It's 8pm. You've had a long day. You want to sit down, want to eat something, probably have a glass of wine, decompress a bit. And instead you're on your knees, begging, coaxing and pleading with your toddler to get into bed, to stay there, to close their eyes, to please.... PLEASE go to sleep...
It's one of the biggest challenges of parenthood: sleep, or rather, the lack of it. And I know all too well that it takes its toll on all aspects of family life - my youngest was a bad sleeper; throughout his first two years he would regularly wake seven or eight times in the night, screaming heartily until I tended to him. And it was exhausting. Debilitating. I cancelled social engagements; I doubted my ability as a mother; I got through each day but I was so sleep deprived I didn't do much more.
Fortunately, I soon discovered that I wasn't alone, and with the help, humour and support of various friends, books and parenting forums, I got through it. But there are still thousands of parents suffering. And whilst some sleep upheaval is part and parcel of parenthood (babies need to feed little and often and that need doesn't switch itself off at night), sleep torture is quite something else. It affects relationships, it affects decisions on whether to go back to work, it can lead to depression and anxiety. In fact, BookTrust research ,commissioned from Census, found that some families would pay up to £10k to solve their children's sleep problems.
Which is why we've launched Bath, Book, Bed: 14 days to better sleep. The idea is not new - parents have been following a similar routine for generations - but it's trusted by health visitors and midwives, and we know that it works: the same routine every night signals to children that the day is over; the ritual of bath, book, bed, helps them wind down and prepares them for sleep. Anyone signing up to Bath Book Bed (www.booktrust.org.uk/bathbookbed) will get advice and support from the wonderful Jo Frost (TV parenting guru and one of the experts whose advice I followed slavishly when faced with my own sleep issues) to help them coax their children into calm bedtimes and good sleep habits, and we've got vloggers sharing their experiences too, reassuring parents that they are not alone.
But whilst Bath Book Bed is all about sleep, we're quietly confident that the 'Book' bit will also pay dividends later on. Reading books can be immensely soporific (as anyone who, like me, regularly nods off reading in bed will attest to); but sharing books with children also stimulates creativity, imagination, empathy and language development. In fact, children who are read to every day start school on average a year ahead of their peers, and this gap only widens as they get older.
Of course, when you're exhausted, and your child is exhausted, any kind of routine can feel just too much work. But as I learned myself, it's worth persevering. My own bad sleeper went on, eventually, to sleep through the night. He still wakes up every morning at 5.45am, but he now waits until 6am before creeping downstairs to find some mischief that will occupy him until the rest of us wake up.
So next time you're faced with a cross child at bedtime who's refusing to go to sleep, try Bath, Book, Bed. And if you don't have any children, the good news is that it works just as well for stressed-out grown-ups, too. On occasion, I like to add a glass of wine into the mix... Totally up to you. http://www.booktrust.org.uk/bathbookbed