Three tips to creating the perfect bedtime routine

by | Sep 12, 2018 | Sleep Consultant

Three tips to creating the perfect bedtime routine

The perfect bedtime routine, does it really exist? Well, if you’ve read my blogs before, you may already know that I don’t believe there’s a one-size fits all approach that works for every child. So when I’m talking about creating the perfect bedtime routine, I’m talking about the perfect routine for YOUR child.

Yes, it can be done, and yes a fun and relaxing bedtime routine can really help with night sleep.

Why your child should have a bedtime routine

Let’s start at the beginning. Just exactly why should your child have a bedtime routine?

If your child is not sleeping well, chances are you’ve done a bit of investigating and have already heard that a routine is a good idea. And you may have even poo-pooed the idea as a fanciful notion, and a bit of a time waster. But it’s really a fabulous place to start if you’re having any sleep issues.

Firstly, its purpose is much more than simply preparing for bed. It’s also about prepping the body and the brain that the long night-time sleep is coming. The bedtime routine can be a powerful cue that it’s night time. But it even goes deeper than that.

Some children need (and like) routine more than others, yet ALL children can benefit from them. You don’t need to take my word for it. The Raising Children Network summed a few things up in their article Family Routines: How and Why They Work.

They state that a good routine:

  •  helps children feel safe and secure, particularly during stressful times, or during difficult times of development, their article mentions puberty, but it really helps during toddlerhood too!
  • can strengthen family relationships. That story you read before bed can become a special time for you and your child to share and bond.
  • Can help develop a sense of responsibility and basic skills like the ability to manage time. These are skills children can use for life. If they can do parts of the routine with less help or supervision from you (when older), it can also help them become more independent.
  • Is a way of teaching younger children healthy habits, like brushing their teeth, and washing their hands after using the toilet, for example.
  • Used daily at bedtime will help set your child’s body clock. it helps their body ‘know’ when it’s time to sleep.

And it’s not just powerful when your children are little. The raising children network argues that even adolescents benefit from the familiarity of regular home routines [including the bedtime routine ]. Routines “can help them feel looked after. Predictable family routines can be a welcome relief from the changes they’re experiencing”  they say.

So, now that you’re on board with a routine, just where do you start? With no further ado, here are three tips to help you create the perfect bedtime routine in your household.

 

1. Set the scene

The first step is to set the scene. Setting the scene is important, because it can be all well and good having a bedtime routine, but it’s really no help to you if the environment stops the benefits of your routine in it’s tracks.

While you don’t have to light candles and buy flowers (although that’s a nice touch) it really does help to dim the lights before bedtime.  Simply because light – including the lighting from TV screens (which are getting bigger and bigger these days) – stop the sleepy hormone melatonin in it’s tracks and stimulate the body to wake up. The opposite of what we’re aiming for.

Chances are you’ve already heard me say keep it dark for sleep before, and that still holds true. However, if your toddler or older child is scared of the dark, a night light can be a great idea – but ensure it’s the right colour. Red and Orange are best. Stay away from Green and Blue coloured lights. You’ll find more things to about what not to include in the bedtime routine here.

Another part of setting the scene is to ensure some of it occurs in your child’s bedroom, let them know that some of the fun occurs in their room.

Also ensure that the temperature is correct. And that can often be a little cooler than people expect. It’s OK for it to be a little chillier at around 18 Degrees Celsius. Body temperature has to drop a little for sleep, and if it’s too warm it’s harder for that to occur (just ensure clothing and the bedding or sleep sack is appropriate for the temperature).

 

2. Structure it correctly

A good bedtime routine consists of just 4 or 5 simple steps.  It really can include almost anything you like. However, some common steps in the routine are:

  • Bath or shower
  • Book
  • Songs
  • Bottle/warm milk/nursing
  • Tooth brushing
  • Massage

If your baby likes baths, this can be a great first step for the bedtime routine. It’s a great cue for the brain as it’s significantly different to anything else that’s likely to happen in your child’s day. And don’t worry about your child splashing around in the bath. I did say a fun and relaxing routine is great to help promote sleep, but a bath for a child is rarely relaxing, as it is for an adult. The fact that it’s fun, and you’re there with them, playing, is a great step.

 

3. Ensure the length is “just right”

Yes, the perfect bedtime routine does need to be the right length. That is, long enough for the body to wind down but short enough that your baby or child’s brain can anticipate what is coming next.

This means around 20-30 minutes only. Yes, that’s it. Around 30 minutes long. If the routine is much longer than that, then the brain stops being able to anticipate what’s coming next, which is a vital component of the body being able to relax into it.

That also means that the bedtime routine doesn’t start with dinner, as a number of people think. It starts 30 minutes before you want your child in bed. It may mean you need to shorten the bath time too.

Now, if you have a newborn and feeding is still taking around 20 minutes, then it’s OK if the routine takes a little longer. The same is true if you have a school age child who loves to read in bed, another 15-20 minutes should be fine there too. Remember, this is the perfect routine for YOUR child. As long as it’s not dragging on.

 

So there are three tips for creating the perfect bedtime routine for your child. As a parent it’s a fabulous time to switch off from your busy day and enjoy some one-on-one time with your child before having some time to yourselves.

Now it’s over to you. If you need to make changes, go ahead and do it. You’ll be surprised by the difference it makes to the (often dreaded) moment of putting your little one into their bed and saying “good night”.  However, if bedtimes have become a battle, or you’d like a hand with sleep in general, please book in a free 15 minute phone call. And follow along on Facebook and Instagram for tips, giveaways and funnies (because we need a good laugh along with some sleep).

And now I’d love to know, what does or what will your little ones routine look like? Have you planned it out?