Many families create and practice bedtime routines. When I ask parents about their nightly habits, most parents can list in order their bedtime rituals. Every parent knows that too little sleep leaves you with a miserable, uncooperative, and irritable toddler. They know this through experience, and they also know that if they have too little sleep, you'll have a miserable, uncooperative, and irritable adult. Still, many parents fall unsuspectingly into bedtime traps that lead to negative cycles for everyone.
So how do you build a solid bedtime routine and avoid these traps? Let's dive into it.
1. Lights out at the same time. Parenting requires flexibility. But when it comes to sleep, you're going to need to be more rigid, particularly about when lights are out (trying to go to sleep). All humans feel sensitivity to swings in sleep schedules. That's why jet-lag can be so draining. But children are especially sensitive, and even one hour difference can make a huge difference. Give your child the best chance at getting enough sleep by setting a rigid 'lights out' policy. They may not be in bed and ready to drift off to sleep, but the overhead lights are out and you'll all moving in the direction of sleep or rest.
2. Up and at 'em. Like the concept of a rigid bedtime set a regular wake up time. Very young children (under 5yo approx.) benefit from child-led sleep. But when daycare or preschool comes into the mix, setting a regular wake up time is extremely important. And keep it up throughout the weekend. Swinging between extremes leads to accruing "sleep debt," or needing extra hours of sleep to make up for lost hours. Avoid this by giving your child (and yourself!) ample amounts of time for rest at night. Get to bed earlier if your child needs it, or extend nap time to get some extra "z's."
3. Limit screens. Any back-lit screen will be stimulating to the human brain. Young children are more sensitive to screens and stimulating content. End screen-time before bed, ideally several hours before bed, so that your child's mind has the opportunity to settle down. If your family uses screens for connection or as a privilege, schedule screen time during daylight hours.
4. Co-creation. Any bedtime routine, any sleep routine, any routine at all, will be more successful if you co-create it with your child. Let them help create the order of how they get to bed. Children are creative and may even surprise you. I remember a little girl who asked that "tea time" be part of her evening routine. It became this family's favorite part of the night, as they sat in the living room with their hot cup of tea. Some things are "must-haves," like brushing teeth, taking a bath, etc. Be clear that these are non-negotiable. But you can let your child choose when they complete these tasks.
5. Connection and modeling. Everyone, children and adults alike, feels more capable and confident when they feel connected. Go through these routines with your children. You may even want to do things alongside them. If they are getting PJs on, get yours on too. If they are brushing their teeth, you can clean your teeth too. At first, getting ready for bed simultaneously may be difficult, but over time, with practice, you may find that this benefits everyone in the family.
What works in your family for your bedtime routine? Share your habits and routines with us in the comments.