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A bedtime routine might be more important than you think! There are so many benefits to having a routine that leads to bedtime. In reality, I know it may feel like your kids are getting all wound up just as you are wanting to wind down for the day.
So, it may feel a little overwhelming to hear that you need to come up with another list of things to do just to get your kids in bed. I totally get that! Every mom does, actually. But, you are about to learn how setting up and sticking to a bedtime routine that happens more often than than it doesn’t, will not only help your child out immensely, but also relieve some of the issues you face around bedtime with them.
The truth is that a bedtime routine can be the difference between evening chaos and smooth sailing into dream land. Thankfully, bedtime routines are pretty easy to come up with and super easy to adjust as your child grows.
This article will go into a good amount of detail in order to explain the reasons behind the need for a good bedtime routine. It will cover:
- The benefits of a bedtime routine: nutrition and hygiene, physical touch, communication and consistency
- How bedtime leads to more sleep, faster
- Practical tips to consider
- A sample routine
If this is more info than you need right now, pin/bookmark this bad boy for later reading and then skip to the bottom to check out the tips and a sample bedtime routine!
And one more tip before you get started…you just might want to check out my newest eBook, Every Mom’s Guide to Nap Time- The Ultimate Handbook For Getting GREAT Naps Everyday. This book will help moms with children of any age as it discusses how to get a newborn started off well with healthy sleep habits immediately as well as what to do if you have an older baby or toddler with naps times that are off the rails! There is even a chapter dedicated to how to get your baby and toddler napping at the same time of day so you can have a little break in your day, which we know you need, mama!
The Benefits Of A Bedtime Routine
For children, there are a lot of great benefits to having a consistent bedtime routine. In fact, the evidence is very clear; giving our children a bedtime routine meets some of their most basic, but deepest, needs! You didn’t see that coming, did you!? It’s true! Studies have shown that parents who go through a bedtime routine regularly, offer their children: nutrition and hygiene; physical touch; communication; and consistency. (source)
Nutrition and hygiene
This is probably not what you had in mind when thinking about a bedtime routine. However, parents who are looking to ease their kiddos into dream land are usually aware of the fact that a full tummy leads to longer sleep. It is usually following the evening meal or a snack that bedtime routines begin. So, this really allows the start of the routine to begin with the meal.
As for hygiene, bedtime routines usually involve bathing and brushing teeth. Boom! Two important hygiene needs are met! While bathing may move to the morning hours later in childhood, a warm bath can really help a little one relax before bedtime.
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Physical touch happens throughout a bedtime routine very easily. This may include washing baby during the bath, helping your preschooler wash their hair and helping little kiddos brush their teeth.
After bath and brushing teeth, massaging baby with lotion and dressing offers an opportunity for gentle and reassuring physical touch. As your baby moves into toddlerhood, they may insist on getting their own jammies on. However, they will happily crawl up on your lap and get some good snuggles in as you read a story, sing a song together or pray before bed.
As your child gets older, the opportunity to give them some positive physical contact doesn’t disappear. This can still happen as you read a story together or even just offer a hand to hold while sitting on the edge of their bed. Our kids crave our touch and it communicates so much security and love to them. Doing this before bed sends them to sleep with a very deep need for connection, through touch, met.
I’m not sure what it is about this little bit of time before bed, but you’ll find your child asking all their deep life questions during this time or spilling their little tiny hearts to you. It is an amazing opportunity to connect with our children and as you practice a bedtime routine, you’ll see how true this is! Bedtime routines offer an incredible opportunity to talk about the day with our kids, answer their questions and get a glimpse into their hearts. If you want to know what is going on in your child’s heart and mind, taking several minutes during the bedtime routine to chat with them will give you so much insight.
If you are still in the baby/toddler months before too much insightful conversation is taking place, communication will still be a wonderful addition to your bedtime routine as you read a story together, pray and/or sing. Through this type of communication, children are learning so much! Stories can teach them about colors and shapes and interesting tales. Praying and singing can communicate important values and comfort your child.
No matter the age of your child, incredibly communication happens during a bedtime routine that will benefit your child (and you as you learn more about them!).
Kids thrive on routine because it makes them feel safe. A bedtime routine has actually been linked to helping fill that need in a child. (source) As they know what to expect each evening, their brains and bodies will be able to relax and calm down as they head towards bed. This will result in fewer bedtime struggles, as well. After all, we all go along with a plan better once we get the hang of it. This is even more so true for our kids.
Another aspect of keeping things consistent when it comes to bedtime is the hour at which you put your child to bed. Your bedtime routine should begin around the same time every night and end with your child in bed around the same time every night. This is necessary for both their body and their brain, both of which are getting good recovery time during sleep so they can be ready for the next day.
As we’ll read below, having a consistent routine also leads kids to resist sleep less. And I know we all want some of that!
A Bedtime Routine Leads To More Sleep, Faster
A solid bedtime routine helps the body and brain know that sleep is coming. This signal will help your little love embrace sleep rather than fight it. Really, that is half the battle!
You can think of going to bed in the same way you think of any other behavior you want your child to learn and accomplish with little resistance. It is similar to having expectations of how they behave at the table, what to do after using the toilet (wash and dry hands), picking toys up after they are done playing, chores (for older kids) you want them accomplish or what they do when they get home from school (homework before TV, for example). And with all these expectations, you want your children to embrace them rather than put up a fight.
