Each night before the nation gets its head down to sleep, a wide variety of bedtime routines unfold. From meticulous rituals to playing it by ear, we have many ways of getting ourselves and our children to sleep. So when we surveyed the nation on their sleep habits we found a fact that surprised us.
Routines help to prepare us mentally and physically for sleep by signalling to the brain that it’s time to sleep. By setting up a relaxing mood and moving away from wake promoting activities into winding down we can promote better, more consistent sleep. The benefits of a good pre-sleep routine are well known and encouraged for adults, but even more importantly are highly beneficial to children who need more sleep to maintain healthy growth and learning.
Research in the National Library of Medicine shows that children who practise a bedtime routine fall asleep earlier, sleep for longer and wake up less often in the night. They also showed that these benefits can be maintained well into later life, with children better learning to fall asleep on their own.
So, it came as a surprise to learn from our survey on British pre-sleep habits that 29% of surveyed households do not have a pre-sleep routine for their children. This number increases to 45% in the East Midlands, and the best region for children’s sleep routines was Northern Ireland with 81% of children having a routine.
A bedtime routine is a consistent and repeatable set of activities that are followed every night before going to sleep, for example, a light nutritional snack, bath - not too close to bedtime, brushing teeth, changing into pj’s, followed by a short story in bed.
The bedtime routine should start before your child is sleepy, as tired children can be hyperactive and grumpy, making relaxing and falling asleep harder. Introducing a bath earlier in the evening gives time to wind down before getting into pj’s and avoids the pitfall of being too warm to fall asleep at the end of the routine.
Introduce good sleep hygiene by packing away any stimulating toys and devices. Turn off any screens, and pack away the toys. Dim the lights, and set a cool but comfortable temperature in their room. Doing this together can be a part of the routine.
Bedtime is also an opportunity for bonding and emotional growth. A cuddle and light chat about their day helps to unpack the weight of whatever might be on your child’s mind. Always ending on a positive note with a goodnight kiss and light’s out before your child is fully asleep will reinforce learning to fall asleep on their own.