Tara McLaughlin Giroud
          Reply

          Wow, it sounds like you’ve had some positives (especially if you all enjoy doing silly time) but wow, some horrible nights as well 🙁 I know we try to solve all of these mysteries and I think one of the most important things I learned so far with my girls sleep (Sophie is almost 5, Olivia is 3) is that we have to follow our instincts, kids are so different. And while this has worked so well for us, really changed our world, but we can’t pretend that parenting is a one-size-fits-all. I wish you all the best and some good nights sleep for your little one AND YOU!

        • Tara McLaughlin Giroud
          Reply

          Johanna, I wanted to add this link to the author whose tips I used to test out Silly Time for myself — she talks about a few other points to consider with bedtime. I’m sure you have your hands full already if your little one is going through some other struggles, but I thought I’d add this here, I just read it and thought of you. Best, Tara
          https://kateorson.com/2016/06/17/the-five-step-plan-for-preventing-early-wakings/

  • Tamara
    Reply

    Wow, awesome results, very nice! Love your excel chart, very analytical!
    How do you go from silly, excited, hyped-up to “close your eyes and sleep tight”?
    BTW April 8 was new moon.

    • Tara McLaughlin Giroud
      Reply

      ha ha, yeah, I love spreadsheets. I feel so in control. 😉 For the transition from wild west to sleep tight we take a couple of minutes and do yoga. I have a link in the post to Cosmic Kids yoga, which is essentially a story time that incorporates yoga poses into the story, they even have Star Wars, Frozen and Harry Potter episodes. 🙂 Anyway, the girls love this so I let them “lead a yoga class.” So silly time ends (I give them fair warning “last silly move is the bunny, here we go”) and then after silly time they take turns leading yoga — this is about five poses lasting just a few minutes and that gets them into the bedroom, in one spot and it’s made for a super easy transition. You can always make up some silly reason to stand in one place for a few minutes and “Stretch up and tickle the stars, and reach down and touch your toes” or something like this. As Kate Orosn mentioned in her original post, it can take a few times of practicing to get them used to reigning in the craziness, but once they get used to the routine, they make the switch easy peasy. (usually 😉 )

  • Kate
    Reply

    I feel all the anxiety surrounding bedtime. This sounds fantastic and well worth a try. You even have a spreadsheet to prove it! Love it! Kids love fun, silly fun, and laughter. We will give it a try. It looks fun, why not!?

    • Tara McLaughlin Giroud
      Reply

      I hope you enjoy it or see even a little benefit, whether it’s for you or your kids sleep or the whole package! I still struggle from time to time to get past my personal frustrations, but it seems so worth it in the end, even if I have to march in there begrudgingly! 😉 All the best!

  • Jane
    Reply

    we do silly bed time including silly books but to be honest can’t see much difference he still wakes up!!! 🙂

    • Tara McLaughlin Giroud
      Reply

      Thanks for sharing your experience. Mine wake up for things like water or bathroom maybe once a week or so but I’ve been so encouraged that we’ve essentially cut out nighttime cries with silly time. I hope you find something that feels right for your family.

  • Sara
    Reply

    Great fun! This is really the prise of the seven steps of Relax Kids, too! If we start by meeting children where they are at in a more heightened state of energy, and gradually come to a more relaxed state, we are also teaching little minds and bodies the habits for over time to draw upon. Love it!! You might also love some.of Marneta Viegas’s Relax Kids books and CDs! They really go so well in our house at bedtime xxx

  • Alie
    Reply

    Okay so now I totally feel bad tonight about telling the kids to cut out the goofing off and go to sleep. They always get silly, giggly and jumpy before they sleep and we always try to calm them down. Now I know not to. Thanks so much for writing this. I will try it out for the rest of my life just to get a good nights sleep!

    • Tara McLaughlin Giroud
      Reply

      ha ha ha, I know, I was the exact same. “Knock of the shenanigans and go to sleep!” ha ha, but yeah, it really does help, at least in our household. Hope it works for you, too!

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