Helping your children get their best night’s sleep starts with creating the perfect bedtime routine.
The benefits of sleep for children are too many to count. Adequate, quality sleep is correlated to improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation, quality of life, and mental and physical health. This is as true for infants as it is for school-aged children.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends the following guidelines for sleep:
- Infants 4 months to 12 months should sleep 12 to 16 hours per 24 hours (including naps).
- Children 1 to 2 years of age should sleep 11 to 14 hours per 24 hours (including naps).
- Children 3 to 5 years of age should sleep 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours (including naps).
- Children 6 to 12 years of age should sleep 9 to 12 hours per 24 hours.
Parents report that as many as 30% of children have difficulty sleeping. One of the simplest steps to improving the quality and amount of sleep our children get is to establish a consistent, predictable bedtime routine that helps them relax and wind down each evening.
Let’s take a look at how to create the perfect bedtime routine for your child, whether you have a newborn or a school-aged child.
What should our bedtime routine look like?
The great news is that your bedtime routine can and should be as unique as your family. The only important rules are that you create a habit that you can consistently stick with as often as possible. Life happens, and so do illnesses, vacation, and social lives. But if you want your children to sleep their best, keeping them on a schedule and routine is essential. It should include all of your child’s personal hygiene, some parent-child bonding, a quiet and calm environment, and one final cue to your child that it is time for sleep.
What are the elements of a perfect bedtime routine?
Here is a list of components that you can pick and choose from to build your perfect bedtime routine. You can mix, match, rearrange, and make them your own.
Step 1: Evening snack
Studies show that a wholesome, balanced snack of complex carbohydrates and protein help stabilize blood sugars and keep your child from feeling hungry overnight. This may mean formula or breastfeeding for infants, a cheese stick and whole grain crackers for toddlers, banana and peanut butter for big kids, or cereal and milk for your school-aged children.
Avoid sugary snacks, candy, and caffeine.
Step 2: Hygiene
Include all that apply:
- Brush teeth
- Bath time
- Wash face and hands
- Diaper change
- Infant massage
Step 3: Relaxing and bonding
Once you get to your child’s room, do your best to stay there. Include any combination of 3-4 of these activities:
- Bedtime stories or read-aloud time. Check out some of the Military Mom Collective’s favorite books for kids here and here!
- Play quietly together for 5-10 minutes
- Talk about the day’s highs and lows
- Give your child an open chance to express gratitude and thanks
- Rock or snuggle
Step 4: Time for sleep
Finish your routine with one last action or event that will cue to your baby or child that the end of their routine has arrived. This may look different for every family, but it is helpful to identify one last signal so your child can anticipate bedtime’s end. Here are some suggestions:
- Turn off lights
- Turn on white noise
- Close blinds
- Tuck in
- Kiss goodnight
Remember, your perfect bedtime routine can and should adapt to your growing child. As an infant, it may include a regular bath, infant massage, and a few short board books before you sing a lullaby and lay baby in the crib. Your four or five-year old will need to add a visit to the bathroom and might prefer that you read a chapter aloud from a longer story. Before long, your seven or eight-year-old will want to read alone after spending some time snuggling and talking about the day.
A Few Do’s, and Don’ts
Make bedtime your own. No two families’ routines need ever look identical. Just because your sister or neighbor does it one way doesn’t mean its best for your child!
- Don’t use electronics to wind down before bed. Blue light suppresses melatonin production and will make it difficult for your child to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Don’t give sugary snacks or sweet treats before bedtime. If your child needs a bedtime snack, make it wholesome and nutritious.
- Do be consistent and stick to your routine as often as possible.
- Do give your child lots of decisions about elements of their bedtime routine, which order they should be done, and even which pajamas they want. The more choices you provide, the smoother bedtime will be.
- Do enjoy bedtime with your child. Avoid yelling, power struggles, and meltdowns by keeping your cool and helping your child through the routine one step at a time.
- Do be aware of your child’s bedtime. Some children need more sleep than others, so an earlier bedtime may be appropriate. On the flip side, bedtime battles are often the result of a child who simply isn’t tired!