Getting quality sleep is essential in childhood, yet research shows that as many as 20 to 30% of babies and toddlers have trouble sleeping. If you’re the parent or caregiver of a young insomniac, you’ll know firsthand how frustrating it is to see your little one struggle with bedtime.
One of the easiest ways to set your child up for good sleep is by creating a bedtime routine. The good news is that it only takes a few nights of following a bedtime routine to see improvements in your child’s sleep.
Bedtime routines are a consistent, repetitive set of activities that are carried out before bed every night. They help prepare your child for sleep by having them relax and wind down. A predictable routine also gives your child a sense of security and teaches them how to fall asleep on their own.
Research shows that children who follow bedtime routines are more likely to go to sleep earlier, take less time falling asleep, sleep longer, and wake up less during the night. These benefits to sleep quality are still seen years later in children who followed bedtime routines when they were younger.
In addition to improving sleep, bedtime routines teach your child self-care and lay the ground for working memory, attention, and other cognitive skills. They also foster parent-child bonding and may help improve mood, stress levels, and behavior.
In the long term, these benefits translate to better readiness for school, as well as better academic performance and social skills. By contrast, those who don’t follow a bedtime routine in childhood are more likely to have sleep problems and be overweight during adolescence.
Setting a bedtime routine right from the beginning with your baby makes it easier to keep up healthy habits as your child grows.
A bedtime routine for kids usually consists of three or four activities, for example, having a snack, brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, and reading a book. These should always be done in the same order. To make the routine even more effective, start winding down the household by dimming the lights and turning off screens in the lead-up to bed.
Typical bedtime activities that have been shown to have beneficial effects on sleep include:
The bedtime routine should culminate in a goodnight kiss and lights-out. You should leave the room while your child is sleepy but not asleep yet. This way they learn to fall asleep on their own, and they won’t panic if they wake up in the middle of the night and find you gone. Set a consistent bedtime that leaves enough time for your child to sleep the recommended amount of hours for their age.
Certain activities are counterproductive to sleep and may cause your child to form unhealthy habits. Of course, every child is different and you may find it takes some trial-and-error to find out what works best for your family. However, when crafting your child’s bedtime routine, try to stick to the following advice:
It’s natural to adapt bedtime routines as your child grows.
In early childhood, many toddlers are gripped by the throes of separation anxiety. This is a good time to introduce a stuffed animal or comfort blanket for extra reassurance when you leave the room.
Toddlers will also try to assert their newly found independence by acting out or resisting bedtime. You can head off their stalling tactics by letting them make some of their own decisions, such as what pajamas to wear or which book to read. You may need to exert some creativity to make the bedtime routine more fun. When it’s time for lights-out, calmly and firmly bid them goodnight, and leave the room.
Once children hit school age, they’re ready to take on more responsibility. Encourage them to take an active part in the bedtime routine by brushing their own teeth and tidying up their bedroom before bed.
Teens have a better idea of what their bodies need, so you can give them more freedom over how they prepare for bed. That said, try to reign in weekend sleep-ins so they don’t throw their bodies out of sync by the time Monday morning rolls around.