How to Establish a Healthy Bedtime Routine for Your Child

Is falling asleep proving to be a struggle for your child? Is there resistance or defiance at bedtime? Does the current routine seem to make the entire household more stressed?

By embracing these four expert-endorsed components of a healthy bedtime routine, you can transform bedtime from a stressful ordeal into a serene and restorative experience for both you and your child.

Why Good Sleep Is Such a Big Deal

When a child is acting stressed or not quite themselves, child mental health and child development specialists often look to sleep as a possible cause. They might ask, "Is your child sleeping enough?" This is because sleep is crucial for a child's well-being and daily functioning.

Sleep isn't just about resting the body. It's like a superhero for the brain. When kids sleep well, they can think more clearly, solve problems better, and even get along with friends more easily. 

Imagine if you lined up dominoes and tipped one over, the rest would follow, right? If we make sure kids are sleeping well, it's like tipping over the first domino. Good things will follow, one after another. It means a little effort in helping them sleep right can make everything else in their life go smoother.

But here's the tricky part. When things aren't going well, sleep can become a battle. Think about how sometimes when you're worried about something, it's hard to fall asleep. Well, kids feel that way too, and sometimes even more so at bedtime. All the worries from the day can seem really big and scary at night, making it hard to relax and drift off to sleep.

That's why we have to make sleep a big deal. We need to help kids understand why sleep is important and show them how to make bedtime a calm and peaceful time. Because when they sleep better, they'll feel better, do better in school, and even have more fun with their friends. And isn't that what we all want for our children?

The good news is that there are ways to help your child establish a healthy, regular bedtime routine. We'll begin by examining three essential principles for an effective bedtime routine, followed by an exploration of four practical components you can implement as early as tonight.

1. Be Consistent

The first principle of a healthy bedtime routine is consistency.

Consistency can significantly enhance your child's sleep quality. A routine that is the same night after night helps signal to a child's brain that it's time to wind down and prepare for sleep. Having the same bedtime routine every night can also be something your child likes and finds comforting. Knowing what to expect can help them feel less worried or stressed at bedtime, which could otherwise keep them up."

Start Your Child’s Bedtime Routine at the Right Time

The second principle is to start your child’s bedtime routine at the right time.

If you can consistently get your child to bed at the right time, your bedtime battles will diminish greatly. But what is the right time? 

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) issued guidelines based on a review of the research. Find your child’s age on the table below and consider the bedtime and wake-up times that are recommended.

Keep Your Child’s Bedtime Routine Short and Sweet

The third principle is to keep your child's bedtime routine short and sweet. Here are some reasons why.

First, a bedtime routine that is too long or complex can inadvertently stimulate a child's mind when the goal is to wind down. Keeping it short and sweet minimizes this risk and encourages relaxation.

Second, children, especially younger ones, have short attention spans. A concise routine that hits the essential points without dragging on will more likely hold their interest and make the process enjoyable rather than tedious.

Third, a brief routine with clearly defined steps can help a child understand exactly what's coming next. This predictability can lead to comfort and a smoother transition to sleep.

Fourth, a quick and consistent routine sends clear signals to the child's brain that it's time to wind down. The routine becomes an effective cue for sleep.

And finally, a shorter routine prevents the process from becoming tiring for both the child and the parent, preserving the peaceful and positive atmosphere desired at bedtime. A short and sweet routine can become something that children look forward to. By keeping it pleasant and not drawn out, it encourages positive associations with bedtime.

What to Include in Your Child’s Bedtime Routine?

There are four essential components to include in your child’s bedtime routine. 

First, you should include baths.

Baths provide a soothing multi-sensory experience that helps children transition from the chaos of the day to the calm of bedtime. The warm water and gentle cleansing can signal relaxation.

Taking a warm bath raises the skin's temperature, but after getting out of the bath, this heat quickly dissipates into the cooler air, lowering the body's core temperature. This cooling effect helps signal to the body that it's time to wind down and get ready for sleep, thus promoting readiness for rest.

And the act of bathing can also be a time of intimate connection between parent and child, reinforcing safety and comfort.

Second, include a bedtime massage.

Massage helps a child's nervous system wind down. The gentle touch assists in relaxation and promotes quicker sleep onset.

As seen in studies, massages can lead to greater positive emotions and increased alertness during the day. It also teaches children how to relax their bodies, a critical skill for emotional regulation.

And massaging your child fosters a sense of connection and can become a treasured part of the bedtime routine.

Third, include bedtime stories.

Reading or telling stories stimulates the mind and can boost cognitive development. And beyond cognitive growth, stories provide a cultural ritual, a special moment that fosters connection, communication, and shared imagination between parent and child. Additionally, by making storytime a regular part of bedtime you help instill a lifelong love of reading and an appreciation for literature.

Fourth, include bedtime lullabies. 

Lullabies have been a part of human culture for centuries. The soft, rhythmic songs soothe both child and parent, creating a tranquil bedtime atmosphere. Research has found that lullabies can even have health benefits, such as increasing oxygen levels and reducing stress in infants. As well, singing to your child fosters an emotional connection and provides a loving end to the day.

Taken together, these four components of a child’s bedtime routine– baths, massage, stories, and lullabies - are not just activities but essential elements that tap into physical, emotional, cognitive, and cultural aspects of a child's life. By incorporating these into a nightly ritual, you create a loving, calming, and enriching bedtime experience that nurtures both the child's well-being and the parent-child relationship. 

Wrapping Up

Healthy sleep in kids is tied to better behavior, higher cognitive functioning, and it’s also protective of future mental health. If we can improve our children’s sleep, there will be a domino effect on other aspects of their life.

By following the key principles of a healthy bedtime routine – maintaining consistency, timing, and keeping it short and sweet – and including baths, massages, bedtime stories, and lullabies, you can make bedtime a calm and healing experience instead of a stressful ordeal for both you and your child.

Want to Learn More About Establishing Bedtime Routines?

Bedtime Routines for Children. The Sleep Foundation.

Child Bedtime Routines Dos and Don'ts. VeryWell Family.

How to Establish a Toddler Bedtime Routine. Healthline.

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