Today’s post on realistic bedtime routine ideas for busy parents came about because I understand it isn’t always easy to devote a large chunk of time to get your child to bed. A complicated process might not be realistic or practical with busy lifestyles, two working parents or older siblings thrown into the mix.
In an earlier sleep training post on how we trained our baby to sleep through the night, I described some of the things we did for Bibi’s bedtime routine. As you can see bedtime routines are different from family to family, and can even vary from child to child. But all children benefit from the structure and comfort of an established bedtime routine. Here are some realistic bedtime routine ideas for busy parents.
The resources I used and referenced in all my baby sleep posts are:
• The Happy Sleeper Book – Science-Backed Guide to Helping Your Baby Get a Good Night’s Sleep – Newborn to School Age
• Taking Cara Baby Paid Sleep Program
• Bringing Up Bebe Book: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting
• One-on-one meetings with lactation consultants at BC Women’s Hospital
• 7-week Pre-natal Class at the Childbearing Society
• Local La Leche Meetings in Vancouver
• Today’s Parent: Cry-it-out sleep training will not harm your baby
• Baby Sleep Site: The Ferber Method Explained
• Today’s Parent: Giving your baby morning breastmilk at bedtime might be ruining his sleep
• Taking Cara Babies: 5-25 Months Sleep Schedule
• Baby’s Breath Canada: What is SIDS
• CDC.GOV: Learn what parents and caregivers can do to help babies sleep safely
• American Academy of Pediatrics Journal: SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths
• It’s all in the timing: kids’ bedtimes
• Top Culprits for Early Morning Wakings
• AAP endorses new recommendations on sleep times
• Daytime nap controls toddlers’ nighttime sleep
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Why a Bedtime Routine is Important
Children crave consistency. They generally have little control over what happens next, so giving them predictable routines will help them feel safe. A bedtime routine also provides important cues that will help your child transition towards rest.
Bedtime routines, especially ones that help calm the mind and body, can also help children fall asleep faster and therefore get adequate sleep. Getting enough sleep has important health benefits for babies and children including a decreased chance of obesity, and improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, and overall mental and physical health. Another benefit of a bedtime routine is the opportunity to create treasured traditions and a stronger bond with your baby or child.
How Many Hours of Sleep Do Children Need?
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) reviewed 864 scientific articles to create sleep recommendations by age.
Although different children may thrive with slightly more or less sleep, being aware of these numbers can help you make good decisions about what time to begin your sleep routine.
- Babies 4-12 months: 12-16 hours (including naps)
- Ages 1-2 years: 11-14 hours (including naps)
- Ages 3-5 years: 10-13 hours (including naps)
- Age 6-12 years: 9-12 hours
- Age 13-18 years: 8-10 hour
How to Establish a Realistic Sleeping Routine
Establishing a sleep routine that works for your child and your family takes a bit of planning.
- First, determine how many hours of sleep would be ideal for your child from the information above.
- Second, work backward from their usual awake time to determine what time they should be in bed. This is when the bedtime routine should be finished. For example: after subtracting Bibi’s naptime from the recommended 11-14 hours, she should get around 10.5 hours of sleep each night. She is usually awake around 6:15 a.m. So counting backward 10.5 hours from 6:15 a.m. results in bedtime of 7:45 p.m.
- Third, take a look at what your family’s typical evening schedule looks like. Then decide how much time you have available to dedicate to a sleeping routine. If it is 30 minutes, begin your bedtime routine 30 minutes before the time you just determined.
- Fourth, determine the elements of a bedtime routine that are most important to you. Decide, by priority, which ones fit into your available time period. Do you want baby to have a bath every day? That takes up 15 minutes of your bedtime routine. Add in additional elements to round out the 30 minutes you have available for your bedtime routine. Perhaps that looks like 10 minutes for reading and 5 minutes for lullabies.
A realistic expectation of how much time you have available, and the activities you can fit, will decrease your frustration.
