Stress-Free Children’s Bedtime Routine
Creating a stress-free bedtime is something most parents strive for and is relatively easy to implement. Children, of all ages, thrive with routine and predictability. It helps them to feel safe and secure. When we work 1:1 with families, we recommend implementing a consistent bedtime routine from the start, and this is completely achievable. To help you to build a bedtime routine, and avoid any bedtime battles, we’ve broken things down to include some healthy sleep habits for all aged children as well as how to establish a good bedtime routine depending on the age of your little one.
Why have a bedtime routine?
When your child’s body and brain start to associate things like baths, stories, brushing teeth, putting on pyjamas, all done in the same order at the same time every night, it makes it a lot easier for them to fall asleep (not to mention the scientific benefits of body temperatures and baths for a start)!
A good bedtime routine will set the tone for the rest of the night. In 2017 Dr Guy Meadows undertook a study on school aged children for a Panorama programme. During this study, school children slept 1 hour more per night, for a week, and the results were staggering:
• Their problem-solving ability increased by 66%
• The results of a memory test they undertook increased by 57%
• Their attention and focus increased by 44%
If children don’t have a consistent routine, not only do they feel anxiety because they don’t know what is coming next, they also don’t know where the boundaries are. That, in turn, provokes anxiety, which prevents them being able to sleep.
An important part of the bedtime routine is to find a consistent routine you can stick to. It should not be too long, if it is, the sleepy little person you are putting to bed may well find their ‘second wind’ and bedtime will become even more of a battle.
Healthy sleep tips:
Turn off the screens: the blue light in screens is proven to stop the body from adequately producing melatonin, so it is crucial that there is no screen time for at least 1 hour, ideally 2, before bedtime.
Regular exercise and time outdoors: outside time and physical activity each day is very important. ‘Sunlight’ helps hormones to remind the body it is awake time and fresh air and exercise always aid sleep.
Avoid caffeine and sugary food before bedtime: caffeine and sugar are stimulants, and therefore should be avoided too close to bedtime so that hot chocolate needs to move to another part of the day.
Make it really dark. The only thing that simulates our ‘awake hormones’ better than a TV screen is sunlight. In order to help the production of melatonin (the ‘sleepy hormone’) your child’s bedroom should be 10/10 for darkness. I suggest investing in a set of blackout blinds - it doesn’t have to be anything expensive, you can get a travel bind for around £25 or even non-adhesive window film, which is just plastic you can cut to size and pop over the glass.
Try to ensure that there’s not too much distraction in the bedroom, it should be a calm and relaxing place for your child to be during the night.
Be mindful of the temperature, as being too hot/cold can impact the quality of sleep.
Before you start the ‘upstairs’ part of the bedtime routine, introduce a ‘sleepy snack’,something low in sugar and easy to digest (a list of these can be found on our Facebook page)
Be on the lookout for signs of sleep disorders: children should, on the whole, wake naturally without requiring too much parental encouragement. If after 10 hours sleep, they aren’t generally able to wake naturally, or still appear very tired during the day, there may be an underlying sleep disorder which may need to be considered.
Toddlers and pre-schoolers:
The recommended amount of sleep your toddler needs over one 24-hour period is 11 to 14 hours. Pre-schoolers need 10 to 13 hours.
The bedtime routine should be the same every night and take around 20-30 minutes. If it is longer, they may find their second wind and be very difficult to settle to sleep.
Make sure bedtime is at a suitable time. Too late and they will be overtired and take a long time to settle.
For toddlers, pay attention to awake times in the day- don’t forget those naps! The average age to drop naps all together is 2.5-3 years old. Until this point, toddlers can generally only manage 4.5-5.5 hours of awake time. Those people who tell you to keep your little one up in the day so they will sleep better at night, probably don’t have children. You might start to forget about the importance of naps a little for your toddler, but they can still get cranky and difficult to settle if overtired.
A good bedtime routine could include a bath, putting pyjamas on and one or two stories. The important thing is to put your little one into bed awake. If you feed, rock or snuggle him/her to sleep, you may be creating problems for later down the line when you would prefer him/her to go to sleep themselves.
Consistency is key. Toddlers and pre-schoolers thrive on boundaries and if those boundaries move, they will be pushed again and again. They live in a world of black and white, not grey where we spend most of our time as adults. This is why consistency is so crucial and you need to follow through with all consequences and promises. To make this difficult process more challenging, toddlers can’t remember rules; they learn through repetition and frequency, so this is another reason for consistency. It is vital to be consistent, so they know what is, and is not, going to happen, otherwise you are creating a confusing message for your little one, which is unfair.
School Age Children:
Sleep is vital for this age group of children, they are asked a lot of during the week, academically, socially and physically. Sleep deprivation can really impact their behaviour and level of achievement.
The recommended amount of sleep for school aged children between 6-13 years old is 9 to 11 hours (It’s a good idea to work backwards from the time they need to wake up in the morning. For example, if your 7-year-old needs approximately 10.5 hours of sleep per night and need to get up for school at 7am, they should be in bed ready to sleep by 8.30pm. Some 7-year olds will need more than 10.5 hours, some slightly less, each child is different).
Allow for ‘digital free’ time at least 1 hour, ideally 2, before bed. As well as the interference that the blue light can cause in terms of melatonin production, the rapid-fire, fast paced screen action is overstimulating for the human brain. Try swapping it for some quiet games, or hand eye coordination activities like colouring, puzzles or craft. Hand eye co-ordination is really good for relaxing the brain at this time of day. This is also a good time to offer a sleepy snack as mentioned above.
A bath/shower is a nice way for children to unwind and relax so include this in their bedtime routine.
Once they are ready for bed, reading a story with them or doing some relaxation exercises in bed is a good way to end the routine.
Keep the bedrooms a screen free zone at night – perhaps put all screens on to charge overnight in a room that you can supervise!
This whole bedtime process shouldn’t last more than 1 hour (the time from getting in the bath to bed being no longer than 30 minutes).
The main thing to remember is that by sticking to a consistent bedtime routine, you are providing structure at a time of day when your child really needs to fee safe and secure. This doesn’t mean it can’t be fun though!
By Fay Smith @littledreamsconsultingltd