If you want your kids to get consistently good sleep1 throughout the years, whether they’re 2 or 12, the key is to establish a calming nighttime routine. 2Relaxing bedtime rituals like reading, taking a hot bath or curling up with a kid-approved weighted blanket help soothe and calm your child, preparing them for a good night’s sleep. Indeed, research has shown that children who follow a nightly bedtime routine are more likely to have better sleep outcomes, including earlier bedtimes, reduced night wakings and increased sleep duration.
The benefits of a regular bedtime routine for kids don’t stop there. In addition to reducing mood swings and behavior problems, studies show that adequate sleep can lower your child’s risk of chronic health problems, such as high blood pressure and obesity. Adopting good sleep habits can also improve their grades and overall academic performance.
A relaxing nighttime routine makes everyone’s lives easier, so why not help your child adopt healthier sleep habits? Here are some tips for dialing in your child’s nighttime routine so that everyone in the family can sleep longer and better.
- Understand your child’s sleep needs
The first step to perfecting your child’s nighttime routine 3is understanding how much sleep their growing body needs. Children typically need more sleep than adults due to their rapidly growing bodies. These sleep needs change as they age, gradually decreasing in number (but not quality!). For instance, infants and toddlers typically need between 12 and 17 hours of sleep daily, whereas middle and high schoolers generally need between 8 and 10 hours of sleep each night to maintain their health.
To get a general idea of your child’s total sleep needs, you can check out these helpful sleep guidelines from the CDC.
- Experiment with soothing activities
Like adults, children can have trouble turning off their brains at night. That’s why relaxing bedtime rituals 4are important. Soothing activities like reading a book or listening to gentle music can help your child’s mind and body become more relaxed, easing them into a peaceful slumber.
Exactly what activities your child does before bed depends on their age and your personal preferences. Older children might listen to music or a sleep podcast while wrapping themselves in a weighted blanket. If you have young kids, you might consider giving them a warm bath, reading them a bedtime story or quietly discussing the day together.
- Be consistent
No matter what your child’s bedtime routine looks like, make sure it’s consistent above all else. A predictable routine helps your child relax and wind down for sleep. It also provides kids (and adults, for that matter) with a sense of comfort and safety, making sleep come easier.
- Set the stage for sleep
If you want the Sandman to visit your child faster, prioritize making their bedroom cool, dark and quiet. For both children and babies, most experts agree that a room temperature between 68 and 72 degrees is ideal. Keep the blinds closed at night and say no to electronics in the bedroom.5 If your child is scared of the dark and refuses to sleep without some light in their bedroom, consider using a red nightlight to avoid disrupting their circadian rhythm. Finally, keep the rest of your home quiet. White noise machines can help block the sound of traffic, noisy neighbors and other sounds you have little to no control over.
- Wash their bedding regularly
Your child’s bedding can harbor dust mites, mold and other allergens that trigger their allergies and rob them of a good night’s sleep. Luckily, the fix is simple: wash your child’s bedding regularly. On top of cutting down on allergy symptoms, keeping your child’s sheets and blankets clean and fresh will enhance their comfort. (And we all know how important comfort is for a good night’s sleep.)
Even if your child doesn’t suffer from allergies, knowing how to wash a weighted blanket, comforter, sheets and other types of bedding is essential for their health. In addition to dust mites and mold, bedding can accumulate a disgusting amount of dead skin cells, sweat, saliva and other gross things that can come with some unpleasant side effects (think bacterial infections and skin irritation).
- Make gradual adjustments to their bedtime schedule
While it might be tempting to completely overhaul your child’s nighttime routine, doing so could make bedtime even more of a battle zone than it already is. Instead, try taking things slow and steady by moving up their bedtime in 15-minute increments. For instance, if they currently go to bed at 9:30 p.m., you’d move their bedtime up to 9:15 p.m. the first night, then 9:00 p.m. the following night and so on until you reach your desired bedtime.
- Watch out for signs of overtiredness
Parents of young children are all-too-familiar with the concept of overtiredness. This well-known phenomenon occurs when a child — typically an infant or a toddler — becomes so tired that they are unable to “switch off.” As a result, they may be unusually hyper, restless, cranky and rebellious.
To avoid having an overtired child, be on the lookout for sleepiness cues. Yawning, fluttering eyelids and difficulty focusing are just a few telltale signs that your little one is ready to hit the hay.
A Well-Rested Child Is a Happy Child
All in all, getting your child on a consistent bedtime routine might be one of the best things you can do for their health — and maybe even your health. (After all, a parent’s sleep quality is often influenced by their child’s.) The best part? It only takes a few nights for your child to start reaping the rewards!
- Durand, Vincent M., and V. Mark Durand. Sleep better!. Brookes Publishing Company, 1998. ↩︎
- Burnham, Melissa M., et al. “Nighttime sleep‐wake patterns and self‐soothing from birth to one year of age: A longitudinal intervention study.” Journal of Child Psychology and psychiatry 43.6 (2002): 713-725. ↩︎
- Mindell, Jodi A., et al. “A nightly bedtime routine: impact on sleep in young children and maternal mood.” Sleep 32.5 (2009): 599-606. ↩︎
- Mindell, Jodi A., and Ariel A. Williamson. “Benefits of a bedtime routine in young children: Sleep, development, and beyond.” Sleep medicine reviews 40 (2018): 93-108. ↩︎
- Davis, Stan. Monster under the Bed. Simon and Schuster, 2011. ↩︎