Ideas for Bedtime Routines
Bedtime routines can and should vary from family to family. There are many options to choose from as you create a realistic bedtime routine. Pick and choose items from these categories that will fit into the time you have available.
Hygiene: Pickup toys/room, bathe, brush teeth, brush hair, change into pj’s.
Create Calm: Play peaceful music 45 minutes before bedtime, massage hands/arms, legs, hugging and kissing stuffies, dim lights, no running or jumping.
Learning: Play a family game, read books, listen to audiobooks, play musical instruments together, look through family photo albums, tell stories (kids especially love hearing stories about when they were young, or mom and dad were young).
Bonding: Rock on a rocking chair or cuddle, share one good thing and one bad thing that happened that day, ask questions, connect spiritually through prayer, scripture reading or meditation, say positive affirmations.
Additional Sleep Routine Tips
- Begin the transition from an active day to a calmer night by setting the mood at dinner time. Eating with dimmed lights and peaceful music playing can help calm and prepare your child for sleeping time.
- Turn off screens and devices. Children are particularly susceptible to light from these devices. Studies have shown that “electronic devices emit sufficient light to miscue the brain and promote wakefulness.” SleepFoundation.org
- Consider moving bath time earlier in the day so the time after dinner can be spent together as a family. Create a happy and peaceful mood before sleep with family activities like listening to music, playing board games and reading books. This Moonlight projector can make story time so much more fun without the use of screens.
- Have each parent take a different role in the bedtime routine. For example, I usually put the food away and clean the table while my husband listens to music with Bibi. Afterwards, we all join together for a short while. Lastly, I bring Bibi to brush her teeth and read in the bedroom.
- But also try to alternate the roles so that your child is comfortable with either parent putting them to bed.
- Brushing teeth is an important part of healthy bedtime routines. When baby is tiny you can use a washcloth to wipe off their gums. As soon as the first tooth shows you can begin brushing. Try to make brushing and grooming fun by letting kids pick out different bath toys, bubble bath, toothpaste and pajamas etc.
- If reading is important to you for fostering baby’s development, don’t try to cram it all in before bed. There are no rules that say reading must be done at bedtime. Choose other pockets of your day for cuddling and books.
- Toddlers love to teach and they learn by leading and setting good examples. Have older children tuck younger siblings to bed along with you. An only child can do this with their stuffies.
- Older siblings can read to younger ones during family story time.
- Craft a sleep routine that can be done anywhere. If you make it dependent on certain things in your home, baby will struggle when out of the house.
- Don’t compare your family’s sleep routine to another family’s routine. Some families will have time for a daily bath, book, massage and song. Others will only be able to squeeze in a quick book and cuddle. Be confident that the sleep routine you’ve chosen is the right one for your family.
- Expect the need to adjust sleep schedules during summer/winter as light increases or decreases. Keeping in sync with circadian rhythm will help your child rest better and lessen your frustration. If baby is waking up too early, READ: How We Fixed Early Wake Ups
- Bedtime routines should be relaxing and comforting for baby but refrain from rocking or soothing baby to a point when they’re fully asleep. This can cause them to look for the same type of comfort (a.k.a mom or dad) if they happen to wake up in the middle of the night. READ: 10 Habits that Help Our Baby Sleep Through the Night
The importance of adaptability
As baby grows, develops and gains independence, there will naturally be hiccups in bedtime routines. It is important to be aware this will happen and be adaptable to changing circumstances.
If your child is suddenly resisting bedtime, try changing your routine a bit to see if that helps. That might mean moving your current routine earlier or later, or eliminating or adding some elements. As with everything in parenting, being able to pivot and adapt is essential for everyone’s well being.
Establishing a realistic bedtime routine that works for your family will benefit parents and children alike. There will be less frustration, less guilt, more bonding opportunities and more alone time for parents. For babies and children, a bedtime routine will result in comfort, consistency, the proper amount of sleep and treasured memories.