Bedtime routines are important for children. Regardless of age, regular schedules and bedtime rituals help us get the sleep we need and to function at peak levels. When it comes to children, this is especially true. Establishing and maintaining good sleep habits helps your child fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake up rested and refreshed. It may also prevent future sleep problems. Good sleep habits can not only take the stress out of bedtime, but can help make it the special time it should be for you and your child.
There are no hard-and-fast rules for bedtime, and as always, there is individual variation. Your child is unique. If your routine is working, then it is probably best for you. That said, some approaches work better than others, and the following guidelines have been shown to be effective.
1. Make sleep a family priority. Determine how much sleep each family member needs and ensure that they get it. Discuss any sleep problems with your child's doctor. Most are easily treated.
2. Learn to recognize sleep problems in your child. Signs of sleep problems include difficulty falling asleep, nighttime awakenings, snoring, stalling and resisting going to bed, having trouble breathing during sleep, and loud or heavy breathing while sleeping. Sleep problems can be evident in daytime behavior as well. If your child seems overtired, sleepy, or cranky during the day, tell your child's doctor.
3. Consistency. As in all aspects of parenting, consistency and follow-through are key ingredients for success. Without them, you just can't expect your child to learn or change behavior.
4. Teamwork. If you are co-parenting, it is important to discuss your strategy beforehand and work as a team. If you are beginning a nighttime program, explain your new expectations to your child if he or she is old enough to understand.
5. Set a regular bedtime and wake time. This sets and aligns expectations for both you and your child and allows you to plan the bedtime routine accordingly.
6. Routine, routine, routine. Kids love it, they thrive on it, and it works. Routines set expectations and help train behavior; a nightly bedtime routine helps your child learn to be sleepy, just like reading in bed may put some of us adults to sleep (even when we're out of bed). The structure of bedtime routines also associates the bedroom with good feelings and provides a sense of security and control. Routines can take the stress out of bedtime and help make it a special time, especially if you have more than one child.
7. Dress and room temperature. Again, there are no absolutes here, but a rule of thumb is to dress your child basically as you dress yourself, keeping in mind that younger children often kick off the covers at night and are unable to cover themselves. People generally sleep better in a cooler (but not cold) rather than warmer room.
8. Transitional object. Bedtime means separation, and that can be made easier with a transitional object, like a doll, teddy bear, blanket, or other comfort item. This kind of object can provide a sense of security and control that comforts and reassures your child.
9. Dark and quiet. Make sure the bedroom is dark and quiet and the noise level in the house is low. If your child does not like a totally dark room, turn on a small night light or leave the hall light on and the door to the bedroom open.
10. One last thing. Kids will always have that one last thing -- kisses, hugs, a drink of water, using the bathroom. They can be quite inventive. Do your best to anticipate all this and get it done before getting in bed. And let your child know that once they are in bed, they have to stay in bed.