Every child is different and some will need more sleep than others but all children will benefit from a consistent bath and bed time routine. It’s not just a great way to end the day. A good bedtime routine encourages a more regular sleep routine. It’s one of the easiest ways to help ensure your child wakes up rested and refreshed.
And it is not only children who benefit. Streamlining your child’s bedtime helps make your own day run more smoothly. Life as a parent or carer is busy enough, so anything that makes your day that little bit easier – and might even give you a little bit more precious time to yourself – can only be a good thing.
Start at the same time every day
As any parent or carer knows, children can be masters of distraction techniques at bed time. Don’t let them call the shots, be firm but fair and try not to get stressed. Children often copy their parents’ behaviour – if you overreact, they may do the same and the calm atmosphere will be broken.
Starting at the same time for roughly the same amount of time every day (an hour from start to finish is a good rough guide) means they know what to expect – and can help calm and relax them. This is can be particularly important for younger children – and can help avoid getting to the dreaded overtired or hyperactive stage, which can all too often end in tears. Literally.
How much sleep does your child need?
The amount of sleep children need changes as they grow – between 10 to 13 hours a day, including naps, for children aged three to five, according to NHS guidelines. Children aged six to 12 need around nine to 12 hours per night.
Like so many things, it’s a case of starting as you mean to go on. It’s not always easy, but stick with it. An analysis of sleep studies from 16 countries revealed that school-age children can take a long time to get to sleep – just one of the reasons why set bed times are so important, even as your child gets older.
A warm, but not hot, bubble bath goes a long way – to soothing busy minds and cleaning muddy knees. Keep the bathroom warm and have everything ready for when they get out such as their towel, pyjamas and toothbrush for a seamless move into the bedroom.
And if you’re having one of ‘those’ days? Remaining calm and giving yourself permission to accept that not everything has to be perfect all the time is important too. If wrangling tired children into the bath is last thing anyone feels like doing, then give yourselves a break and skip it for one day. A little dirt never hurt anyone.
The bedroom environment
Just like us, our children’s bedrooms are their personal havens. A tidy, well-ventilated room – ideally at a temperature of between 16ºC and 20ºC – is more conducive to comfort and sleep. As is setting a nighttime atmosphere.
Keeping the lights dimmed and low as they finish dressing or getting ready to be tucked into bed tells kids subconsciously that it’s time to really wind down. Low lights also encourage their bodies to produce the sleep hormone melatonin.
And do try to avoid tablets and screens at this point – or indeed at any stage in your bedtime routine, if you can. Exposure to the blue light the devices emit can disrupt a child’s sleep and wake cycle. What might feel like a quick solution can lead to longer problems down the line.
Snuggle up and enjoy a bedtime story
The crowning glory of any bedtime routine has surely got to be the bedtime story. It’s not just a lovely way bond in the moment, it can help create memories that last a lifetime.
Whether you choose to cuddle up in an armchair together or tuck them in to bed first, pick a favourite – sleepy theme optional – and let your imaginations run wild. And while screens remain a no-go, bedtime doesn’t have to be an entirely tech-free zone. Some children find audio books a great way to switch off and help put them into a deep slumber.
And to finish? A song you’ve been singing to your child since they were a baby offers younger children a familiar signal that it’s time to say ‘goodnight’, leaving them feeling safe, loved and happy.