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'Bedtime fading' is supposed to get your toddler to sleep. We asked an expert if it works.

As many parents who need to put a young child to bed at night would know, the struggle is real.

But don’t just take an exhausted mum or dad’s word for it; according to Flinder’s University sleep experts, up to 67 percent of kids aged 18 months to four years take more than 30 minutes to fall asleep – and 18 percent take more than an hour.

Ugh, those poor parents. From controlled crying (of both parents and kids) to medications, parents are trying everything to address the challenge repeating itself in homes every night around Australia.

But luckily, there’s been new research into a different sort of sleep technique: ‘bedtime fading.’

Bedtime fading is when a child is put to bed only when they feel naturally tired – not in accordance with the clock. The theory is that children then fall asleep easily and quickly, because they are ready to sleep – and there hasn’t been an hour of effort put into it beforehand.

Once the drama’s been removed, parents can begin introducing an earlier – and more acceptable for them – bedtime.

The new trial for bedtime fading by Flinders University’s Child and Adolescent Sleep Clinic, and published in the journal Sleep Medicine, included 21 children aged between 18 months and four-years-old.

Families in the study reported significant improvements in time it took to fall asleep, the number of bedtime tantrums, and how often kids woke overnight – as soon as bedtime fading was implemented.

The best news was that the results lasted, because a two-year review proved the technique remained successful in those children.

So how does bed time fading actually work? Parents are still in control; but they’re also working with their child’s natural routine.

If the desired bedtime is 8:30pm, but sleeping doesn’t happen for another two hours, the theory is that parents should work backwards in fifteen minute intervals.

That means, for the first couple of nights, bedtime is 10:30pm, then 10:15pm, then 9:45pm, and so on, until the child falls naturally asleep at the right time.

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Consistency is key.

Jen Hamilton, an in-home maternity nurse who has a mother-care home visiting service, and is also a mum-of-three, has been working with parents and sleep routines for 30 years. Through her experience, Hamilton firmly believes in a different approach.

“I’m all about implementing healthy routines early on,” Hamilton tells Mamamia.

“Parents do come to me and ask if they should let their children stay up later and naturally fall asleep, and in my experience, this doesn’t help establish a healthy sleep routine.

“The children don’t fall asleep at a time which then gives them enough sleep overall.”

Hamilton’s advice is, whilst taking into account the age of a child, eliminate what the sleep issue is in the first place.

“Look at what happens in the day,” Hamilton says.

“Do they have a day nap? What time do they go down? I normally advise parents ensure a child is awake by 3:30pm.

“Then they need to look at when bed time is after that. My belief is that three to four hours later is enough.

Hamilton also suggests separating feeding from sleeping.

“Parents must break the association between food and sleeping, for the healthiest routine,” she says.

“With toddlers, it’s better to use a bedtime story or relaxation app, than use milk, for example.

“The older the child gets, the more you can reason with them, too. You can use reward charts, for example.”

But Hamilton says, whatever technique is employed to establish a routine, it must be established, and the confidence of the parent is key.

“It’s all about the parents being confident enough to give a child what they need,” she says.

“Just like brushing teeth; parents don’t wait until kids have the skills themselves – they have to teach them.”

Nama Winston has had a decade-long legal career (paid), and a decade-long parenting career (unpaid). Now a Mamamia Contributor and freelance writer, Nama uses her past experience as a lawyer to discuss everything from from politics, to parenting. Instagram: @namawinston Facebook: @NamaWinston.
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