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Mastering the 4 Elements of a Night Time Routine

October 13, 2021

Adapted by Savannah Hellwel

Before we go over exactly what the four elements of a night time routine are: allow me to convince you why you need to implement a night time routine for your child immediately.

  • Research shows that children who have set routines demonstrate higher language development, academic achievement, emotional regulation and social functioning.
  • Children who spend time with parents before bed tend to be happier and sleep better.
  • Adults and children both require quiet time to decompress.
  • A bedtime routine increases the likelihood of maintaining the habit into adulthood.

Now that you are thoroughly convinced of the importance of a nighttime routine, let’s explore exactly what that will look like. Every family is different and you should adjust accordingly to what works best for you and your sanity.

The bedtime routine should be short and sweet (between 30 and 40 minutes, maximum). Bedtime routines should contain each of the following elements: nutrition, hygiene, communication, and physical contact.

  1. Nutrition: Let’s start the winddown with a healthy snack. This should be a small portion and should vary depending on the age of your child. Be mindful of the amount of fluids that children consume in the hour before bed in order to reduce the likelihood of waking up to use the bathroom.
  2. Hygiene: Brushy brushy brushy! Your child now has snack residue from the delicious and nutritious snack that you provided. It is time to brush teeth. This is a habit that needs to be implemented in early childhood and will be carried on through adulthood to prevent illness and disease. Taking the time to ensure all kids have clean teeth may be a pain right now but it will be worth it if you can avoid dental pain/costs/school absences in the future. Now that the teeth are clean it is time for a bath. A bath before bed can raise the core body temperature and result in a better night’s sleep. This is also a great time for your child to practice independent living skills.
  3. Communication: Now is the time to get your little one bundled up in bed with a story or a song. Keep in mind that this is a time for “twinkle twinkle little star” and not “baby shark disco.” Your child should be relaxed enough to fall asleep. This stage of bedtime is especially important because research suggests that reading aloud to your children is linked to language and cognitive development. It also gives you the opportunity to have all your attention on your child without any distractions.
  4. Physical contact: In addition to singing or reading with your child, it is a good idea to add some sort of physical contact. Massaging, rocking, or cuddling your child is a perfect opportunity for positive interactions. Continue to stay in touch with the tone of the evening: this should be a soft and slow interaction: no need for dancing and spinning.
  5. Lights out: Turn the lights off and leave the room prior to your child falling asleep. This will allow your child the time and space to become accustomed to falling asleep alone. If your child continuously falls asleep next to you it increases the likelihood that they will awaken in the night and be confused/scared. Falling asleep alone gives them the confidence to know that they are capable of such a feat.

Mindell, Jodi A, and Ariel A Williamson. “Benefits of a Bedtime Routine in Young Children: Sleep, Development, and Beyond.” Sleep Medicine Reviews, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2018, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6587181/.


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