Happy New Year! If it’s not too late to say that now. Suddenly we’re all back into our normal routines after a busy Christmas period, which I suspect for many, your routines went out the window a little. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that – Christmas is the most magical time of year after all – but you may now be at the point where you’re trying to reintroduce routines again, or perhaps you don’t yet have a set routine for your little one and you’re wondering where to start. This blog post is all about bedtime routines and their importance to your little one’s overall sleep.

What is a bedtime routine and why is it so important anyway?

A bedtime routine is the process that leads up to your little one going to sleep. It involves a number of steps that you and your child take before your little one gets into bed. You can even do a shortened version before naps to help your child get ready for sleep in the same way.

Bedtime routines are important for a number of reasons.

1. A bedtime routine can help to calm your little one before bed.

Can you imagine enjoying an activity or just getting home from doing some exercise and then going straight to bed? You’d probably lie awake, unable to get to sleep because your mind is too busy. It’s the same for children, but children won’t just calmly lie there waiting to feel sleepy.

Many of us have our own bedtime routines. I need to read for a while before feeling sleepy enough to turn off the light and go to sleep. It helps to calm my mind and helps me to relax. Our little ones are exactly the same. If our children are busy playing and then are taken straight to bed, you’ll probably see a lot of resistance. However, if you allow approximately 20/30 minutes of quiet time in their sleep space this can help to calm them down before bed. I’ll talk later about what a bedtime routine could look like, but it can even include an element of quiet play, such as drawing or puzzles, to help bridge the gap between playtime and bedtime.


2. A bedtime routine can help to stimulate production of melatonin (the sleepy hormone).

Bear with me while I get a bit sciencey here. Melatonin is the hormone released within our bodies which helps us go to sleep. Because our circadian rhythm (otherwise known as our body clock) is set roughly to a 24 hour clock, we naturally start to feel sleepy in the evenings. Darkness helps with this, and lots of bright lights, and blue LED lights from screens can actually suppress the natural production of melatonin. So in this modern world where it’s hard to get away from LED lights, a bedtime routine can help create sleep time associations which aid the production of melatonin. Let’s be honest, anything that can give us a helping hand in getting out little ones ready for bed is a bonus right? It’s advisable to conduct the bedtime routine in your little one’s sleep space, using low light to help melatonin along even more.


3. A bedtime routine helps to provide consistency for your little one.

Consistency is really important for children. Our little ones respond positively to consistency. It helps them to know what to expect and helps them to feel safe and secure. It’s especially important if you have a particularly anxious child or if your little one is autistic. Consistency doesn’t have to be regimented. It can help you to strengthen your bond with your little one by creating a trusting environment. Snuggling up and reading two stories before bed each night for example, is consistent but it’s also a lovely bonding experience.


4. Bedtime routines can help with delaying tactics (toddlers are very good at these)!

I’m always amused at the number of things a toddler can ask for before bed – anything to delay the inevitable. Another story, more milk, a different pillow, a different toy, another song, a run around the garden dressed as Elsa from Frozen…I mean the list is endless. And your little one suddenly finds the urgency to do all these things simultaneously just as they get into their cot/bed.

I call these delaying tactics. Toddlers are so excited and curious about the world that they don’t want to sleep (as much as they definitely need to) and experience FOMO by the bucket load. So a consistent routine helps to manage boundaries.

If you read two stories every night, it helps you to say no when asked for a third. But if one night you read three, but the next night two and then the next night four, your little one will most likely get frustrated when you say no to another one, as they won’t understand why one night you read more and tonight you only read one! Some of you might be thinking ‘oh come on, how can varying the amount of stories you read make any difference?’ But you may be the parent of a very easy-going child who shrugs things off easily. Some children will be very aware of things like this and use them to test boundaries, or just get frustrated by the inconsistency of things.

Some parents might find themselves forever in and out of their child’s bedroom, bringing another drink of water, swapping a toy or singing another song and you might find bedtime is getting later and later because of it. Sticking to a consistent routine helps to make sure the lights go out on time, your little one gets to sleep when they need to and you can finally put your feet up after a long day.

When is the best time to introduce a bedtime routine?

Your little one is never too young to start. Some experts even suggest starting as young as 2-3 weeks. But I think a good time is around the 6/8 week mark. Having said that, it’s never too late to start. So if your child is older and you don’t have a consistent bedtime routine yet, you can always introduce one. There are so many advantages and if your little one is a bit older, they could even choose (within reason) what they would like their bedtime routine to look like!