Written by Susan H. Christiansen

Transitioning to bedtime shouldn’t ignite a house war – and it won’t if you use a bedtime routine.

A good bedtime routine promotes healthy sleep patterns and overall wellness and development.  This means that as we go through a bedtime routine, we are actually promoting growth and development in our kids.

We primarily do this through interaction in four areas: nutrition, hygiene, communication, and physical touch.

  1. Nutrition – Providing a nutritious snack before bedtime and adequate water intake are signs of nurturing and self-care.
  2. Hygiene (healthy habits) – Helping your child learn the skills of brushing their teeth and washing their face are important developmental steps and promote future healthy habits and self-care.
  3. Communication – The soft back-and-forth sounds of nighttime talking strengthen the family bond as well as improves your child’s vocabulary and critical thinking skills. Talking, singing, or playing soft instrumental music helps to calm your child as they transition to sleep.
  4. Physical Touch – Snuggling, cuddling, and hugging promote mental wellness. Our kids  feel safe and cared for. Because of these physical and emotional connections, our children will be able to relax and have a better rest.

For many families, the nighttime routine is when parent and child can slow down, practice mindfulness by being in the present moment, and freely give and receive connection.

What Are Some Examples of Bedtime Routines?

Bedtime routines can include adaptive behaviors (positive) that promote healthy sleep such as brushing teeth, praying, singing, and reading stories.

Another routine may be brushing teeth, the child lays down in bed, talking quietly for a few minutes, and then listening to instrumental lullabies. 

Bedtime routines can also include maladaptive behaviors (negative) that inhibit quality sleep such as using electronics, watching TV, or adrenaline-inducing activities in the hour before bedtime.

Watching TV as part of a bedtime routine decreased the quality and duration of sleep.

There isn’t a set formula for every child and family. Whereas singing songs may help one child transition into sleep, it may encourage another to stay awake and engage with the caregiver.

Click on any of the bedtime routine images below to download a printable version.

If you have any questions about your child’s sleep habits, ask your doctor at the yearly check-up for your child or leave a message for the nurse. If you suspect a problem, it’s better to begin to resolve it as soon as possible. Lengthy, restful sleep is so important that:

the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that sleep health be included as part of anticipatory guidance at well-child visits throughout development

Incorporating a Bedtime Routine Into Your Day

This isn’t a one size fits all solution and the bedtime routine recommendation changes as your child ages. These are guiding principles for establishing a bedtime routine that will work for you and your child throughout childhood. Research has shown that establishing a consistent bedtime routine improves sleep for young children within two weeks.

  • Bedtime is the hour of time before the child falls asleep.
  • Implement a consistent time for your child to go to sleep at night. Wake up at the same time each day.
  • Create a routine that begins the transition process from day to sleep and repeat it daily in the same order. Children feel safe when they have routines and structure built into their day.
  • Rocking or feeding your child as sleep sets in can establish problems in sleeping patterns. Rocking and snuggling are encouraged except during the few minutes of transition from wakefulness to sleep. The young child needs to learn to self-soothe  by going to sleep in bed alone so when they wake up at night they can comfort themselves and go back to sleep without crying.
  • Create a routine with quiet activities that help children transition to a calmer state:
    • turn down the lights
    • turn off the electronics
    • quiet playing
    • turn on soft instrumental music
    • read stories together
    • putting the toys away
    • talk about the day
    • brush teeth and wash faces
    • going to the potty
    • take a bath
    • putting pajamas on
    • a drink of water
    • soft massage
    •  snuggling and hugging
    • quietly rocking in the glider
    • turning on the closet light and shutting the closet doors or turning on the nightlight
    • tucking your child into bed
    • singing songs softly
    • praying
    • saying “I love you”
    • leaving the door slightly open

Following a bedtime routine will help your child develop skills that improve their sleep and waking hours many times over. It will strengthen your relationship and provide a peaceful transition for you and your child at the end of the day. In fact, it will help your family function better as a unit.