It’s 8 pm, the family’s done with dinner, the kids are watching the television, and you realise with a sinking heart that it’s time to get them ready for bed. You brace yourself for the cries of protest and seemingly endless hours of coaxing – bedtime is always a struggle in your household.
But it does not need to stay that way!
The solution? Building healthy sleep habits from an early age.
One of the simplest ways you can do so is to weave these habits into a bedtime routine. A bedtime routine is a predictable sequence of events that parents can consistently carry out in an exact order each night. This can become a valuable time for parent-child bonding, and reduce any anxiety that you, or your child, may have about going to bed.
Here are 3 simple steps you can follow:
- Select a few relaxing activities.
Decide on what you would like to incorporate into your child’s daily bedtime routine. Turning down the lights after dinner, playing soft, soothing music, taking a warm bath, reading a goodnight story together – find low-energy activities that work best for you and your child. This will get your child into the habit of winding down early every night, steadily steering everyone away from bedtime chaos. Getting ready for bed should be a positive, enjoyable process for everyone!
- Set a schedule and stick to it.
Now that you’ve decided on the routine, ensure that you carry it out in the exact order of events and at the same time every night. In this way, your child will know what to expect and begin to associate these repetitive, nightly actions with rest. The bedtime routine thus forms a set of habitual cues that primes your child’s brain and body for sleep.
- Provide your child with positive sleep associations.
Remember the warm, cozy feeling of having a favourite teddy bear or a comfy blanket to hug to sleep as a child? These items are examples of positive sleep associations make sleeping independently more pleasant for children. Ensuring that your child has a cuddly companion will help your child feel secure and feel good about falling asleep every night.
Have a routine in place but still struggling to get your little one to sleep every night?
The bedtime that you select for your child may be a poor fit with their internal body clock.
With the help of the hormone melatonin, which plays a role in sleep, this internal body clock sends cues to the body when it is ready for rest. Putting your child to bed before this readiness happens would result in difficulties falling asleep. A study found that toddlers can take as much as 10 – 30 minutes longer to fall asleep when there is a mismatch between their bedtime and their body clock. Staying awake in bed for lengthy periods of time may then result in children associating the bed with wakefulness, instead of sleep. This starts a whole cycle of problems, and in severe cases, can even lead to insomnia in adulthood!
However, do not fret for all is not lost! You can make simple changes to counter this possibility – the first (and perhaps, most important) step is to become more aware of your child’s current sleeping habits. Monitor your child’s resistance to falling asleep and their sleep quality, before gradually adjusting your child’s bedtime routine if necessary. These additional tips may come in handy:
- Avoid excessive light at night.
Light suppresses melatonin levels, delaying the onset of sleep. Remember that television show the kids watched after dinner? That could play a part in keeping them awake at bedtime. As such, discouraging your child from using electronics such as mobile phones and the television at night, and routinely turning down the lights an hour before bedtime could be helpful.
Disconnecting from electronics at night (although we do admit, this is tough even for us adults) is an especially good habit to establish from a young age as children may encounter more distractions that keep them up, including social media usage, as they grow older.
- Adjust bedtime in small steps
No one likes tossing and turning in bed for hours on end – and your child is no exception! To avoid this unpleasant experience, help your child ease into your desired bedtime by first matching their internal body clock, then moving bedtime forward 15 minutes at a time.
Every child is different and setting up the best bedtime routine that works for both you and your child may involve lots of trial and error. But don’t give up, and keep going! If your child is old enough, you may even have a conversation about what kind of sleep habits are good for them, which routine they are comfortable with, and come up with a plan which both of you may enjoy. With healthy sleep habits and a bedtime routine that matches your child’s needs, they will soon be drifting off to slumberland with no complaints – what more could we ask for, right?
Children’s Health. 4 Secrets to Adjusting Your Toddler’s Circadian Rhythm. 2018. Electronic. 4 December 2018. https://www.childrens.com/health-wellness/4-secrets-to-adjusting-your-toddlers-circadian-rhythm
Canapri, Craig. At Long Last: Sleep Training Tools For the Exhausted Parent. 2018. Electronic. 4 December 2018. https://drcraigcanapari.com/at-long-last-sleep-training-tools-for-the-exhausted-parent/
LeBourgeois, Monique K., Wright, Kenneth P., LeBourgeois, Hannah B., Jenni, Oskar J. “Dissonance Between Parent-Selected Bedtimes and Young Children’s Circadian Physiology Influences Nighttime Settling Difficulties.” 2013. Mind, Brain, and Education, vol. 7, no. 4, p. 234.
National Sleep Foundation. Perfecting Your Child’s Bedtime Routine. 2018. Electronic. 4 December 2018. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-news/perfecting-your-childs-bedtime-routine
Parents. How to Develop Bedtime Routines. 2018. Electronic. 4 December 2018. https://www.parents.com/baby/sleep/schedule/how-to-develop-bedtime-routines/