Getting children ready for bed is a full-time job. And getting them to sleep through the night? Well, that can be near impossible.
But recent research from Jodi Mindell, a psychology professor at Saint Joseph’s University, suggests that getting children to bed and having them sleep through the night doesn’t always have to be a struggle.
Mindell, who surveyed more than 10,000 mothers across 14 countries, found that children who had a nightly bedtime routine were quicker to fall asleep and were less likely to wake up during the night.
“Creating a bedtime routine for a child is a simple step that every family can do,” said Mindell, as quoted on sciencedaily.com. “It can pay off to not only make bedtime easier, but also that a child is likely to sleep better throughout the entire night.”
And it’s all about consistency, said Mindell. The more regularly a family can emphasize a bedtime routine, the better it is for the child.
“For each additional night that a family is able to institute a bedtime routine, and the younger that the routine is started, the better their child is likely to sleep,” said Mindell. “It’s like other healthy practices: Doing something just one day a week is good, doing it for three days a week is better, and doing it every day is best.”
So what makes an effective bedtime routine for children?
According to Michael Breus, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, bedtime routines should be created to meet the child’s needs, but there does need to be a structure.
“Let your child know what the routine is, including the time limits involved, and stick to them,” he wrote on WebMD.com. “A key goal in any routine is teaching your child to soothe herself so that she may fall asleep unassisted and put herself back to sleep unassisted when she awakens at night.”
Breus also recommends a “time to wind down” before putting the child in bed. During this time, have the child participate in calming activities, like taking a bath or reading a story. Try to keep TVs or computers out of the child’s room too, said Breus, as these electronics encourage your child to stay up.
Bedtime routines are also important during summer breaks and long weekends, Carolyn D’Ambrosio, director of the sleep center at Tufts Medical Center and the Floating Hospital for Children in Boston, said. But don’t worry if you stray from the schedule once in awhile.
“Pick a bedtime that works for you and your family,” she said. “It may not work every night, but just keep trying.”