Different families have diverse philosophies when it comes to pediatric sleep. Some prefer a structured and rule-based approach, while others opt for a more flexible approach. However, regardless of where you fall on this spectrum, there is one universally recommended tool that should be in every parent’s “sleep toolkit” – a predictable bedtime routine.
Understanding Sleep Routines and Their Benefits
A sleep routine refers to a series of activities that you engage in with your child every night to prepare them for sleep. These activities typically occur about an hour before sleep and exclude any steps that happen while the child is actually falling asleep, such as rocking or feeding.
Signaling the transition to sleep
Consistent bedtime routines aid individuals of all ages, including children and adults, in transitioning from wakeful activities to sleep time. Just as adults don’t typically go straight from active tasks to sleep, children also benefit from having a designated period to adjust to a more peaceful state.
For infants, a consistent set of steps before bedtime helps them understand what to expect and that sleep is imminent. This is particularly useful when babies are unable to comprehend statements like, “You need to go to sleep right away so I can finish rewatching the entire first season of Bridgerton.”
Improving sleep quality
Having a regular bedtime routine can enhance sleep in various ways. A 2009 study discovered that a consistent nightly routine before bed improves multiple aspects of sleep in infants and toddlers, resulting in shorter time to fall asleep, reduced wakefulness after falling asleep, and increased sleep duration (Mindell et al., 2009).
This finding aligns with our observations at Huckleberry, where we’ve noticed that children tend to fall asleep more easily and enjoy longer periods of uninterrupted sleep when families maintain predictable and calming bedtime routines.
Benefits beyond sleep
Interestingly, the advantages of a bedtime routine extend beyond sleep itself. Research indicates that these routines can contribute to positive outcomes in language development, literacy, emotional and behavioral regulation in children, parent-child attachment, and overall family functioning (Mindell & Williamson, 2018). This is not surprising considering that bedtime rituals often involve one-on-one time with a caregiver and incorporate activities like reading, singing lullabies, and practicing hygiene.
Establishing a sleep routine for your child doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. We recommend selecting several age-appropriate steps that will prepare your child for bedtime and performing them consistently each night, following the same order.
Creating an Effective Sleep Routine for Your Child
Establishing a sleep routine for your child doesn’t have to be elaborate or time-consuming. It’s all about selecting age-appropriate steps that will help prepare your little one for bedtime. The key is to perform these steps consistently each night and in the same order.
Here are some common activities to consider when creating a sleep routine:
– Offering milk or formula for babies
– Providing a healthy snack for older children
– Engaging in bathtime or washing hands and face
– Cleaning gums or brushing teeth
– Changing a diaper or using the potty
– Giving a gentle massage or applying lotion
– Cuddling or rocking
– Sharing hugs and kisses
– Changing into pajamas
– Swaddling or using a sleep sack
– Dimming the lights
– Introducing white noise
– Reading bedtime stories
– Singing lullabies
– Practicing meditation and/or prayers
– Playing quiet games, such as working on a puzzle or drawing together
Bedtime routine examples
The length of sleep routines can vary depending on the age of the child. Infants typically have shorter routines, while toddlers and preschoolers often require longer routines to wind down.
For example, a baby’s routine may include the following steps:
– Breastfeed or bottle-feed
– Diaper change and light cleaning (washing hands, face, and gums)
– Dim the lights, put on pajamas and a sleep sack
– Read a board book while snuggling
– Sing a lullaby while rocking
– Turn off the lights, give a goodnight kiss, and lay the baby down awake in the crib.
A toddler or preschooler’s routine could include:
– Bath, lotion, and teeth brushing
– Dim the lights and put on pajamas
– Read a couple of short books while cuddling
– Visit the potty one last time
– Engage in a breathwork activity together
– Turn off the lights, give a goodnight hug and kiss, and lay down in bed while sleepy.
Here are some tips and tricks to help your child sleep better
– Keep it brief and simple: Younger children generally require shorter sleep routines, while older children may need a bit more time to wind down. Nap routines are usually shorter as well.
