The “Big Day” Sleep Technique for Children

The “Big Day” technique is something I’ve used with both my children to help them get to sleep. It helps with the final part of the bedtime routine — helping them settle down in the crib and put themselves to sleep. If you have a toddler between one and three years old, this might help them get to sleep with less crying. Try it out and let me know if it works.

First, a bit of background. Right now my daughter Rowan is one and a half. Her bedtime routine breaks down into three parts: preparing for sleep, reading, and then the “Big Day” conclusion. Preparing for sleep means getting her into pajamas, brushing her teeth, and turning on her sound machine. Then we read for about 10 minutes — Rowan usually wants to read about 2 pages of each book before throwing it on the floor and moving on to the next book. It doesn’t seem particularly relaxing to me, but she seems to enjoy it. Once reading is over, I transfer her to the crib. This is where the Big Day technique comes in.

The Big Day technique essentially entails convincing Rowan that she should go to sleep because she’s had a big day and she needs a good rest. I cover Rowan up with blankets and start to tell her about her day in great detail. I’ll mention everything I can think of that happened to her during the day — any activities she’s done, people she’s seen, or places she’s gone. Sometimes I’ll start by explaining what happened right after she woke up, and work my way sequentially through the events of her day all the way through to bedtime. For example, I’ll say, “Rowan, you’ve had such a big day. You woke up, and Dada was there, and Mama was there, and Luc was there… We went downstairs for breakfast… You sat in your chair… We put your bib on… We had some oatmeal with blueberries…” And so on, going into lots of detail through the rest of the day. Sometimes, I’ll go through her day in reverse, and other times I’ll skip around. They all seem to work. I usually do this for 5-plus minutes, periodically repeating that it’s been a really big day, and telling her that she’s going to need a lot of rest. Once we’ve gone through the whole day, I’ll even mention that tomorrow is going to be a big day too — maybe mentioning briefly some of the people she’s going to see and some of the things she’s going to do — just as an excuse to tell her again that she’s going to need a lot of sleep tonight. At this point, I’ll tell her okay, it’s time to say goodnight, then I’ll give her a kiss, and walk out of the room.

This technique has worked wonders with Rowan. She used to have a tough time falling asleep, often wailing for several minutes. Now, she rarely cries, and if she does cry it’s only for a minute or two. The Big Day method has worked for my wife Jordan too. For whatever reason, Rowan used to cry more forcefully when Jordan would put her down. Since Jordan’s been using the Big Day method, Rowan has been going right to sleep for her too. Big Day also worked for my son Luc when he was that age.

I’m not sure why this works, though I have a couple theories. First of all the Big Day story itself is quite soothing — very monotonous and repetitive. This must be relaxing all by itself. I’ve even read this is a good method for adults to get themselves to sleep. Second, I think this helps a child process what happened during the day. Even as an adult you often need to file away all the events of the day — I’m sure for a child, this is even more pronounced. And finally, I suspect one of the reasons kids have trouble falling asleep is they feel like they’re missing out — the adults are still awake, and there’s just bound to be more fun stuff happening! Showing your child that the day was quite full, and that tomorrow will be quite full too, might help put those fears to rest.

-Pierre

8 comments… add one

8 comments

  • Great technique. My children are old enough now that they sleep easily, but I remember doing a similar-ish thing when they were little. I would sit with them for a few minutes, and one by one, tell them that all the people they knew were going to sleep. I'd say something like, "Darcy is going to bed, and Charlotte is asleep now, and Nicola's asleep..." and on, and on. I think it distracts their minds away from thinking "Mummy is leaving me and I'll be all alone", and gives them something soothing to relax their minds.
    • author
      Hi Paula, I think you're right about that -- if they feel like they're missing out, it's tough for them to go to sleep. But if they understand that everyone else is going to bed too, they can commit themselves to falling asleep. Thanks for stopping by!
  • I love this post Pierre! Graham and I do something similar and you are right - it works! However, I have stopped telling my kids what tomorrow has in store for them because then they jump right back up and say, "Yay, let's do it NOW!" I hope you, Jordan and your kids are well.
    • author
      Haha good point Lindsay! Recently I've been switching the endgame around too. I've been sort of coaching Rowan through how to get herself to sleep. Seems to be a good improvement so far.

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