Bed time routines are important for babies and children to establish good sleeping habits that they will keep for the rest of their lives. Kids thrive on routines and bedtime is one of the easiest times to establish an important routine. A routine will help avoid night time tantrums that come up as you get ready for bed, but it will also help your children fall asleep and stay asleep. A routine gives you time to connect with your children before they go to bed. This is very valuable quality time.
According to WebMD, our bodies have a natural 25 hour cycle, instead of 24. If we don’t have a routine, with a regular bedtime and waking time, we would “drift out of sync” with the 24 hour day. Establishing this early in children is important.
Bedtime for Babies
For babies, a good simple routine, implemented at the same time every night, will help them have quality sleep and add stability to their day. A warm bath, reading a few books, some quiet play, and singing are all good activities for a bedtime routine. The National Sleep Foundation suggests that ultimately, the goal is to be able to lay your baby in their crib, kiss them goodnight and they will fall asleep on their own. Babies wake naturally all night long, if they cannot go to sleep on their own, they will cry for you to help them. This means less quality sleep for you, as well as for your baby. Of course, all babies have individual needs and you know how to meet your baby’s needs so they get the best night of sleep.
Bedtime for Older Children
As your child grows, the bedtime routine will change as well. Once your child is able to understand, it is a good idea to give warnings that the bedtime routine is about to begin. For example, start at 30 minutes out and say “we are getting ready for bed in 30 minutes.” Warn them again at 10, 5, and 2 minutes. This should help cut down on the protests, as your child has had time to prepare. Or, you can allow your child to choose one last activity before starting the bed time routine. This way they know that activity is the last thing they will get to do before bed, no exceptions. Once the bedtime routine has begun, try to include all of the excuses your child will use to stretch out the time before lights out. These types of things include, getting a drink of water, going to the bathroom, limiting the amount of stories and keep it the same every night, etc. It is important that you are firm about going to sleep when the routine is finished. Be sure to spend at least a few minutes connecting with your child, asking them about their day, or finding out what their hopes are for tomorrow. This time will be cherished by your child, and they may even look forward to bedtime.
As your child develops into a preschooler, they will thrive on making choices. While the time they go to bed will not be their decision, they can make other choices during the routine. For example, they can choose which three stories to read, what pajamas they want to wear, and whether or not they want to brush their teeth first, or go to the bathroom first. When your child is included in the bedtime routine in healthy ways, they will have more positive associations with going to sleep.
Changing the Bedtime
If the current bedtime is too late or too early, or your child’s age demands less sleep than it used to, don’t drastically change the bedtime in one night. Instead move the routine and bedtime 10 minutes earlier or later, depending on your desire, each night, until you have reached the appropriate bedtime.
The more consistent you are with your routine on a day to day basis, the better your child will handle and recover from interruptions such as vacations, visits from grandparents or a Friday night dinner party.
Taking Quality Time
At the end of the day it can be tempting to rush getting the kids in bed so you can have some time to get other things done or relax. However, spending quality time with your kids, as they get ready and go to bed, will help them have quality sleep for their whole lives. In the long run, it will help you have more time in the evening, as kids come to expect a regular bedtime and go to sleep without protest after a relaxing routine. Both you and your kids will cherish the time to connect and chat about the important things in their lives, and they will appreciate the stability a bedtime routine provides.
How do you help your kids sleep well? What are your favorite parts of the bedtime routine?
Photo “Bedtime” courtesy of Emil Ovemar
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