How a bedtime routine can help your kids sleep

When you have young kids, sleep is an essential part of your survival as a parent. When your kids sleep well, you sleep well. Thankfully, a bedtime routine can help your kids sleep better. Instead of letting your kids fall asleep whenever and wherever, a bedtime routine can bring structure and security to your child’s day. You and your child will get more sleep when they feel safe and secure.

Jade Elliott sat down with pediatrician Tyson Tidwell, DO, Intermountain Healthcare, on this episode of the Baby Your Baby Podcast to discuss the dos and don’ts of sleep routines.

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Bedtime routines with your child can help everyone sleep better

So how can you make it happen? A bedtime routine doesn’t have to be difficult or drawn out. A routine is just something that you do every time your child goes to bed. Your child’s bedtime routine will help them form positive sleep associations. Here are some tips for forming a positive bedtime routine for your child.

Recommended sleep guidelines for babies and children by age

• 1 to 4 weeks old- Newborns sleep about 16-17 hours a day with periods of wakefulness lasting 1-3 hours. However, most newborns have not developed a night/day sleep cycle, so their sleep time can vary to all hours of the day.

• 1 to 4 months old- Babies of this age still tend to sleep about the same amount of hours, but their night/day sleep cycles begin to kick in, allowing them to sleep longer at night, although they still wake for feedings and changes.

• 4 months to 1 year- Babies of this age still require between 14-15 hours of sleep every day. Many of them are able to sleep the night, and take up to three naps during the day and evening. During this period, it’s very important to establish healthy sleep habits.

• 1 to 3 years- Most toddlers need about 12-14 hours of sleep, but often get less due to the schedules of parents and older children in the house. They will more than likely lose their early morning nap and early evening nap and tend to only take one nap a day.

• 3 to 6 years- Approximately 11-12 hours of sleep. Younger children of this group may still require a short nap during the day, but the need to nap usually diminishes by the time they enter the first grade.

• 7 to 12 years- Children of this age group tend to need about 10-12 hours of sleep, but often only get about 9-10 hours.

• 13 to 18 years- Teens require about 8-10 hours of sleep, but rarely get the full amount. The demands of schoolwork and after-school activities often cut into their sleep. Most teens report getting about 6-8 hours of sleep.

Start the bedtime routine early

Your child’s bedtime routine doesn’t have to happen right before bed. In fact, you should actually start your child’s bedtime routine at least 30 minutes before it’s time to start getting ready for bed. Start to wind down. Put an end to raucous games. Move slower. Dim the lights. Turn off the TV and electronic devices. Talk softer. Prepare your child’s mind and body for their upcoming bedtime routine and sleep.

Your child’s bedtime routine

No matter what you do, pick an easy and predictable routine that happens every time your child goes to bed. Try not to draw out your child’s bedtime routine. Fifteen minutes or so should be plenty of time for a good bedtime routine. Decide what is going to help your child fall asleep, and stick with it. Consistency is much more important that what you actually do during your routine. Some examples of bedtime routine elements include:

  • Bath
  • Reading books
  • Telling stories
  • Singing a song
  •  Saying prayers
  • Brushing teeth
  • Putting on pajamas
  •  Goodnight kisses and hugs
  • Diaper change or going to the bathroom
  •  Snuggling together or tucking them in

Set the stage for good sleep

You’ve prepped your child for a good night of sleep. Don’t just leave them in a space that isn’t going to help them sleep. Don’t leave TVs, tablets, computers or phones in their bedroom. Keep the space dark enough for good sleep, while still comfortable for those who are scared of the dark. Night lights can help. Make the bed up comfortably. Check the temperature so it’s cool enough to sleep without leaving your kids cold. Invest in a white noise machine or fan.

Bedtime Routine Do’s and Don’ts

Avoid poor sleep associations

A sleep association happens when your child learns to fall asleep using certain tools or methods. Most of the time, poor sleep associations sneak in when parents try to get their kids to sleep in sheer desperation. A poor sleep association is one that can harm your child, or is unsustainable so that your child can’t fall asleep on their own. Examples of poor sleep associations include:

  • Going to sleep with a bottle
  • Falling asleep to the TV or music
  •  Being rocked to sleep
  • Falling asleep to a backrub
  •  Sleeping somewhere other than their own crib or bed (usually a parent’s bed)

Safe sleep for infants to help reduce the risk of sudden infant death

1. Always put your baby to sleep on his back until he can roll over.

2. Never bed-share with a newborn. It’s best for baby to sleep in their own crib within earshot of parents for first six months. If mom is sleepy, put baby in bassinette or crib.

3. Crib mattress should be firm, keep soft objects and loose bedding out of crib.

4. Do not overdress baby for sleep.

At what age can you start letting your baby fall asleep on their own or cry it out?

There are many different opinions on this. It’s really about parent preferences. Infants under 3-4 months won’t learn to put themselves to sleep. They need soothing. You can start sleep training at 4-5 months of age. Sleep routines are important for both naptime and bedtime.

When nursing or bottle-feeding, leave the lights on. Then turn off the lights and lay your baby down in their crib and say goodnight or sing or rub their back for just 60 seconds. Wait five minutes. Lay child back down and rub their back again and reassure them. Then, step out of the room for 10 minutes. If they’re still crying. Repeat and reassure them, this time stepping out of the room for 15 minutes. If your baby or toddler is hysterical or very upset you’ll want to console them briefly. They’ll figure it out in 2-3 days.

With a consistent and positive bedtime routine, your child will fall asleep faster and happier. Leaving you plenty of time to get your own shut eye.

Dr. Tidwell suggests these books and websites: Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp, M.D. and the website Taking Cara Babies, especially the section called The ABC’s of Sleep.

The Baby Your Baby program provides many resources for all pregnant women and new moms in Utah. There is also expert advice from the Utah Department of Health and Intermountain Healthcare that air each week on KUTV 2News.