How can we transition our son to an earlier bedtime?

My son, who is currently two-and-a-half, was born with a serious heart conditon, Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. The trouble we are having is a sleep issue. Because of his heart, we have always been afraid to let him cry for too long. Every night, he falls asleep in our bed, and then we move him to his. It avoids him getting worked up. It doesn’t seem to matter what time of night we try to get him to sleep, he stays busy and manages to keep himself awake until 11:00 p.m. or midnight. He usually sleeps through the night and I wake him at 8:30 a.m. for his medications. He takes a nap about 1:00 p.m. from anywhere between 45 min and two hours. If we skip the nap in hopes of getting him to bed sooner, he wakes at night with night terrors. It also doesn’t seem to help to adjust the time of day he naps, he still keeps himself awake until late. I’m guessing he isn’t getting enough sleep and perhaps the reason he keeps going is from being over tired. His lack of sleep doesn’t seem to affect him as he still continues to play and carry on as normal. Is there something we can try, that isn’t harmful health-wise for him, that may make a transition to an earlier bedtime easier for all of us?

The first thing to do is to check with his doctor that being upset isn’t going to cause him medical problems. You cannot make him sleep. The objective should be to have him quietly amuse himself until sleep. It is preferable that he do this in his own bed.

There are two isssues. One is his bedtime and the second is where he goes to bed. You don’t have to tackle both but it would be better to do so. The steps are straightforward:

  • Set a reasonable bedtime and put him to bed
  • Let him have one or two sleepy time toys
  • Don’t interact with him or let him watch TV after bedtime
  • If his doctor says he can cry, ignore all crying
  • If his doctor says no crying,  be with him but comfort him as little as possible
  • Put him back in bed if he gets out
  • It is OK for him to play quietly
  • Be firm but very low key

This will take energy on your part. Make sure you are fully committed to following through before you start.  It may take a week or two of very consistent bedtimes before he cooperates.

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