Create a Successful Bedtime Routine For Your Child

Father reading bedtime story to son
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A healthy bedtime routine paves the way for a good night’s sleep for your child. Children who get plenty of rest are more likely to manage their behavior and their emotions. In fact, there’s even research that shows the amount of sleep children get as toddlers can affect them later in life.

Research on Bedtime Routines

A 2015 study published in Sleep reports that consistent bedtime routines are associated with better sleep outcomes.

The study, which was based on data from the mothers of over 10,000 children from around the world, found that the results were the same across cultures.

Researchers discovered that children who consistently engaged in the same pre-bedtime activities went to bed earlier and fell asleep faster. They also stayed asleep longer and were less likely to wake during the night. On average, children with regular bedtime routines slept an hour longer than children who didn’t have a regular routine.

Parents who instituted regular bedtime routines reported their children had fewer sleep problems. Additionally, those mothers also perceived that their children exhibited fewer daytime behavior problems.

Researchers report that the more consistently parents instituted the bedtime routine, the better the results. Researchers also highlight the importance of establishing a routine at a young age.

Secrets to a Successful Bedtime Routine

Not all bedtime routines are created equal.

Here are some tips for establishing a truly effective bedtime routine that can reduce bedtime arguments and improve your child’s sleep habits:

  • Set a clear starting time. Have your child start the bedtime routine 30 minutes to an hour before bed. If your child is ready for bed early, read an extra story or two until it's time for bed.
  • Create a simple routine. A bedtime routine should be simple and predictable. A child who understands the steps to his routine can begin to follow through with each step independently.  Keep it to just a few simple steps and perform them in the same order each night. For ideas, check out these sample bedtime rules and routines.
  • Avoid stressful activities. The bedtime routine shouldn’t include activities that could cause more stress – such as asking your child to pack his backpack for school. Otherwise, a forgotten homework paper or a lost permission slip could lead to panic right before bedtime which could wreak havoc on your child’s sleep. Perform any tasks that may cause stress at least an hour or two before bedtime.
  • Include relaxing activities. A warm bath and a few bedtime stories are just a few strategies that can help your child wind down. When performed repeatedly, a calming bedtime routine will help your child's body recognize when it's time for sleep.
  • Shut off electronics early. Although a movie or a video game might seem like a good way to help your child relax, using them before bed can actually keep your child awake. The bright lights from screens will interfere with your child’s bedtime brain chemistry. Make shutting off the electronics at least 30 minutes to an hour before bed part of your child’s bedtime routine.
  • Keep it consistent. While it may be tempting to let your child stay up late to watch his favorite show one night a week, changing the routine could be harmful. The more consistent you can make the bedtime routine, the more effective it will be. Try to keep the bedtime routine – and your child’s sleep schedule – as consistent as possible, even on the weekends or during school vacations.