Establishing a good bedtime routine helps soothe and calm your little one and helps them develop good sleep habits as they get older. We all know that getting the little one to sleep can be an exercise in patience and sometimes (often) in futility. We spoke to an experienced paediatrician who gave us a few guidelines we could adhere to, to ensure we establish sleep routines for our tiny tots. The good doctor also answered a few questions regarding children and their sleep routines.
*For the purpose of this article we are giving a routine for children from the age two years.
Generally, children work better with routines in their day to day activities. A well established sleep routine will help the child to sleep better through the night and be more alert with good concentration during the day.
A sleep routine for kids normally entails three or four activities; for instance, having a snack, brushing teeth, putting on pyjamas, and reading a book. These should always be done in the same order. To make the routine even more effective, start winding down the household by dimming the lights and turning off screens as a precursor to bedtime.
Typical bedtime activities that have beneficial effects on sleep include:
-Bath or diaper change
-Brushing teeth and going to the bathroom
-Reading a book
-Lullaby or singing a song together
-Massage, cuddling, and rocking
-Talking about their day
The bedtime routine should end with a goodnight kiss and lights out. Parents should leave the room while their child is sleepy but not asleep yet. This way they learn to fall asleep on their own, and they won’t panic if they wake up in the middle of the night and you are not there. Set a consistent bedtime that leaves enough time for your child to sleep the recommended amount of hours for their age. It is important to ensure that everyone who is involved in the child’s care is aware of their schedule and sticks to it as well.
For a primary school child, they may need around ten hours of sleep, more hours for younger ones. For younger children, the routine would also include afternoon naps as they need more hours of sleep
Keeping the child active during the day and avoiding sweet foods towards evening can help improve sleep at night.
Parents should try to start the routine before the children start yawning because tired children can be grumpy and struggle to fall asleep. Children should not be allowed to use screens as the blue light from the television and other electronic devices has serious consequences for sleep if used too close to bedtime. This works for adults too! Do not let your child run around right before bed. Your child should have plenty of chances to exert their excess energy during the day, but don’t let them overwork themselves or overdo it at night or they’ll be too amped up to sleep. Try to keep evening snacks light and healthy. Caffeine will keep kids awake, and sugary treats before bed can lead to cavities. (We will add again this one works for adults too.) Breakfast cereals, chocolate, and pudding can be sources of caffeine you may not expect.
Parents should avoid reading scary stories and engaging in other mentally or physically stimulating activities before bed. Although it’s tempting, parents should avoid letting the children sleep in on weekends because veering more than an hour from the usual wake up time can actually cause trouble falling asleep on weekdays.
It helps prepare your child for sleep by having them relax and wind down. A predictable routine also gives your child a sense of security and teaches them how to fall asleep on their own.
According to www.sleepfoundation.org, research shows that children who follow sleep routines are more likely to go to sleep earlier, take less time falling asleep, sleep longer, and wake up less during the night. These benefits to sleep quality are still seen years later in children who followed bedtime routines when they were younger. As well as improving sleep, bedtime routines also improve parent and child bonding and may help improve mood, stress levels, and behaviour.
Children who do not follow a sleep routine in childhood are more likely to have sleep problems and be overweight during adolescence. If a child is not having adequate sleep, they may be irritable and defiant. Their concentration is also extremely poor and that is quite detrimental. Setting a bedtime routine right from the beginning with your bundle of joy makes it easier to keep up healthy habits as your child grows.
For young children, getting lots of exercise, sunlight, and spending time outside during the day can help them sleep better at night.
The guides we have given above will work best if you consistently put your child to bed on time while you’re trying to establish a bedtime routine. It can take a few weeks, but establishing a bedtime routine will decrease the number of times your child calls out to you at night and lead to better parent child relationships. Always keep in mind that toddlers may initially experience some separation anxiety. You can introduce a stuffed animal or comfort blanket for extra reassurance when you leave the room. We hope this guide helps you and your bundles of joy sleep better at night, literally.
By: Nyaradzo Ngoma