If you have found that your child's bedtime routine has become longer and longer as he has gotten older, you are not alone – children love to spend time with a parent. But did you know a young child will fight to stay awake to be with a parent, and interact with that parent, even when she is sleepy?
If you wait until your child asks to go to bed, it will be very late in most cases, and your child will become significantly sleep deprived. This is why you, as a parent, must set the bedtime. You can help your child draw a close to each day and obtain adequate sleep by establishing a pleasant and realistic bedtime routine that involves some firm rules.
The Bedtime Routine When we refer to the bedtime routine, we are really referring to the last 10 to 15 minutes – following the bath, snacks, putting on PJs and brushing teeth – just before a child goes to bed. This is the time when a child needs to have a relaxing, predictable, smooth, non-negotiable routine to make it easier for the child to say goodnight and to fall asleep.
Some children have a much easier time winding down if they say goodnight to just one parent at a time. Saying goodnight and having both parents leave the room at the same time can feel overwhelming to a child. Try to have the child say goodnight to one parent, then the other parent handles the bedtime routine. It seems to help to have the same parent in charge of the bedtime routine for several consecutive nights, then alternate.
For most children the bedtime routine must be precise - for example, three stories and one song. If left open-ended, a child will frequently insist on "one more." However, every family is different. It may involve reading or telling stories, singing songs, saying prayers, etc., but it should be limited to 15 minutes or less. If a backrub is given to the child, limit it to the length of a song or poem.
- By Nancy Birkenmeier, BSN, RN, Sleep Medicine and Research Center, St. Luke's Hospital
St. Luke's Hospital is a regional healthcare provider committed to improving the quality of life for patients and the community. It offers care in more than 60 specialty areas and was the only St. Louis hospital named an America's 50 Best Hospital™ by Healthgrades® in 2007 through 2014 based on quality.