There is an abundance of research on the importance of sleep for a child's mental and physical health. Many of these studies point to a consistent bedtime routine as a critical step.
According to the Mayo Clinic, relaxing activities like a bath, reading books and soft music help your child wind down for sleep. Children should spend at least 30 minutes preparing for bed, but one hour is optimal.
Stay away from electronics an hour or more before bedtime. That means no television, iPads or video games. Children model what their parents do, so it's ideal if you aren't watching Breaking Bad before bed. You may find that you sleep better as well.
Avoid vigorous exercise and adrenaline-producing activities too. That means no talent shows, hide-and-seek or tag. No trampolines. No wrestling. No Daddy Tickle Contests. It's a fun time of night when the entire family is together, but if the kids are running screaming through the house, that may not bode well for drifting quickly off to dreamland.
A good bedtime routine is not enough. Now you need to follow those same steps every night. Why? A consistent routine signals your child's body and brain to power down for sleep. When you lie in bed each night to read a few pages of your book, and find yourself yawning, your body understands it is time to end the day. Similarly, if a child nearly always has dinner, takes a bath, gets cozy in their pajamas, then chooses a few books before snuggling under the covers and getting kisses goodnight, by the time the lights are dimmed, their bodies are sending all the right signals for sleep. The more consistent these signals, the more likely they'll drift off to sleep faster each night.
Unfortunately, there is no magic list to check off when it comes to following the right bedtime routine. The ultimate routine is the one that works best for your child. You may need to experiment for a while to figure out the perfect routine in your house. For example, our oldest daughter used to get riled up in the bath at night as a baby. When we removed the bath from her bedtime routine, she fell asleep faster. Similarly, our 2-year-old son hasn't been able to sit still for books at night recently, so we've changed his routine to put him right to bed after pajamas and teeth brushing. I've added in a song from mommy while I tuck him in.
Bedtime: One of the Ultimate Parenting Tests
Some of you are reading this and screaming, "It's not always that easy!" And with three children six and under, I know that is absolutely true. Bedtime is when your parenting skills can be put to the ultimate test.
Getting them into bed is one problem. Keeping them there is another.
There's pleading for one more story, or needing to get up for a glass of water, a mosquito bite that won't stop itching, one more thing they forgot to tell you, hair that needs to be pulled back, a last trip to the bathroom, shadows on the wall, strange noises and monsters. The list is endless, and it is amazes me how creative our children can be when it comes to excuses for getting back out of bed.
What can you do to keep them in bed once they're tucked in? And no, duct tape is not a valid option. There are many suggestions out there, and again, not all of them work equally well for every child. The ideal scenario is that your child decides that sleep is important to them. Not because you said so, but because they believe it. New research shows that this understanding alone results in children getting more sleep.
Want more sleep for everyone in the house, along with a peaceful bedtime experience? Find the bedtime routine that works best for your family, keep it as consistent as possible and make sure all of your family members understand why sleep is so important.