Research tells us that bedtime routines are associated with better sleep quality for both adults and children (Sadeh, Tikotzky, and Scher, 2010). Other studies have highlighted the importance of bedtime routines in developing a healthy attitude towards learning, reading and ultimately school. Children who read regularly with their parents as part of their bedtime routine (or are read to by their parents) show improvements in language, reading and literacy rates as well as better school readiness (Davies & Bridgman, 2012). Studies have also found associations between bedtime routine patterns of brain development, and socio-emotional skills development and a stronger parent-child relationship (Spagnola & Fiese, 2007).
“Creating a bedtime routine for a child is a simple step that every family can do,” said principal investigator and lead author Jodi Mindell, PhD, professor of psychology at Saint Joseph’s University and associate director of the Sleep Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “It can pay off to not only make bedtime easier, but also that a child is likely to sleep better throughout the entire night.”
So if bedtime routines are so important, what are the key ingredients? Last month’s information session had a few tips to share.
Give a warning, and signal the start of the wind-down. Just before bedtime, give your child advance notice that the day is winding down. Your child may be too young to judge time yet, so saying something like “five more minutes” is not likely to be understood. However, they do understand time by association – Begin the first part of your routine (running the bath water, putting the toys away, or however your particular routine begins) to signal the start of the wind down.
Consistency. The key is to put together a predictable sequence of events that you can be consistent with following, in the same order every night. The actual routine will evolve and change as your child grows, but the basics remain the same. For example, the bedtime routine might involve getting their pajamas on, brushing their teeth, reading a bedtime story, and dimming the lights. It could include a bath and a song, and a story, another song, and a snuggle – It’s up to you to decide, but set a specific time and stick to it – your child’s body clock will adjust much more quickly to the routine if the routine follows a natural and consistent pattern.
Offer a snack. A light snack that includes both protein and carbohydrates — for example, a small piece of cheese and one half slice of whole-wheat bread — will induce sleep and help your child stay asleep through the night. The carbohydrates make them sleepy, and the protein will help keep their blood sugar level on an even keel until breakfast. Be sure to brush their teeth after they eat.
Take a warm bath. By raising your child’s body temperature slightly, you’ll make them more prone to sleepiness. Also, playing with their bath toys allows them to relax.
Get dressed for bed. Choose comfortable, non-binding pajamas, that are neither too warm nor too light.
Read a favorite story to your child. This is a particularly comforting routine for your toddler, particularly if it’s a favorite story that’s associated with bedtime, such as Goodnight Moon. (As your child grows, he’ll want more stories and more variety.)
Create a welcoming sleep environment. Play soft music while you read. Turn the lights off (nightlights are not recommended) and leave the door slightly ajar with the light on in the hallway.
Make sure your child has a friend to sleep with. A favorite doll, teddy bear or blanket provides comfort. Do not give such items during early infancy as they may be risk factors for crib death.
Davies G, Bridgman C. Improving oral health among schoolchildren–which approach is best. Br Dent J. 2012; 210(2):59–61.
Hale L, Berger LM, LeBourgeois MK, Brooks-Gunn J. A longitudinal study of preschoolers’ language-based bedtime routines, sleep duration, and well-being. J Fam Psychol (2011).
Mindell JA, Li AM, Sadeh A, Kwon R, Goh DY. Bedtime routines for young children: a dose-dependent association with sleep outcomes. Sleep. 2015;38(5):717–722.
Sadeh A, Tikotzky L, Scher A. Parenting and infant sleep. Sleep Med Rev. 2010;14(2):89–96.
Spagnola M, Fiese BH. Family routines and rituals: a context for development in the lives of young children. Infants Young Children. 2007;20(4):284–299.