I WOULD say I’m a fairly easygoing parent, I know the importance of routine but I also know the joy of spontaneity.
The last eight years of parenting, however, has taught me that spontaneity at bedtime is rarely a good thing.
I don’t mind admitting I’m a slave to our nap and bedtime routines, but it works for us so it’s worth it.
It hasn’t always been like that, you would imagine by the time we got to the fourth lady we would have understood the importance of a bedtime routine and a napping schedule, but sometimes even the best of us get bogged down in ways that just don’t work but we can’t figure a way out.
When our fourth lady was born we already had a 22-month-old who greatly disliked sleep, and buoyed on by the endless stream of people who assured me that the fourth would just ‘slot in’, I assumed we would find our sleeping nirvana sooner rather than later.
However, by the time she turned six months we were running on empty, the latest addition waking at worst every 45 minutes a night and at best gracing us with a two hour stretch.
We weren’t able to see the wood from the trees at that point, our minds were so groggy with tiredness that we had to call in a sleep expert, Cork-based Lucy Wolfe.
We had a lot of changes to make, but one of the most lasting is the importance of a good bedtime routine. If you came to our house now and saw the military precision with which our night times run, you’d genuinely be impressed, I’m impressed! At 7pm the youngest goes to bed after a book, a cuddle and a song, done in the same order and the same way every single night for the last 18 months (yes, groundhog day does spring to mind on occasion!). Next up at 7.30pm is the pre-schooler and the six and eight year old follow after at 8.15pm.
Each lady is given plenty of time to unwind and they have our full and undivided attention so any worries can be ironed out and settled before they encroach on their little minds.
And why do I brag, you may ask!? Believe me, if you saw the way our bedtimes used to run you’d actually probably feel like we deserved to be in a space to finally brag.
Historically, bedtime used to involve a huge amount of screaming from the toddler and a lot of dread on our behalves as parents, and that screaming and that dread lasted all through the night for well over two years.
While the six-month-old required quite a bit of help and guidance from the expert around many aspects of her sleep, we had no help with the toddler. We did, however, put into practise what we were learning, implemented a bedtime routine and they both started sleeping through the night within weeks. Now we have four ladies under the age of eight and I cannot remember the last time one of them woke me during the night after I went to bed.
Which leads me nicely to talking about the importance of a bedtime routine for adults. I would never have really placed much emphasis on it, but over the last few years I have come to appreciate the effectiveness of it for my own sleep too. I found myself sliding into a pattern where the days were so busy I had no time for myself. I began waking in the dead of the night, my head racing with thoughts that would have been far better addressed and processed during the day. Late at night, it is so easy for thoughts to become worries and for them to lose all control and run wild in your head.
The most mundane concern can grow legs and end up leaving your mind anxious at a time in the night where you can do little about it.
I have introduced my own bedtime routine over the last few years that I find much more conducive to a good night’s sleep. If I let it slip for a few weeks or months, I will, without doubt, fall into a pattern of waking and worrying late into the night.
I think the most important element of a bedtime routine is giving yourself the space to process your thoughts so that you don’t end up doing it in the middle of the night.
I love to get out for a walk if the weather permits, and if it doesn’t I try and do something crafty which keeps my hands busy but allows me the time to get lost in my own world.
I have also introduced a lengthy but effective night time skincare routine that I find the perfect way to slow down and relax myself before hitting the hay. My husband probably thinks I’m half mad spending 10 minutes lathering creams and serums on my face but it works for me, fresh-looking skin on a rested face!
Eimear Hutchinson writes a Parenting and Lifestyle column weekly for WoW! The mum of four small girls runs a blog. She has a doctorate in Engineering but is taking time out currently, raising her four girls. She loves DIY projects, exploring outdoors and figuring out how to make life run smoothly in a busy house.