Are you struggling with the bedtime routine? Fighting to get the kids in bed, tired of repeating the same instructions daily? Losing your patience, screaming even? Dreading that step at the end of your day? Has it become a very negative experience for you AND your child? Here is a time tested simple way to go about it.
Decide on the time you want your child to be in bed. The routine should start one hour before that. Important warning: do NOT rush this routine, or push your child to hurry up. This is stressful for your child, thus activating his stress response, which defies the purpose of the routine, which is to calm your child down. Furthermore, it makes for an unpleasant interaction between the two of you. The goal is to make this time of the day a pleasurable experience so that your child will look forward to it, or at the least, not fight it.
Fact: The brain is programmed to naturally produce melatonin as the body unwinds and lights start to dim. It is this hormone that helps us to start feeling sleepy and then fall asleep. This is why it’s important to shut off all screens at least an hour before bedtime, or else you delay melatonin production and your child will have a hard time falling asleep. Turn off all electronics, including yours (at least for this moment, drop your cell, your iPad, etc.) The light and the stimulating effect of screens actually disrupts the sleep cycle. ( read more about melatonin here)
Here is a quote from a scientific article regarding the impact of screens on melatonin production :
Melatonin is a sleep-promoting hormone produced in the brain. As it grows dark melatonin levels rise and help facilitate sleep. Researchers have recently reported that when children aged 6-12 were deprived of their TV sets, computers and video games, their melatonin production increased by an average 30%. Exposure to a screen media was associated with lower urinary melatonin levels, particularly affecting younger children at a stage of pubertal development when important changes in melatonin’s role take place. The lead author speculated that girls are reaching puberty much earlier than in the 1950s. One reason is due to their average increase in weight; but another may be due to reduced levels of melatonin. Animal studies have shown that low melatonin levels have an important role in promoting an early onset of puberty. (Salti et al, 2006)
Another study published in the American Medical Association journal Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine found an association between daily screen time (ST) (i.e. television/DVD/video and computer use) in mid-adolescence and risk factors for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Analysing blood samples in adolescent boys revealed that those boys with ST of 2 or more hours per day on weekdays have twice the risk of abnormal levels of insulin and HOMA-Insulin Resistance compared with boys with ST of less than 2 hours per day on weekdays indicating a greater risk for developing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. (Hardy et al 2010)
Develop a routine, that will be the same every night. This will program the brain to know that it’s preparing for sleep. It will not only help in the natural production of melatonin, but your child will naturally calm down and unwind, and gradually will start to feel sleepy.
This is also an excellent opportunity for parents to slow down from a busy day, and bond with your child. Part of the bedtime routine with small children involves the participation of parents. Drop everything, and focus 100% on your child.
Remember the goal of this routine, which is not only to prepare your child for sleep and the restorative benefits of rest and dreams, but it is also a precious moment where the two of you will bond and connect, and be truly present in this moment.
It is not a waste of time or a meaningless activity for your child. It actually crowns the day beautifully, brings safety and security as an added benefit, and it is the perfect opportunity to show your child how much you love him.
It is in these ordinary moments, that your relationship develops. This is where connection truly happens, daily. There is richness and hidden gifts in the simplicity and routine of daily life.
More and more children and adolescents are experiencing sleep problems and these are due to the amount of time spent in front of screens, as this article states:
An increasing number of studies have found that children are getting less sleep than previous generations and are experiencing more sleeping difficulties. New research has found a significant relationship between exposure to television and sleeping difficulties in different age groups ranging from infants to adults.
A study of 2068 children found that television viewing among infants and toddlers was associated with irregular sleep patterns. The number of hours of television watched per day was independently associated with both irregular naptime schedule and irregular bedtime schedules. (Thompson and Christakis 2005) Another study of 5-6 year olds found that both active TV viewing and background ‘passive’ TV exposure was related to shorter sleep duration, sleeping disorders, and overall sleep disturbances. Moreover, passive exposure to TV of more than two hours per day was strongly related to sleep disturbances. TV viewing and particularly passive TV exposure “significantly increase the risk of sleeping difficulties … parents should control the quantity of TV viewing and … limit children’s exposure to passive TV.” (Paavonen et al, 2006).
A study at Columbia University found that young adolescents who watched three or more hours of television a day ended up at a significantly increased risk for frequent sleep problems as adults. Remember that this amount of screen time is actually less than the average. On the other hand, those adolescents who reduced their television viewing from one hour or longer to less than one hour per day experienced a significant reduction in risk for subsequent sleep problems (Johnson et al, 2004).
The 8 simple steps to a struggle free bedtime routine are as follows (adjust based on age):
1) The bedtime routine can start with helping your child to tidy up, so that when you get up in the morning, you are not greeted by clutter and chaos. In another blog post I will explain how clutter contributes to stress and anxiety. Help your child pick up their toys, choose their clothes for the next day, put together their school bag, and/or sports equipment. Have everything ready so that you are not rushed in the morning.
2) Follow by the bathroom routine. It should involve going to the bathroom, brush and floss teeth, and the night time bath or shower. The warm water will naturally relax your child. Adding lavender essential oil ( natural not synthetic, as it is toxic) to the bath water will further relax your child. Do not rush bath time. Remember, you have allotted time for this. If your child really loves bath time and you always feel rushed, just start the routine earlier. Clic here for my recipe on relaxing bath salts. If you involve your child in making this recipe, you’ll spark an interest in your child in wanting to use what he created!
3) After the bath, gift your child with a soothing massage as your rub a nice moisturizing cream or oil on his little body. Do not underestimate the wonderful power of a loving touch. It shows your child they matter, that you love them, that you care. They can then put their little pajama.
4) You can follow with a short routine of PM yoga as a way to prepare the body for sleep. You can do yoga, or just do a few relaxing stretches. Depending on the age of your little one, the bath, and the massage may have been sufficient to relax your child (Anita Goa has a variety of wonderful routines here is a short 10 minute one you can try, or you can make up your own)
5) You can then cuddle in bed with your child and read a beautiful bed time story. I have found that one story is enough and sometimes as a treat we may add another one. Don’t be surprised if your child always wants the same story. It takes a few times to take the whole story in. They are not bored as you might be by the repetition. Stories prepare them for a calm sleep and the world of dream land.
6) I like to end the day on a positive note and ask my daughter for three things she was grateful for today, and I tell her what I was grateful for as well.
7) Just before kissing my daughter goodnight, we have a special prayer for continued health and protection. My daughter was diagnosed with leukaemia when she was a tiny 2.5 year old. A friend of mine who wasn’t supposed to survive her cancer shared this special prayer with us and we have said it every night since. You can end the night on a prayer, a poem, or a blessing if you like, whether you are religious or not, or spiritual.
8) Last but not least, shower your child my with kisses and hugs to escort him to dreamland.
As your young toddler gets older, you won’t need to assist every step of the way. The rhythm and repetition will establish the routine on its own and your child will follow it beautifully. My daughter is 6.5 and I still do this with her. These are precious moments that we share and I look forward to this downtime every night. It also allows me to switch gears, slow down my pace and then give myself the gift of my own relaxing bedtime routine.
The daily repetition of this routine sets in a rhythm. The consistency will reduce the incidence of struggles, but most of all, your child will experience this part of the day as positive, consequently, will look forward to it and not fight it.
ACTION STEP: Repetition, consistency, keeping the sequence, assisting your child, not rushing, infusing it with love and patience, and staying present in the moment are the essential ingredients to a successful bedtime routine. Remember to make the adjustments necessary based on your child’s age, your values, etc. Give it at least three months to have enduring effects. Tell me how it goes! Comment below and share your questions or experience.