bedtime routines

Get Your Sleep On

Above all else, they must sleep. They have to sleep. The theories for why we need to sleep are varied, but they all converge on the brutal necessity that we need consistent sleep routines.

According to the Gospel written by St. Matthew, Christ fasted for forty days in the wilderness before being tempted by the devil. But lo, nowhere does it say that Christ went without sleep during these forty days. So then, even God in the Incarnate Form seems to have needed sleep.

The Sleeping Gypsy by Henri Rousseau, 1897, on display at MoMA

The Sleeping Gypsy by Henri Rousseau, 1897, on display at MoMA

There is a lot of controversy and debate about how to help babies sleep, so I will steer clear of this topic and direct folks to consider this resource for infant sleep guidance and references.

The things I would be willing to do to help my children sleep are too endless to count. Sleep is so incredibly important and necessary for adaptive daily functioning that I often do everything I can in my personal and professional life to steer others toward the best possible sleep time.

I want to share with you a blog I stumbled upon a few months ago that does a fantastic job synthesizing and distilling the clinical research related to the importance of sleep routines. This website by Craig Canapari, MD from Yale is a quick, personable, and approachable read.

I appreciate his website for a variety of reasons, but here are the main ones:

  • He's able to take and integrate multiple perspectives in his writing and recommendations.

  • It's pretty transparent that he is open to diverse parenting-styles and family dynamics.

  • He writes with an eye for the research and ear for what parents might use in their homes.

I loved his post on harnessing sleep rhythms for better sleep routines.

I also strongly recommend this post as we creep up on daylight saving time (November 4).

moon cell phone.jpg

Some quick thought nuggets regarding sleep for children and adults alike:

  • Knowing thyself and your daily rhythms. Do you know when you generally become most tired or drowsy? Do you know the same for your child? Track it!

  • Viewing technology prior to sleep onset is prohibitive for a variety of reasons. I strongly encourage families, if and where they can, to set clear limits on when technology goes away for the evening and where this technology is stored/kept safe over night.

  • Finding a routine that works for you/your kids is key. Rather than trying to make your family or child conform to other people's presentation of their own perfection, look for what works for you and your family and then find a way to stick to it most of the time. Consistency is the critical part.

If it were not already obvious, I am pretty passionate about this topic. One of my first blog posts provided advice and tips about "Bedtime Routines". The following post was "Product Review: Teach Me Time Clock," which we use in our house to help manage our children's nightly slumber times [Bonus: the price has come down since we first purchased it in 2014]. As I shared in my last post “Third Time’s The Charm” our youngest has needed our help throughout his whole life (all 17 months and counting) to achieve consistent, sleep-through-the-night sleep. I use these resources and suggestions in my personal life every evening, along with a prayer for a good night’s sleep.  



Bedtime Routines

I believe our souls call out for consistency in the form of predictable, daily routines. I am sure that life would be boring for most of us if everything was predictable and routine, but when learning something new and potentially challenging (like how to eat or sleep or drive a car), a consistent order and flow gives a comfort that enables new things to come more readily to us.

Bedtime is a ritual that rewards parent and child alike.

For the child, having a bedtime routine signals what to expect as they transition away from the wakeful part of their day where they acquire new skills and encounter new situations at a ferocious pace.  The order in which the routine unfolds matters a great deal, but can vary depending on what you know about your child. For example, certain children become animated during bath time (or don't even like getting their hair wet), while others begin to quiet down and doze. If your child becomes more animated or upset during the bath time routine, starting bath time sooner or only bathing every other night might be an easy place to modify things.

For the parent, having a bedtime routine gives you a chance to gently guide your child toward a restful state that readies them for falling asleep. It also provides an opportunity to lay the foundation for the next day (picking out clothes after looking at the weather on your phone). 

For the parent and child, the bedtime routine provides an opportunity for bonding and more attentively observing the subtle ways in which your child responds to their world and others.

Recommendations to consider with the bedtime routine:

Provide your child with a clear indication of when the bedtime routine will begin. For example, you could say, “In ten more minutes” or “at 7:30, we will get ready for bed." For some children, setting an alarm (fun song) on your smartphone could be a creative support.

Pay attention to how you announce the bedtime routine. For some children, saying, “Time for bed” is the equivalent of saying, “the fun thing you are doing right now (e.g., playing with toys) will have to end soon because I said so.” Instead, try changing the way you state this by using a preferred activity or item as part of the announcement. For example, you could say, “Time for bubble bath!” or “silly story time is soon!” This reminds children of the fun parts of bedtime.

Start the bath early enough that you don’t have to rush your child through it. If your child likes to play in the tub, build in extra time by starting earlier so that they can have more time to play in the bathtub.

A lot of kids have a hard time transitioning from the bathtub to getting dressed and brushing their teeth. In these situations, I'd recommended leading with a clear contingency that gives them something to work for and look forward to. Something like, "Once you hop out of the tub and have your pajamas on, you can pick an extra book!" Help them get dressed and praise them for using nice hands. With tooth brushing, I think having your child pick out a favorite toothbrush from the store and/or a preferred tooth paste container can help make this part of the routine fun.

I really like background sounds or some for of white noise when I sleep, and both of my little ones have a white noise machine in their room. It's also served as a discriminative stimulus for my kids -- sleep machine turned on signals little butts into bed in order to have story time.

Since starting my private practice, I have had the opportunity to work with more than one family to improve their bedtime and sleep routines. I really enjoy this type of work, besides who doesn't enjoy a good night's sleep?