The last few weeks we’ve been talking about the four main causes of sleep problems, and what you can do to fix them. This week we are going to focus on problem #2: chaos and unpredictability before bedtime. Not having a predictable bedtime routine can wreak havoc on sleep for both children and adults, but the good news is that it’s a pretty easy problem to fix! This week we will talk about why bedtime routines are important, and what makes a good bedtime routine.
What is a bedtime routine?
Bedtime routines are a set of consistent and predictable activities that lead up to what we call “behavioral quietude,” the brief time when you lay quietly and fall asleep. These routines act as a signal to your brain and body to start getting ready for sleep, helping you transition from wakefulness to slumber. Establishing a predictable bedtime routine helps you wind down and gets melatonin flowing, making you drowsy and helping you fall asleep faster.
Last week we discussed how maintaining a regular sleep schedule is crucial for optimizing sleep. Going to bed and waking up at consistent times helps regulate the body’s internal clock, aka the circadian rhythm. Combining a regular sleep schedule with a predictable bedtime routine helps you get even more bang for your buck, making the transition to bedtime quick and easy.
What are the benefits of a bedtime routine?
First and foremost, bedtime routines (when designed correctly) can help to bring down arousal and promote relaxation. Engaging in calming activities such as reading a book, taking a warm bath, or practicing deep breathing
exercises can help both children and adults transition from a busy day to a relaxing night of sleep. Keeping a predictable schedule also helps your brain to anticipate that sleep is coming, increasing the production of important night-time hormones like melatonin.
Second, bedtime routines can offer a unique opportunity for parent-child bonding. By setting aside some time to engage in quiet activities together, such as cuddling, singing lullabies, or sharing bedtime stories, you can create a nurturing, calm, and relaxing environment for your child. This quality time not only strengthens your relationship but also helps your child feel safe and secure, setting the stage for a peaceful night’s sleep. For families who have jam-packed schedules during the day, adding some special 1:1 time with your child at night can help you all slow down and enjoy some special time together.
Another benefit of bedtime routines is that children thrive on schedules and predictability. Having a consistent bedtime routine empowers your child by providing a sense of control and predictability over their evening. This predictability helps alleviate nighttime anxiety by creating clear and consistent boundaries and expectations.
Tips for Creating a Calming Bedtime Routine
There is no one-size-fits-all magical bedtime routine that will work for everyone. You can make your bedtime routines look however you want and decide on something that works best for your family. Your bedtime routine might have an actual written schedule that your child follows, where your child can give themselves checks, stickers, or stars for doing each step. You can make this even more fun by adding a small reward or prize for following the routine if you want. But it also doesn’t have to be that fancy and doesn’t need to be written down if that doesn’t work for your family.
No matter what your routine looks like the most important thing is consistency. Keep your routine the same every night, and try to do the same activities in the same order. Here are a few general rules that I recommend when designing a bedtime routine:
- In the 30-40 min before bed, try to switch over to quiet activities and try to avoid electronics and bright light. Switch to calm, relaxing activities like reading a book, maybe writing in a journal, doing a puzzle, or even coloring. If you have some free time, this is an excellent time to get some quality time in with your kids to talk about their day, plan for their day tomorrow, or even just have some quiet cuddle time- whatever works for your family!
- Try to keep baths and showers about 45 min to one hour before bed if possible. The reason for this is that hot baths/showers actually increase your body temperature. When preparing for sleep, we actually want the body temperature to drop, not go up. So, a hot bath too close to bedtime can actually keep you awake!
- Try to keep heavy meals at least an hour before bed, and make sure you aren’t eating/drinking anything with caffeine in the evening. That includes things like chocolate, energy drinks, tea, and soda. It’s also helpful to avoid eating anything very sugary before bed as it can cause a little spike in energy and blood sugar, followed by a crash later that can wake you up.
- Try to limit fluids the hour before bed and ensure kids, especially young kids, get a chance to use the bathroom and empty their bladder before bed!
- Pay attention to (and try to eliminate) nighttime stressors. For example, if you tend to lay in bed thinking about all the things you have to do tomorrow, take a little time in your bedtime routine to write a to-do list for the next day, pack your bag, lay out your clothes- anything that will help you feel better prepared for the next day. If you have a child that worries about their schedule or what’s happening the next day, take some time to review what the day will look like and discuss anything they are worried about.
Do your best to follow these recommendations, but otherwise, you can design your bedtime routine however works best for your family! Make sure that you are very clear with your expectations for the routine and don’t be afraid to give children lots of praise and even rewards for willingly participating and following the bedtime routine. And don’t forget bedtime routines aren’t just for children- bedtime routines help adults too. If you need help developing or refining your bedtime routine, contact me!