I’m a nationally published sleep expert, journalist, and the mom of three young kids. I’ve been helping tired families sleep since 2007 (more about me here). Subscribe to The Well Rested Family for fresh news and tips on keeping your bunch happy and healthy. Thanks for stopping by!

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Monday
Nov142011

Building A Better Bedtime

A friend of mine shared this brilliant comic strip by Richard Thompson of gocomics.com. It perfectly illustrates the Great Bedtime Challenge for modern parents—how do you create an effective bedtime routine that summons sleep without becoming your child’s own personal bedside entertainer?

When it comes to a bedtime routine for a child, it’s easy to go a bit bonkers—after all, we constantly hear about the vital importance of a bedtime routine. So we add and add and add to our routine, until it gets so unwieldy that we dread it every night.

We create our children’s bedtime routines with the best of intentions, but here’s the fact: The ideal bedtime routine supports a healthy bedtime—it does not delay it. An overly-long bedtime routine doesn’t do your child or your family any favors, because if it’s boring or cumbersome for you to perform the routine, you probably won’t keep doing it consistently, night after night. And the very best bedtime routine is one that’s consistent and enjoyable for everyone involved.

Here’s how to create an appropriate, effective bedtime routine that paves the way to healthy sleep without eating away your evening.

  • Design your bedtime routine so that it lasts anywhere from fifteen to forty-five minutes. If your child’s bedtime routine has ballooned out of control, gradually reduce the number of steps until the entire routine takes no longer than forty-five minutes, including bath and snack.
  • An effective bedtime routine moves in one direction—toward the bed. Circling in and out of the bedroom during the bedtime routine (“I need to get more water, mommy!”) disrupts wind-down and does not encourage your child to associate her bedroom with relaxation and rest.
  • You can choose an appropriate bedtime and design a great routine, but your child might still refuse to cooperate. If your child resists his bedtime routine, remember that you can enforce bedtime without forcing him to participate in the routine. If your child chooses not to participate, simply carry out the routine. Read stories to an empty room. Don’t chase him through the house or engage in a power struggle. Don’t force him into his pajamas—inform him that it’s fine with you if he sleeps in his clothes. When he sees that his stall tactics are not effective, the power plays will cease.

 You can create a soothing, sleep-supporting routine by picking 3-5 elements from the list below.

  • Bedtime snack or breastfeeding
  • A soothing bath
  • Nightime dressing (pajamas, swaddling)
  • Snuggling with mom, dad, and/or a favorite toy
  • Listening to soothing music (some babies will play happily in their room or crib listening to a mobile or music recording while you prepare a bath)
  • Bedtime stories
  • Lullaby (the same song, every night)
  • Rocking in a rocking chair or glider
  • Turning on a white noise machine

Can you relate to the comic strip? How long does bedtime take in your house?

References (23)

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Reader Comments (7)

We are in the process of starting a bedtime routine for our 2month old. It's easy to get overwhelmed by all of the steps of bedtime, so it's a great reminder to keep it simple. The hardest part we are having is how to keep a good bedtime routine for our 3 year old, and start one for our baby. I feel like we keep pushing off her routine, for his. She does not yet have a good routine, which I feel has truly effected her sleep patterns. Any tips on how to maintain the first child's routine, without sacrificing a special routine with the second?

November 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBecky Kinman

It can be a juggle, Becky! The fact is, you can't be two places at once! I recommend either staggering the bedtimes if possible (if they currently need to go to sleep at the exact same time, can you allow one to nap a bit longer during the day so they can stay up 30 minutes later?). Or, enlisting the help of a spouse. Most nights, my husband puts our older child to bed, while I put the younger child to bed. My husband enjoys the special time with our older daughter, after being at work all day. But there are many nights when either my husband or I are putting the kids to bed without the other parent's help. On those nights, we combine some aspects of the routine (bathing the kids together, for example). After bath, both kids get into their pjs (the younger one needs help, the older one can manage on her own). Then, our 4yo has her bedtime snack and some independent quiet time with books or a movie while I put the 24-month-old to bed, which takes about 15-20 minutes. After the younger one goes down, I tell the older one that it's time for bed, and we go to her room and read for about 15 minutes before lights out.

November 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMalia Jacobson

Well, thanks to your suggestions, our bedtime routine is a snap! Jasper knows exactly how it goes. Starts downstairs with a snack then it is upstairs for potty, pj's, brushing teeth then 2 stories and snuggles with Daddy to fall asleep. All in all it takes from 15-20 min. Not only is Jasper happier with the routine, he really needs it. This also gives me extra special one on one time with Tabitha. I was really worried how it would work when I was visiting my parents house alone. Well, just like always, he knew exactly what to do and in what order. He fell asleep so quickly even with Tabitha making noises as she was calming down. Malia, you are awesome. Your suggestions work. You rock!

November 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSandra Kimmet

Thanks, Sandra! I'm so happy to help. :)

November 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMalia Jacobson

Sleep is really one of the most essential needs of our body. We should never take this for granted.

-admin

November 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterstop snoring surgery

Our routine (for both my 6 year old and my 8 month old) consists of most of the things on the list! However they all flow together seamlessly as we have been doing them with the eldest for most of her life. We start with picking up toys, then jammies, brushing teeth, snuggling/rocking while we read a story (with the baby, we nurse as well), then one lullaby, then tucking into bed with both a fan going for nightlong white noise as well as a lullaby cd. It takes no more than 30 minutes and has worked tremendously well for us--I've never been a fan of ridiculous battles over pajamas or drinks of water. Bedtime was always bedtime and that was it. More than anything else, I think that was the key.

January 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAryn

i must say here, early to bed early to rise

September 12, 2014 | Unregistered Commentergalaxy food

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