“Close your eyes and go to sleep, RIGHT NOW”

“I am counting till 3, sleep or else….”

“Get into the bed right now, otherwise I am throwing away all your toys”

This, and many more requests, threats and ultimatums are commonplace when you’re trying to sleep. Sounds familiar, right? Well, bedtime struggles are real and you are not alone, mama.

The urge to set a bedtime routine is at its peak when the baby is 2-3 months old because let’s accept it, all we new moms want is some undisturbed S.L.E.E.P. A new mom needs nothing as badly as a good five hours of undisturbed sleep at night. And that is what brings so much focus to bedtime routine amongst infants.

However, the meaning and relevance of bedtime routine keep changing with different stages of parenting and child’s growth. Your strategies, plans, schedules and tricks might stop working for a “threenager”. The bedtime saga might be different for a “fournado”. 

No matter how tired they might be, children seem to never want to go to bed. As parents, I’m sure you’ve heard every possible excuse as to why they should get to stay up just that little bit more.

Why Is It Crucial To Set A Bedtime Routine?

But the fact remains the same: Bedtime routine is essential! Let me tell you why.

1. Bedtime routine helps children develop a predictable sleep schedule. This not only adds structure and regularity to their entire day but also instils discipline in terms of living an organised life, which in turn is an essential life skill.

2. Bedtime routine helps the child get a sufficient number of hours of sleep that lets them function efficiently the following day. Conditions like sleep deprivation are less likely to occur, which otherwise leads to damaging effects on a child’s concentration and focus, and overall growth in the long run. With enough rest, it’s more likely that your child will wake up happy and refreshed. This means you’ll be left facing an alert and (hopefully) cheery child in the morning, rather than a grumpy kid.

3. Bedtime routine helps deepen the bond between the parent and child. It is perfect for providing the quiet space needed for kids to use their voices, express themselves, talk about doubts or fears, tell you about silly things that happened, or share their favourite parts of the day. Goodnight hugs and cuddles are a great way to express your love for the child, which leads to the child feeling loved and more confident.

4. A bedtime routine helps children sleep better with fewer night awakenings. A consistent bedtime routine helps children to know what to expect next. This offers control to children in terms of predictability and what is going to occur next making them feel safer, loved and secure in their environment. This goes a long way to establishing healthy sleep habits.

5. Incorporating bedtime book reading habits inculcates language, vocabulary and pre-reading skills.

Undoubtedly, a consistent bedtime routine eases the transition from waking to sleeping, which helps children feel more secure, comfortable, and calm as they prepare for bed.

But more often than not, parents fail to hit victory when it comes to planning the ideal bedtime routine for the child. Reasons can be many, the most common being frustration and not being consistent by giving in to the child’s demands (which is mostly around weekends or holidays).

Key Pointers For Parents

Few points to keep in mind before you devise a bedtime routine are:

  1. How much sleep does your child need? Some kids are nappers, some are not. Refer to the average sleep requirement as per child’s age and use the same as the starting point.
  1. Gauge your lifestyle and decide what time your child should be hitting the bed. Do not make impractical targets because you will end up failing, leading to disappointment and frustration.
  1. Identify where the child would be sleeping. Are you OK co-sleeping or would want to foster independent sleeping habits? Can they share a bed with a sibling? Do you prefer that your kids sleep in their own bed? Decide these factors before starting to plan the bedtime routine for your child to avoid shifting or transferring of an asleep child from one place to another.

How To Establish A Bedtime Routine For Kids: Simple Tips For Success

1. Involve & Evolve

To start with, parents should look to their children to get involved with decision-making. This step is often overlooked but vitally important. Children will be more likely to stick to the bedtime routine if they help create it. Getting kids involved in designing their own pre-sleep wind-down routines will help them feel more in charge and should help improve adherence to the new night-time schedules.

Maybe your child has a favourite book or game, encourage them to include that in the bedtime routine so that the activities they value are included along, with essentials like washing up.

2. Start By Planning An Hour Ahead

Wind-down time is essential in bedtime routines for kids. Give timed warning 1 hour, 30 minutes, and 10 minutes until it’s time to start. You don’t want to drag this process out, but a little prep time goes a long way especially with more rambunctious children. 

3. Goodnight Wishes 

This particularly helps in case you live in a joint family set up. A simple goodnight hug or wish to all family members by the child gives a signal to children that it’s time to get into the room as it’s time to sleep.

4. Establish A Routine Or Ritual For Your Child’s Bedtime

Well, you can’t simply change and tell the child to lie down and sleep. It doesn’t work that way! Incorporating a designated ritual or routine would ensure a gradual transition of the child’s mind and body in sleep mode.

Think about bedtime rituals that are simple, short, doable and can be kept consistent. The routine should start somewhere between 30 minutes and an hour before you want your child to be asleep.

Our Four B’s rule has been going steady for the past few years:

  • Bath
  • Brush
  • Books
  • Bed

You may modify as per what suits you but ensure that the routine is predictable and is done in the same order every day. With kids over 5 years of age, you can make bedtime something to look forward to as well. Play beat the clock. Make a deal with them that if they get ready before the timer rings they get an extra story or five extra minutes to read to themselves.

5. Offer Lots Of Choices For Your Kid’s Bedtime

Offer your child simple ‘either-or’ choices. This can be as basic as deciding what pyjamas they want to wear or which storybook they want to read. The idea is to make them feel involved and more in control of themselves.

6. Create A Comfortable Sleep Environment

Particularly for older kids, keep distractions out of the bedroom. Having the whole family put screens away or off before bed is a great way to encourage healthy bedtime behaviours for everyone. Electronics like TVs, video games, cell phones, and computers are sleep distractions. Not only is the light from these devices not conducive to sleep, but they also don’t have a set ‘end time’, which means it’s easy to keep playing games or keep messaging friends.

Once you and your children come up with a suitable bedtime routine, be sure to document it. It can be as simple as a list written on a piece of notebook paper or a full-scale poster board with elaborate designs. One suggestion is to make a chart. Allow your child to decorate it with different coloured markers or glitter. Allow space so that each day or week your child can mark off each bedtime task he or she has finished. This can be a huge incentive for children who are visual learners.

Don’t stray too far from what you establish as the appropriate bedtime. Consistency is crucial. That means that bedtime stays the same even on the weekends and during the holidays.

We are now in a stage of helping our kids learn to fall asleep on their own. Trust me, we all know that is the hardest job of all. But most sleep problems stem from this inability. Let me share more on this when we hit victory (fingers crossed).

There is really no right or wrong bedtime routine. Every family and every child is different. So whether your routine is to shower, wash up, and bedtime story or wash up, bedtime story, and a light snack, remember to find the routine that works best for your child and stick with it. Consistency is the key. Your own sleep and sanity will thank you.

Go, Mommy!