Better Bedtime Routines

Bedtime battles are common in many families, and they vary depending on the child's level of development. It's not unusual for children to do anything they can to avoid going to bed. Luckily, there are ways to make bedtime routines fun and a natural part of your child's day.

An infant's sleeping patterns are determined by his physical needs, such as hunger or a soiled diaper. To help your baby learn to sleep on his own, return him to his crib once he is fed and changed. Babies who sleep in their parents' bed become accustomed to having a warm body nearby when they go to sleep. This habit is not only difficult to break, but it can be dangerous as well. A recent study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics says that parents sharing a bed with their baby can increase the risk of sleep-related infant death. Researchers have concluded that babies are safest sleeping in a standard-size crib, bassinet, portable crib, or play yard that meets the standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

If your baby cries during the night, attend to them and then return them to their crib. Don't worry if they cries for a few minutes. They will learn to pacify themself and will soon be asleep.

Establishing and maintaining bedtime routines with your toddler

As your child moves into the toddler years, make the bedtime routine a regular part of their day. Tell them several times that it's almost time to get ready for bed. They will be less likely to resist you if they have been forewarned. Remind them after dinner that they may play for a while before bath time. Allow them to play in the bath, since this should be a fun time. You can sit and talk with them while they splash about.

After their bath, sit and read together. If you work outside the home during the day, this is a great opportunity to spend time with your child. Holding them and snuggling makes these moments even more memorable, and they will look forward each day to this special time with you.

You also can praise your child for something good they did that day. Praising your child for his good behavior helps instill good habits. This helps end the day on a positive note.

Maintaining routines helps children know what is expected of them. Be consistent about rules, such as no snacks after teeth have been brushed. Many kids try to delay bedtime by asking for something to eat or drink. Be firm, and do not respond to these tactics. They will understand that you mean business, and soon they will stop asking.

If your child is afraid of the dark, put a nightlight in his room or hallway. If they say they are afraid of monsters or other imaginary creatures, reassure them that they don't exist. A teddy bear or blanket often helps pacify kids in bed, and you can tuck them in together when saying goodnight to your child.

Once the light is out, do not respond if your child tries to engage you in conversation. Let them know you'll be glad to listen in the morning. If your child gets out of bed, simply take them back. If they complain that they cannot sleep, tell them that's OK if they lie quietly in bed.

Diet also affects behavior, so make sure your child does not consume food or drinks that are high in sugar or caffeine in the late afternoon or evening. These are substances that are sure to keep them awake.

How much sleep your child or teen needs

Children need a full night's sleep, but the number of hours varies depending on age and developmental level. For example, children experiencing growth spurts often need more sleep.

If your child acts sleepy or is particularly irritable during the day, they probably aren’t getting enough sleep at night and should be given an earlier bedtime. Nighttime routines will influence your child's ability to wake up in the morning too. So if you're having trouble getting your kids going, try establishing an earlier bedtime. This is particularly helpful for parents whose children must get moving early in the morning.

Teenagers require a lot of sleep, but many like to stay up late on their phones or watching TV. Establish rules together that limit their use. Let teens know what is expected of them, because routines are just as important for them as for younger children.

Maintaining routines at different times of year

Bedtime may vary during the summer, but even if you allow your children to stay up later, their routines should be maintained. As fall approaches, begin getting your children to bed a little earlier each night. Let them know that on school nights they will have to be in bed by a certain time.

Instill regular bedtime routines when your children are young, and they'll learn that such routines are a natural part of their day. A good night's sleep keeps your kids in better physical health, and they'll be well rested and prepared at the start of their day. Getting your kids to bed on time also gives you some quiet time each night, and you'll appreciate that chance to unwind.

Is your child experiencing sleeping problems?

Contact UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh’s Pediatric Sleep Program to schedule a sleep assessment and learn more about potential treatment options. For more information, call 412-692-5630, option 2.


The UPMC Healthbeat blog features several articles by pediatric experts where you can learn more about healthy bedtime routines and sleep, including: