parents and children reading in bed

Bedtime Routine Guideline

Children need good quality sleep for health, growth, and mood—as anyone who’s ever dealt with a sleepy toddler can attest. A regular, consistent childhood bedtime routine helps children relax in the time before bed, and be less likely to resist bedtime—two factors that influence how well they sleep at night.

This childhood bedtime routine guide will help you determine how much sleep your child needs, and how to create a bedtime routine you can both enjoy.

Children and Sleep

A child’s age determines how much nighttime sleep he or she needs. Infants and newborns only sleep for short periods of time, waking to feed at regular (and sometime irregular) intervals.

By age one, a child still needs up to fourteen hours of sleep, including naps during the day. This need continues until age three, at which time the need for nighttime sleep drops to twelve hours until age six. By age five, most children no longer nap during the day. Children aged seven to ten require ten to eleven hours of sleep a day.

Choosing a Bedtime

Bedtime depends on how much sleep your child needs, and what time you want the child to wake up. Using the amount of sleep needed as a guide, count backward from the time the child needs to be awake to get to a reasonable bedtime. For instance, if a six-year-old needs twelve hours of sleep and has a waking time of 8:00 am, her bedtime would be eight o’clock.

Consistency is Key

Start your bedtime routine at the same time every night, whether it’s a weeknight or the weekend. It’s not a bedtime routine unless it happens at the same time every night! This makes it easier to keep bedtime at a regular time during holidays and vacations, as the child’s body is used to sleep at a set time.

Wind Down in Advance

About thirty minutes before bed, turn off television and electronics and turn to more relaxing activities, such as coloring or reading. If your child finds baths relaxing, this is the right time for bathing. Children who get stimulated by warm baths should bathe at other times of the day. Dimming the lights will help your child’s body start producing melatonin, a hormone that encourages sleepiness.

As your wind-down routine gets within ten minutes of bedtime, remind the child bedtime is near. Ten minutes is a good time for a first warning, and can be accompanied by putting away toys or books. Give another warning at five minutes, and at one minute, after which it’s time to brush teeth and put on pajamas (kids who resist bedtime may be more willing if they can pick their own pajamas and bedtime stories).

Bedtime Stories

Bedtime stories are a staple of preparing for bed. Tuck the little one in with her favorite snuggly toy or security blanket, and read soothing, calming books like Goodnight Little Me. Bedtime is not the time for exciting adventure books or stories that encourage audience participation.

Decide how many books you’ll read when you create the bedtime routine: some children will happily demand more stories until it’s your bedtime. One or two stories should be enough.

End the Routine Consistently

When you’re ready to end the child’s bedtime routine, choose a phrase or act that indicates it’s time to sleep. It could be a lullaby, a kiss goodnight, or putting the book away and turning on the nightlight. Whatever you choose, do the same thing at the end of the routine every night. This sends a clear message that the bedtime routine has come to an end and it’s now time to sleep. With time, the little one will understand this and will usually fall asleep quickly.