Ensuring your children get enough sleep is essential to their health and wellbeing — not to mention yours. Depending on their ages, kids need between 8 and 13 hours of slumber every night. But knowing they require lots of rest and getting them to bed without a fight are two very different things.
Making bedtime more manageable and effective is possible once you create a routine that works. Choosing the best night light, bedtime stories and time to begin are some of the keys that can help you unlock a nightly practice that promotes healthy sleep habits.
Establish Bedtime Routines Backward
It may sound strange but start with your morning alarm when deciding on the best time to begin your child’s nightly rituals.
“Figure out what rise time is required for their life and work backward from that number,” Dr. Lynelle Schneeberg, a pediatric sleep psychologist and author of “Become Your Child’s Sleep Coach,” told Sleep.com.
So, if your child needs 10 hours of sleep each night and wakes up at 8 a.m., do some subtraction and you’ll see that they should be down by 10 p.m. From there, decide how long your bedtime routine will take so you have a clear idea about when to start.
Release Energy Early
Daily exercise is vital for the health of growing children, and it can also improve sleeping patterns. It shouldn’t surprise you to know research shows that kids who engage in vigorous activity during the day fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly than those who do not.
If you’re concerned that your child is too sedentary during the day, consider taking a family walk around the neighborhood or playing ball in the backyard together. When the weather prohibits outdoor activity, search for fun, kid-friendly exercise videos on YouTube, like ones based on favorite TV characters, superheroes or video games.
Schedule a Hard Cutoff for Screen Time
Studies show that using screens, like phones and tablets, is associated with shorter total sleep time and delayed sleep onset. In addition, exposure to blue light from devices may suppress melatonin levels and delay sleepiness.
Experts recommend turning off devices at least one hour before bedtime and keeping them out of kids’ bedrooms. In addition, limiting scary or violent media during the day could also minimize the negative effect on sleep.
Keep the Routine Short and Sweet
Your children’s nighttime rituals should include hygienic practices, like brushing their teeth and using the bathroom. But you also want to keep it brief. Unless a bath is included, 10-15 minutes should be sufficient.
Letting kids make choices, when possible, can minimize a tendency to balk at bedtime. For instance, allowing your child to select pajamas or pick a bedtime story can help them feel like they have some control over the process.
Set the Stage for Sleep
Before the bedtime routine begins, ensure that your child’s room encourages sleep. Turn down the thermostat or turn on a fan to keep it cool. Consider using blackout window treatments to prevent light from entering.
A comfortable bed, a tidy room and a lack of noise all promote a good night’s rest. If external sounds are a concern, see if your child prefers sleeping with a soothing noise machine.
Choose the Best Night Light
Fear of the dark is a phobia most children battle at some point. Keeping some light in the room can help, but having the best night light is essential, as the wrong one could actually interfere with sleep.
The best night light will be 50 lumens or less, which should not disturb sleep. Red, orange and yellow light have little to no effect on their circadian rhythm, so consider these colors for a night light. In addition, you might opt for machine that combines a night light and sound machine into one.
Read the Right Way
Reading helps kids wind down and prepare to sleep. Narrating a book to your child in bed can make it easier for them to drift off.
Choose a story that’s not overstimulating and read in a soft, soothing voice. Set limits on how long bedtime stories will last and stick with that timing. If your child likes to pick out longer books, consider spreading the story out over multiple nights rather than trying to cram it all into one evening.
Help Them Relax
Kids experience tension and anxiety just like adults do. Teaching them breathing techniques can help them get to sleep faster and manage stress throughout their lives.
You can also use other methods, such as progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness meditation or bedtime prayers that help them release the day and drift off to dreamland peacefully.
As with most parenting practices, consistency is paramount. While you may be more flexible as your family gets used to the new routine, maintaining your expectations and following through each night will make it easier as time goes by. If your child is sleeping over at someone else’s house, or a sitter is putting them down, be sure they know all the steps of your routine as well.
Before long, you and your child might even begin to look forward to ending the day together on a calm and loving note.