6 Steps to a Successful Bedtime Routine
With our jam-packed, super-busy lives, getting a good night's sleep is more important than ever. Mighty Mommy shares 6 tips ways to make your family's bedtme routine a sleepy success.
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Raising 8 kids over the past 20 years has been amazing, exhausting, surprising, and everything in between. I’ve learned plenty from trial and error and the best teacher has ultimately been experience.
My first podcast episode as Mighty Mommy was called, How Routines Will Simplify Your Life. It remains one of the most popular episodes I’ve ever done. I’m not surprised. Without question my sanity and my family’s overall well-being would not be as strong if not for the structure of routine – and I’m clearly not the only one for whom this is true.
When I’m asked what routines are the most sacred, I hesitate to recommend one over another. But while they’re all important, I think a solid bedtime routine, no matter how old your kids are, is definitely worth its weight in gold.
Whether you have tiny tots or temperamental teens, here are Mighty Mommy’s 6 tips for establishing a successful bedtime routine for the entire family..
Tip #1: Know How Much Sleep Your Family Needs
There are plenty of jokes about sleep being overrated, but the fact is that the majority of us and our children do not catch enough zzz’s every night. According to the National Sleep Foundation, newborns should sleep 12 to 18 hours out of every 24 (as every new parent hopes). This amount is gradually reduced as kids get older.
Toddlers under age 3 need to 12-14 hours of sleep, preschoolers between ages 3 and 5 need 11-13 hours, and schoolchildren ages 5 to 10 need 10 to 11 hours per night. Teens need about 9 ¼ hours of sleep each night to function best, but most teens don’t get nearly that much.
See also: 5 Ways to Help Your Family Sleep Better
Knowing how much sleep your family needs is a great place to start when implementing a successful bedtime routine because depending on your child's age, you can gauge what time they should be going to bed and organize your routine from there.
Tip #2: Select a Bedtime and Work Backwards
As I recommended in the episode How Routines Will Simplify Your Life, start by selecting the bedtime you wish to establish and work backwards. If you decide 7:30pm is when you want your toddler to go to bed, figure that you will want to get started an hour before the bedtime. At 6:30pm give a gentle reminder that bedtime will be happening in about an hour and that all activities need to come to an end. A few minutes later announce “clean up” time and get your kids in the habit of picking up the playroom before they go to bed.
If they are school-aged, establish a routine for getting their outfits, backpacks, snacks or lunches for the next day ready the night before. Next, oversee teeth brushing, going to the bathroom, PJs, and then you can have some quiet time together reading their favorite bedtime story or just snuggling and talking. When younger kids have your undivided attention at the end of their long day, it gives them a sense of security that all is right in the world.
Likewise, with older children, decide on a bedtime for school nights and plan backwards from there. If bedtime for your 15-year-old is 10pm, homework, outfits, lunches, showers, personal care, and cleaning up their bedroom (no, I’m not kidding—even if they put some of their clothes away it’s a help), that should all be done by 9:30pm.
Your teens need your attention before bedtime as well. Although you may not be reading to them any longer, you should try and get them to talk about their day, what happened in band or sports practice, or anything else that they may want to discuss. If you get into the routine of connecting with them on a very regular basis, they’ll know they can count on you when they really need to talk about something important.
Tip #3: Build in Comfort Rituals
Routines are important because they build a structure into various parts of your family’s day. While they’ll never admit it, kids really do crave schedules and structure because that way they know what to expect. A predictable routine allows children to feel safe and to develop a sense of control in their lives. A large part of a successful routine is consistency.
Another important key is building in comfort rituals that will help your child feel safe and secure, especially at bedtime. You know your child best, so pick one or two things that you know help your child relax and build those into his/her bedtime routine.
For example, my youngest daughter has two favorite stuffed animals that are her security blanket when she goes to sleep. She’s now 9 years old, but since she was a toddler we made sure her two adored friends, a stuffed giraffe and the teddy bear she’s had since birth, are right with her when she’s getting her PJs on and then for story time.
She’s always felt safe with these two trusted companions and was able to fall asleep on her own easily because they’ve always been part of the routine. Another of our kids routinely has a glass of milk before brushing his teeth. He’s 17 now and still does this as part of his bedtime ritual, even when he’s not at home.