Warm bath, 3 books, lights out. You know the drill. A good bedtime routine can do wonders for your child’s sleep. The same activities repeated in the same order every night will signal your child’s brain that it’s time to sleep, making it easy for him to drift off after lights out - no fighting or late-night curtain calls required.
You’ll know if your child’s bedtime routine is working, because he’ll rarely spend hours tossing and turning as he struggles to settle down. He’ll fall asleep easily, at around the same time every night, at about the same place in the routine. That doesn’t mean his sleep is perfect - he might still wake at night - but falling asleep isn’t a problem.
But what if bedtime isn’t working?
If your child struggles to fall asleep every night or spends hours lying awake after you’ve said goodnight, improving his bedtime routine could make a big difference. Some kids need more time to transition from the excitement of the day, and if that’s your child, then adding an extra soothing activity to your evening could, in the long run, make the bedtime struggle a lot shorter. Other kids need a short routine so they can get to sleep quickly, and if you miss the window when your child is ready to sleep, he could be awake and overactive late into the night.
You might also need to change the bedtime routine for your own sanity: maybe you’re having another child and you need to cut back on the lengthy storytime. Or maybe screentime has crept into your bedtime routine and you need to cut it out. Whatever the reason, these creative strategies will help calm your kids at bedtime - and anytime during the day.
- Teatime. Traditionally, chamomile tea is recommended for sleep, and there are some studies that indicate it can have a variety of health benefits, including improving sleep. The science right now is stronger for passionflower as a sleep aid. But any warm drink before bed can help your child relax, and if you think a slightly longer bedtime routine will help, then the ritual of making tea can be a soothing addition to your evening.
- Scheduled downtime. If you’re like most families, you and your kids spend a lot of time on the go. You might think all these energetic activities in the afternoon would guarantee your kids will be exhausted by bedtime, but frequently, the reverse is true. Too much activity during the day can make it harder for your child to settle down and relax at night. If your after-school time is getting overscheduled, try blocking out some time for your child to do nothing. A few slow afternoons of just relaxing around the house, doing whatever he feels like, can do wonders to slow your child down and help him fall asleep more easily.
- Stargazing. Go outside and sit under the stars with your child for a few minutes before bed. You’ll both love the bonding time of gazing at the sky and talking about the day. Plus, being outside as the temperature is dropping will send a signal to your child’s brain that it’s time to sleep. To boost that signal, try turning off the outside lights and sitting in the dark. It’ll be easier to see the stars, and the darkness will also signal his brain to start producing melatonin for sleep.
- Sharing highs and lows. For adults, journaling is a great way to process the frustrations of the day and let go of them as preparation for sleep. But for your child, writing may be too difficult or distracting to be a useful sleep aid. Instead, try a family sharing of “highs and lows” from the day. Give each person in your family (yourself included) a chance to share the best moment of the day and the worst. Put this early in your bedtime routine, since the memories can be energizing or angering, but scheduling time to process and let go of the day’s events before you start relaxing for sleep can be a powerful element of your child’s bedtime routine.
- Epsom salt bath. You probably know a warm bath can help settle your child before bed, but have you tried adding a scoop of epsom salt to the water? An epsom salt bath can help even more with sleep than just a warm bath. The secret is magnesium, which is included in epsom salt and absorbed through the skin when your child bathes. Magnesium helps the brain better regulate sleep, and there’s evidence that optimal levels of magnesium (neither too much nor too little) improves sleep. A bath is the best way to give your child the perfect dose of magnesium, since he’ll only absorb as much as his body needs.
- Yoga. Many adults have found that yoga improves sleep, and there’s every reason to believe the benefits extend to kids too. Deep breathing and relaxation will both help your child transition toward sleep, and yoga is easy for kids to learn. Try child’s pose, legs against the wall, and supine spinal twist to help your child stretch, relax, and get ready for bed.
- Meditation. Meditation is also proven to improve sleep for adults, along with a variety of other health benefits. And it’s easy to teach to kids; the key is to help them understand that it’s okay if your mind wanders. Meditation is about getting quiet and relaxed and then letting thoughts pass over you instead of letting your thoughts control how you feel. Meditating with your child is a wonderful way for you both to relax before bed. You’ll be teaching your child a lifelong health habit - and you’ll enjoy the minutes of quiet together, too!
- Lavender oil. Can smells help you sleep? Several studies indicate that sniffing lavender before bed can lower your heart rate and send both adults and children into deeper sleep. Try adding a few drops of lavender essential oil in your child’s bath, or put a few drops on his feet or pillow.
- Audiobooks. If your child is always begging you to read one more story, audiobooks could be the secret sauce that transforms bedtime. You can find a lot of free audiobooks available online, or you can sign up for a storytime podcast for kids and get new stories every week. Just make sure you don’t use a screened device to play audiobooks in bed; get an audiobook player without a screen, or download the stories and use an old-fashioned CD.
- Enforcing lights out. As your child gets older, you’ve given him more freedom with a lot of things in his life. But if bedtime lights-out is one of the rules you’ve gotten a little lax about, consider enforcing it more strictly. Just encouraging your child to go to sleep is less effective than a bedtime that’s strictly enforced. And while nobody wants to play bad cop, you’ll be glad you did when your child wakes up in the morning well-rested and happy.