What does a good bedtime routine look like?
Everyone’s routine is different, but the key to a good bedtime routine is that it’s a routine. Set a consistent bedtime that leaves enough time for your child to sleep the recommended amount of hours for their age, and then do the same three to five activities every night and in the same order. Eventually your child will associate the routine with bedtime, but to make the lead-up to bed even more effective, you can wind down the household by dimming lights and turning off screens.
Here are some activities you might incorporate into your bedtime routine:
- If your child needs to get out their last bursts of energy, plan their schedule accordingly and give them the time and space to do so
- Nutritious snack or bottle/breastfeeding
- Bath and diaper change
- Brushing teeth and going to the bathroom
- Reading books
- Lullaby or singing a song together
- Massage, cuddling, and rocking
- Talking about their day
- Tucking your child in or putting them in their crib
Your bedtime routine can culminate in tucking your child in (or putting them in their crib) and leaving the room while your child is sleepy but not asleep yet, allowing them to learn to fall asleep on their own.
Because every child is different, it might take some trial-and-error to find out what works best for your family. But when crafting your child’s bedtime routine, the National Sleep Foundation recommends the following advice:
- Keep it short and sweet: Your bedtime routine should be around a half an hour not including their bath. Prolonging the routine makes it harder to shorten it when you need to.
- Keep up your routine during the day: Following a daytime rhythm leads to increased sleep duration for young children. Lots of exercise, sunlight, and time outdoors also can help them sleep better.
- Follow sleep hygiene rules: Keep the bedroom dark, cool, and quiet to promote sleep. If your child is scared of the dark, you can use a dim nightlight. Noise levels in the rest of the house can keep young children awake, so try to transition to quieter activities once you’ve tucked the kids in.
- Make gradual changes: Try not to introduce more than one change at a time to the routine. If other changes are happening in your lives, like a new sibling or starting school, consider delaying bedtime changes — the routine will be good for your child.
- Start before they are overtired: Overtired children can become hyperactive or grumpy, and will become increasingly difficult to get to sleep, so try to start the routine before that point, following physical cues such as eye rubbing, yawning, or irritability.
- Limit or avoid screen time close to bedtime: The blue light from television and other electronic devices has consequences for sleep if used too close to bedtime.
- Avoid sugary treats or caffeine: Try to keep evening snacks light and healthy. Caffeine will keep kids awake, and sugary treats before bed can lead to cavities. Breakfast cereals, chocolate, and pudding can be sources of caffeine you may not expect.
This article has been reviewed by our team of experts.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article does not constitute medical advice. If you have concerns about any health or medical condition, diagnosis, or treatment you should consult with your pediatrician or a licensed healthcare provider.