My two sons are 3 and 4-and-a-half. They share a bedroom, and bedtime is getting crazy. They need different bedtimes, and one is always keeping the other up. Right now, the 4-year-old doesn’t nap and gets tired around 7:30 p.m. His brother takes an afternoon nap, so he stays up later at night, and sometimes doesn’t go down until close to 9 p.m. Usually that means his brother stays up too, but he’s beyond exhausted. Then they both get cranky. Bedtime takes ages! The 3-year -old sleeps later in the morning, until around 8, and the 4-year-old is an early riser, and gets up around 6:30. I’d love to move them into separate rooms but we don’t have the space. Can you help?
You bet. With two roommates so close in age, a single bedtime—instead of different bedtimes for each child—is ideal. Here’s a step-by-step guide to getting their schedules in sync and streamlining their bedtime routine.
First, wake both boys at the same time each morning. The a.m. wake-up call is what programs the circadian rhythm for the rest of the day—waking them up at the same time is major step toward getting them into bed at the same time each night. I can't overstate this: they need to start their day at the same time if you want them to work toward a single bedtime for both boys. I recommend going with the older brother’s earlier wake-up time of 6:30.
Next, adjust little bro’s naps. You didn’t mention when or how long the 3-year-old-naps. But if he’s not tired enough for bedtime until 9, he’s likely taking a late-afternoon nap and snoozing too long. Many 3-year-olds need less daytime sleep than they did as young toddlers, and long naps result in late (and cranky) bedtimes. Since he’s waking earlier in the morning, he’ll be ready for a nap earlier, too. Try offering the nap an hour earlier than normal, and waking him after an hour.
These two steps should gently nudge their routines in the same direction. Meaning, the 3-year-old should be tired enough to fall asleep at big brother’s earlier bedtime of 7:30—hooray! Give the new routine a few days to settle in. In the meantime, use lots of fresh air, exercise, and bright daylight to get them nice and tired before bed. When kids share a bedroom, adequate tiredness at bedtime is extra-important—you want them sleepy enough to doze off quickly after lights-out, so one kiddo isn’t keeping siblings awake (for proof, see my interview with Erika Shupe, a mom whose 9 kids share two bedrooms).
Of course, sometimes one brother just won’t be tired at exactly the same time as his brother. In those instances, try putting the tired brother to bed first. When boy #2 turns in, play “the quiet game” to get him tucked in as silently as possible. Offer a sticker or another small reward if he goes to bed without waking his brother. And kudos to you for taking the trouble to fix room-sharing snafus instead of splitting the boys up into separate bedrooms. The bond they’ll share as a result of bunking up is undoubtedly worth the hassle.