So many positive things can come out of having a predictable and structured bedtime routine for your children.
Routines can help with bonding, can impact how they sleep, help them learn, and it can help them feel safe and secure.
Emma, our holistic sleep coach explains.
Bedtime routines help them find their rhythm
Erratic bedtimes give children symptoms similar to jet lag. Their body clocks are out of sync and so the child will find it hard to know what time of day it is.
Our internal body clocks rely on cues from our behaviour and environment (eating, exposure to daylight, movement etc) at similar times of day see blog on circadian rhythm. Putting a bedtime routine in place can be key to helping them settle.
You may find it hard to take the lead if your child is resisting bedtime.
Particularly if they are tired, which will be common with an unpredictable bedtime because you and they will find it harder to learn their tired cues.
Setting bedtime boundaries
Please know that it is natural for children to try and seek out their boundaries. They need you to take the lead and help them find their rhythm.
Setting boundaries for children isn’t mean or harsh, they need rhythm and structure in their day to feel secure.
You may worry about implementing changes because of their reaction. Perhaps you are afraid of their big emotions (crying, shouting, etc) and how you can manage them. Perhaps you feel you’ve run out of energy and can’t face their complaining.
They need us to help guide them until they have the maturity to do it themselves, and this can be hard.
Bedtime can be a chance for connection
But also some wonderful things can happen at bedtime. It can be a chance for connection between you and your child.
A time when they can have your undivided attention, there is something about the still, dark, quiet of bedtime that can invite openness and conversation.
What they do at bedtime can impact the quality of their night sleep.
If a child is extremely tired, they can ‘crash’ into sleep sending them straight into a deep sleep, this can impact the architecture of their sleep states for the whole night, often causing more frequent wake ups.
Ideally what we want is for a child to get used to winding down with some calm quiet time, then slowly feeling their body relax and fall asleep through the sleep stages. Like changing gears rather than slamming on the breaks. Bedtime routines can help children learn how to make the transition between a busy day and settling down to sleep. Bedtime is an opportunity for them to learn how to relax and what that feels like, mentally, physically and emotionally.
You might know that feeling for yourself when you are lying head on pillow and for a while you are still aware of what is going on around you but your body is in a deep state of relaxation. This is an important feeling for children to get used to as it can help foster independent sleeping in the future. Learning to let go, calmly.
Don't look for perfection
We aren’t looking for perfection with a bedtime routine. Parenting isn’t like that. It doesn’t have to be rigid and timed to the minute but once a child knows what bedtime looks and feels like and they know the process and order of activities, it can help them feel secure and safe and they need both of these to be able to fall asleep in a healthy calm way.
Bedtime should be like a trusty train heading towards the station, it might slow or falter from time to time, we do our best not to derail it and it never goes backward or heads off on a different track, it is always heading in the one direction until its destination. Sleepy town!
So what does a good bedtime routine look like:
- After dinner children will naturally get a burst of energy. Allow them to burn it off. High energy activities allowed. Jumping, obstacle courses, hide and seek etc. Lots of laughter and fun. Even just for 15minutes.
- Then encourage your children to have some calm time, downstairs is fine but no screens. The atmosphere should be calm and quieter with activities that will help slow their bodies and mind E.g. puzzles, board games and reading for older ones, Lego, drawing. 30 mins is ample.
- Then you can start their bedtime routine. This should take place upstairs if you live in a house or if you’re on one floor just try not to return to the family areas and just stick with bathroom and bedroom. This helps set the scene and intention. Bedtime routine might include a bath, teeth, pjs, story, cuddle. Choose what you feel appropriate and stick to the order and the activity. The whole bedtime routine might take about 30mins or 20mins might be enough for younger ones.
- Once child is settled in bed, enjoy a cuddle and story before they settle to sleep. It’s ok to stay with them whilst they nod off if it will help them feel relaxed.
Like any changes to a child’s life, some will get used it super quickly and others will take a lot longer and some will question it and some will plain refuse to do it.
Try your best to keep calm and consistent. One of the most important elements to a bedtime routine is a calm parent.
Emma has worked with tiny babies for 7 years, supporting mums as they transition to motherhood and beyond. Emma is a Holistic Sleep Coach and works with families individually as well as running workshops in Bristol.