– Stay consistent: Repetition and consistency are key to a successful bedtime routine. Try to follow the routine every night, as much as possible. Although there may be occasional exceptions, having a dependable routine strengthens its effectiveness as a sleep cue.
– Choose an appropriate bedtime: Timing is important. Even with a well-established routine, if bedtime is mistimed, it may not lead to easy sleep. Review sample sleep schedules to determine the suitable bedtime for your child.
– Place upsetting steps in the beginning: To maintain a calm routine, if there are any steps that your child dislikes (such as diaper changes or teeth brushing), consider moving them toward the beginning. This way, they can relax after completing those tasks.
– Move the bedtime feeding earlier: If you’re working on helping your baby fall asleep without relying on breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, it’s recommended to move the feeding earlier in the routine. This helps your baby stay awake, ensuring a more substantial feeding and offering the opportunity to fall asleep in their sleep space rather than in your arms.
– Skip bathtime if it energizes your child: Bedtime routines should promote calmness and relaxation. If bathtime energizes your child, feel free to exclude it from the bedtime routine. You can move it to an earlier time in the evening or even schedule it for daytime.
– Give older kids choices: Toddlers and preschoolers often try to stall at bedtime, seeking some control. When possible, offer them defined choices to help reduce delays. For instance, let them choose their pajamas or the book they want to read. Avoid screen time before bed, as recommended by the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics).
– Consider condensing steps instead of skipping them: There may be occasions when your child is overtired due to skipped naps or a late event. While it may be tempting to skip parts of the routine to avoid an even later bedtime, this can backfire and prolong the time it takes for your child to fall asleep. Instead, aim to shorten steps when possible, such as reading a shorter book or just massaging their legs, rather than skipping a step entirely.
– Be ready to adapt as your child ages: As your child grows, their needs and preferences change. Don’t be afraid to modify the routine accordingly. You can drop steps that no longer work or incorporate new ones that are important to your child.
Remember, it’s sometimes easier to incorporate frequent requests into the routine rather than engaging in a nightly power struggle. This might involve saying yes to a third bedtime story if they put on their pajamas quickly or having an official “last sip” of water before turning off the light.
Implementing a regular bedtime routine is crucial for the well-being of the entire family. At Huckleberry, we emphasize the importance of establishing bedtime routines as a foundational step towards healthy sleep habits throughout life.
While starting and maintaining sleep routines may pose challenges, especially with multiple children, the long-term benefits are worth it. Establishing the habit early on leads to more predictable and relaxed bedtimes as your children grow. It’s an investment in your future evenings, regardless of how you choose to spend them.
Solidify a sleep routine FAQ:
Q: How can I establish a sleep routine for my child?
A: Start by consistently following a set of activities each night before bed, in the same order. These steps should prepare your child for sleep and create a calm environment.
Q: At what age should I start a bedtime routine?
A: You can start at any age, but we recommend beginning around 2 months when a baby’s day-night circadian rhythm develops, and nighttime sleep becomes more established.
Q: How can I ensure a consistent bedtime routine?
A: Follow the same routine each night, in the same order, before your child’s bedtime. Over time, your child will associate the pre-sleep activities with falling asleep.
Q: What is the best bedtime routine?
A: The ideal routine depends on your child’s age and your family’s preferences. Choose a few activities that you can consistently do before bedtime to help prepare your child for sleep. This provides them with time to wind down and signals that it’s bedtime.
Q: What is an appropriate bedtime for my child?
A: The optimal bedtime varies based on your child’s age and sleep patterns. Huckleberry subscribers can use the schedule creator to determine their child’s ideal bedtime.
Q: Why is a bedtime routine important for a child?
A: Predictable routines help children transition to sleep by allowing them to wind down and signaling that it’s bedtime. Research shows that consistent sleep routines improve sleep quality, overall health, and well-being.
Q: Does my child need a nap routine as well?
A: Establishing a nap routine is highly recommended. Daytime pre-sleep routines can help your child transition to nap time more smoothly and prevent overtiredness. You can incorporate steps from the bedtime routine, but keep the nap routine shorter, around 10-15 minutes, if your child takes multiple naps.