bear under sheets

This blog post will help you to develop good systems and routines for bedtime, learn tips and tricks for a smoother bedtime, and encourage you to persevere in the bedtime rituals. 

Bedtime with your kiddos most likely brings to mind one of two images. It’s either a feeling of dread for the pure chaos and clever stall techniques from even the youngest members of your household or a sweet anticipation of snuggles, kisses, and one last “I love you”. Maybe it’s a mixture of both.

Importance of sleep

Sleep is vital to human beings and children are no exception. A child’s brain and body is growing and developing rapidly and good sleep is necessary restore and rest the physical body and allow the brain to have time to rest and store information. According to the Mayo Clinic, sleep is also necessary for brain development, memory synthesis, attention, motor skills, and language development. We all know that lack of sleep can contribute to children being cranky and fussy, but it can also be a cause for lack of attention and hyperactivity. Ensuring your child gets enough sleep is an important role of an intentional parent. 

How much sleep does my child need?

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that children 3-5 years old get 10-13 hours of sleep every day for optimal health. While children 6-12 years old should get 9-12 hours of sleep each day. Since sleep is such an important part of childhood growth and development, it is important to develop a consistent nightly bedtime routine to help ensure your child gets adequate rest. 

The importance of bedtime routines

Bedtime is viewed by many as one of the more challenging aspects of the day. We have definitely been there! A predictable routine can go a long ways in helping things to run more smoothly. There is no perfect bedtime routine, and there will always be hiccups, but with intentionality and planning, bedtime can be a calm, sweet time of parent-child bonding as well. 

Routines for bed will look different for different families, depending on the ages of your children and the season of life you are in, but the key is finding what works for your family and then sticking with it. When you find yourself in a pattern of difficult bedtimes, try switching things up and see if that helps. Developing a good bedtime routine will make all the difference in how smoothly your evening goes. 

bed and stuffed bear

Why establish a bedtime routine?

  • Young children thrive on routine, and bedtime is no exception. Developing a consistent bedtime routine helps communicate to your child that it is time to relax, slow down and prepare for bed. 
  • A regular rhythm for bed will also help you to clearly communicate your expectations to your child. Children will quickly learn that starting this rhythm means it is almost bedtime and they need to begin preparing for sleep. The more you can clearly articulate your expectations, and the actions and behaviors you want to see at bedtime, the smoother things will go. 
  • When a child’s bedtime routine is consistently implemented it will also help to create a calm and peaceful environment in your home. Rather than chaos and disorganization that stems from no one knowing or understanding the plan, you will quickly find that children begin to implement the routine on their own. 
  • Consistency in a bedtime routine gives kids a sense of security and will help to reduce the fears and anxieties that children can have at nighttime. Kids will know what to expect and know that they are safe and loved, reducing anxiety and helping them to fall asleep without worry. 
  • Instills healthy sleep habits. Regular bedtimes and good rhythms will also help children as they grow older and develop their own bedtime routine. They will be more likely to choose good sleep habits when they have been practicing those habits since early childhood. 

Bedtime routines for different ages

Bedtime routines will also look different depending on how many children you have in your home and how old they are. An older child’s routine will look different than that of a toddler or preschooler. You will have to decide how much of the bedtime routine you want to be done together as a whole family and how much it is individualized. One idea would be to do the bulk of your bedtime routine as a family and then allow your older children to have some quiet time with a book or some quiet activities until it is time to sleep. 

What activities should I include in a bedtime routine?

A bedtime routine can really be anything that you want it to be. In general it will include basic preparations for bed such as changing into pajamas and brushing teeth. In our home, reading bedtime stories is a significant part of our regular bedtime routine. We will often read one or more picture books just before bed and it is a delightful way to connect at the end of the day. If you need some fresh ideas for bedtime picture books, read this blog post where I share some of our favorites. 

Singing and prayer are also a vital part of our bedtime routine. We choose 2-3 song to sing, sometimes familiar and other times we learn something new. Some simple favorites for bedtime could include: Mary Had a Little Lamb, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, You are My Sunshine, and Rock a Bye Baby. In our home we love to sing hymns and scripture songs at bedtime. Of course, Jesus Loves Me is a beloved favorite by many children, but bedtime can also be a sweet time to learn new hymns. Recently we have been singing a new song every night and it has been so sweet to see our daughter learn new hymns by hearing them repeated at bedtime. 

stuffed bunny on book shelf

How do I start a bedtime routine?

The best way to start a bedtime routine is just to jump in and start. If bedtime routines are brand new to you, choose one small thing and start with that. Do you want to include singing at bedtime? Start with singing one song just before saying your final goodnights. Do you want to read picture books before sleep? Read one picture book aloud before bed. Start small and then slowly add in more as you gain confidence and consistency. 

Developing a bedtime routine really starts with knowing what time you want your kids to be in bed. Once you have established that time, work backwards. Depending on what all you include in your routine and how long it takes to do those things, you will want to start your bedtime routine 30-60 minutes prior to the time you want your kids in bed. 

What does an example bedtime routine look like?

In our home, bedtime is 8pm, and so our bedtime routine starts around 7:15-7:30. To start the routine, we ask our girlie to put on her pajamas and we help her brush her teeth. From there we pick one or two books to read, sometimes she chooses, sometimes we do. We love reading together! If you need some ideas for bedtime story books, check out this post. 

After we read, we sing a couple of songs. This is anywhere from 1-3 songs, depending on how much time we have. Then we pray together, give kisses and hugs, and she goes to her bed. I will go in a few minutes later to tuck her in and turn out the lights. 

Our bedtime routine is an example of a rhythm that has morphed and changed over the years. Not long ago we carried out the singing and praying ritual with her tucked in bed, but it had become a struggle for a few reasons and so we decided to switch things up. This particular rhythm is working so much better for us right now. 

What are some things that might help my child sleep?

At one point or another, most children will go through a period of time where they just struggle to fall sleep and stay asleep. In addition to a consistent routine that promotes relaxation, here a few things we have found to help. 

1. A warm bath before bed.  This is one of my favorite ways to help my child relax and prepare for sleep. In a particular season of struggle, we did daily nighttime baths that included epsom salt and lavender and orange essential oils. The warm water, plus the essential oils work wonders to help calm and relax a child before sleep.

2. A white noise machine. We love the Hatch sleep clock. Not only is it a clock that changes colors when it is time to rise or fall asleep, it also has various calming sounds that can be played on a timer or all night long. We have found using this has been a great help to our daughter in falling and staying asleep. 

3. Diffusing essential oils and other natural sleep remedies. I have found that diffusing a blend of lavender essential oils is very calming for my daughter. We also love using this magnesium lotion for Earthley to promote restful sleep. For other products we use for sleep, check out this blog post. 

4. Lastly, be cautious of screen time within an hour of bedtime. Blue light can suppress melatonin production and disrupt the circadian rhythm. We try and avoid it for at least an hour prior to bedtime.

Sleep is vital to a child’s growth and development. A consistent bedtime routine is one of the best ways to help your child be ready to fall asleep and stay asleep all night. I hope this is helpful as you implement your own bedtime routine. Do you have a bedtime routine in your home? I would love to know what we do similarly or differently.

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