In order to have your kids ready to hit the hay when their heads hit the pillow, you want to get them using the same routine each night, which will cause less resistance. And you can teach this much like you would teach them to follow any other set of instructions in order to meet your expectations.
It is unlikely your kiddo knew exactly what you expected of them in any of the above mentioned areas until you explained it and even walked them through it. Then you practiced it with them several times to make sure they were able to do it well. Finally, you could expect them to follow a set of instructions that form the routine of how they carry something out as you expect them to.
Another great aspect of a bedtime routine that leads to less resistance is that you can meet all their stalling needs during the routine! If they always try to push bedtime back by asking for hugs, kisses, drinks or trips to the toilet, you can make sure all of that is part of the nightly routine. By the time your sweet darling is tucked in bed, hopefully they should have nothing left to ask for!
Studies have shown that children with a consistent and good bedtime routine are able to get better sleep. (source) This is because when they go to bed well, they tend to stay asleep for longer periods of time. Also, when they wake during the night, kids with a bedtime routine generally go back to sleep easier. All of this is because when a bedtime routine is in place, the mind and body of your child have been prepared for sleep. A child who goes to sleep more easily and stay asleep more easily is a child who is, overall, getting a good amount of sleep. This child will have fewer sleep problems like night waking, staying up too late, resisting naps and waking up too early.
When coming up with your routine, here are a few tips that are worth taking into consideration!
Your routine should be interesting and positive
A great routine is one that your child will look forward to, not dread. This will make it a positive experience that nudges them towards bed in the happiest possible state. I’m not suggesting they will never feel negatively towards going to bed again. But, with an interesting and positive routine, you are doing your best to help them head to bed with a good attitude.
Help your child calm down
If your house is anything like ours, it seems like your children have turned into wild animals between dinner and bedtime. Adorable, but still wild animals. And if your husband is anything like mine, he seems to think this is the perfect time for wrestling and hiding under blankets and general havoc raising. 5 out of 7 nights, I can usually be heard saying “this is the time to calm down, not get riled up!” So, while we can appreciate the fun times being had by all, the routine leading up to bedtime should be used to help your kids calm down form their day.
A time of interaction
The bedtime routine is a time of interaction and connection with your child. This is not the time to send them off with a list of items to check off before bed and call it their bedtime routine. Instead, you should be part of the routine. As your kids get older, they won’t need your assistance with some of the basics like bathing, brushing hair or teeth and getting pajamas on. Of course you’ll be doing these things for or with your baby or toddler.
No matter the age of your child, find points of interaction. For your little tiny ones, you’ll be doing everything with and for them. As your kids are growing, you can choose to interact by reading a story together, talking about your days and any other tradition you want to make part of your routine. This interaction with your child will feed their little souls and keep them full on your love all night. This interaction will make your children so content that they are more easily able to go to sleep and stay asleep.
Sample Bedtime Routine
Here you will find a bedtime routine that can be adjusted to grow with baby. I will not include times because this can range from family to family. However, you should aim to start your routine with bedtime in mind. If your routine lasts 30 minutes, you obviously need to start it 30 minutes before you want your baby or child to be in bed.
I give this warning because I’m sure I’m not the only mom who sees the clock and realizes that bedtime is suddenly five minutes away and our bedtime routine has not even started. It takes intention to start your routine at the same time each evening, which will lead to bedtime happening around the same time each evening.
New baby to 18 months
- Warm bath
- Relaxing massage with lotion
- Look at a board book
- Nurse/bottle (move this to beginning of the bedtime routine when you want to break the association of being put down by feeding)
- Lay down drowsy but awake
You may also want to read this article: The First Month of Newborn Sleep
By this age, your child is joining you for family dinner. This routine can start right after dinner or see the next schedule if you eat quite a bit before bedtime.
- Brush teeth
- Read a book
- Tucked in to bed
36 months – 6 years
- Family time
- Brush teeth
- Read a book
- Tucked in to bed
6 years and up
- Family time
- Brush teeth
- Read a book
- Quiet room time
- Tucked in to bed
As you can see, the adjustments made over the course time is relatively small. It allows for flexibility to add a bit of time here or there as well as make room for little later bedtime. And at some point after 6 years old, your bedtime routine may dramatically shrink. But, at the most foundational time, you’ll have given your child a great bedtime routine.
Also, it is worth pointing out how simple this sample routine is. With four kiddos in our house (currently ages 2-8), we have to keep things simple. So, our bedtime routine looks exactly as I have laid out above and has since the birth of our first child. It has been easy to adjust as our kids have grown.
We all appreciate the predictability of our evenings, also. We get to connect with each other, wind down and everyone knows exactly what to expect on their way to bed. This is exactly what this mama needs at the end of every day!
As I’ve laid out, a simple yet solid bedtime routine is so good for our kids. It meets some of their most basic needs and is a point of connection we can count on each day.
It is also a way to ensure that our kids are getting more sleep and falling asleep faster. That is a win for everyone!
I hope these practical tips and sample bedtime routine were helpful to you as you navigate setting a bedtime routine in place.