For toddlers and preschoolers, bedtime is often the most challenging part of the day. It means another transition and separation from parents, at the same time everyone in the household is frazzled! Setting up a calm, loving, and predictable bedtime routine is one of the best ways to make sure that your child (and you) gets enough sleep.
The benefits of adequate sleep for children are many. Well-rested kids:
- Go to sleep faster-An overtired child can be an overactive child due to increased cortisol levels. Sleep begets sleep.
- Behave better-Sleep deprived children are more likely to have intense temper tantrums and have difficulty getting along with peers.
- Have increased attention and learning-One study showed that 2/3 of kids deprived of sleep met the clinical diagnosis for ADHD. If being deprived of sleep leads to a drop in attention, children may miss out on learning and on opportunities to be creative. And if they are easily irritated and frustrated because their bodies and brains are tired, they may not learn as much either.
Adding or changing a bedtime routine can be hard, but involving your child in the process can make it go more smoothly. Nancy Buck, a developmental psychologist, suggests finding a relaxed time, such as Saturday morning, to talk about upcoming changes in a non-blaming way. For example, “Bedtime is consistently unpleasant and seems to regularly turn into an argument. Let’s see if we can create a plan to solve this ongoing problem.”
This gives your child an opportunity to choose quiet activities they would enjoy to wind down, whether it be stories or coloring or a bath every night. Once the ideal bedtime routine is in place, be consistent but somewhat flexible; if one night your child would like a puzzle before bed then change it up! As long as the essential elements of a bedtime routine stay in place, children are more likely to get adequate sleep.
The following illustrates some steps in beneficial routines. Yours can be anything that works for you and your child:
- Leave at least an hour for quiet-play and the bedtime routine. Roughhousing, running, playing tickling games, and even watching TV shows or videos make peaceful transition to sleep especially difficult.
- Offer a small low-sugar protein snack one hour before bed such as turkey and cheese or plain yogurt with berries. The protein really does help your child fall asleep and stay asleep!
- Turn down the heat and lights to promote relaxation, maybe even play soft music.
- Use the bathroom, brush teeth, and change in to PJs while singing songs or talking about your day.
- Read stories, listen to an audiobook or a sleep story-together. When parents are emotionally available at night their child will feel more secure and go to sleep easier and faster.
What works for your family? Share in the Comments!
- Wendy A Hall, Elizabeth Nethery. What does Sleep Hygiene have to offer Children’s Sleep Problems? Paediatric Respiratory Reviews, 2018; DOI: 10.1016/j.prrv.2018.10.005
- Impact of Sleep Extension and Restriction on Children’s Emotional Lability and Impulsivity; Reut Gruber, Jamie Cassoff, Sonia Frenette, Sabrina Wiebe, Julie Carrier
- Dr. Laura Markham, The Importance of Bedtime Routines
- How to Develop a Bedtime Routine, Parents Magazine Online
- West, Kim (2009) The Sleep Lady®’s Good Night, Sleep Tight: Gentle Proven Solutions to Help Your Child Sleep Well and Wake Up Happy