Looking for a gentle way to support your child’s sleep routine, without making bedtime a battle? This one is for you!
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I learned some time ago that sleep doesn’t actually depend on a bedtime routine at all, but rather an entire evening routine. Kids often need a lot more time to transition than adults, and I’ve learned the hard way that rushing bedtime routines (when they are guaranteed to want to all of a sudden talk about everything they didn’t want to talk about earlier) will only backfire and leave us all stressed, upset, and falling asleep later than ever.
While people have a general idea of the importance of sleep, most don’t realize quite how important it is, or how different types of sleep impact your child’s body.
The National Sleep Foundation offers the following definitions of types/states of sleep:
Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) or “quiet” sleep. During the deep states of NREM sleep, blood supply to the muscles is increased, energy is restored, tissue growth and repair occur, and important hormones are released for growth and development.
Rapid Eye Movement(REM) or “active” sleep. During REM sleep, our brains are active and dreaming occurs. Our bodies become immobile, breathing and heart rates are irregular.
It’s easy to see, even from these brief definitions, the importance of healthy sleep cycles. While REM sleep services our brain, NREM sleep services our bodies. On average,children’s sleep cycles are about 50 minutes, whereas adults are 90 minutes.
How Much Sleep Is needed?
The amount of sleep that is needed varies with the age of the child, however, there are guidelines for each age group.
The following sleep chart summarizes the number of hours that each age group needs, as outlined by WebMD.
While I totally trust that you can do the math, this little calculator can be fun to play with and gives you an quick note on what time your children should go to bed, based on their age and wake times.
The importance of a bedtime routine is not likely to be new information to you!
Our routine start time is not always as consistent as I would like it to be, and while I do believe that going to bed at the same time (and getting up at the same time) does a world of good, my personal belief is that the key is in the sequence of events.
It’s probably also important to note, that I let go of a specific bed “time”. If we weren’t in bed at the “right time” my stress went up, the mood shifted, and we actually ended to bed even later, and without such a warm and snugly bedtime. Once I let go of the “time” and instead just focused on the evening routine, bedtimes became much smoother, much happier, and sleeps were much more restful.
Our bedtime routine actually starts after dinner, because it is about setting the stage for bedtime, rather than just getting into bed.
If you scroll all the way through to the bottom you can download a copy of our Evening Routine printable.
Setting the stage for bedtime starts with your evening!
After dinner, when the kitchen is all cleaned up, we move into a quiet activity (there are no screens after dinner through the week, but the kids get a good choice of activities -you’ll see on the bedtime printable), our lights get dimmed, and the kitchen diffuser gets turned on with one of my favourite evening blends.
Long before the kids head upstairs, I have prepped upstairs for bedtime. This happens during the day, or during their after dinner quiet time. Beds are turned down, pajamas are laid out, hall lights are dimmed, night stand lights are turned on, and overhead lights go off. Our salt therapy air purifiers, HEPA filters, and diffusers are turned on, and bedroom floors are cleared of anything that has been left lying about. This is such an important step to me. It takes maybe 10 minutes, tops, but it ensures that when the children shift upstairs, they enter an environment that tells them it is bedtime.
On school nights we typically don’t do full baths, as they can turn into hour long ordeals in our house, but we do showers, or if it is not a shower night, we do a foot soak. The kids love foot soaks! We often all sit on the edge of the tub, with dim lighting and our favourite bedtime bath salts in the water, while I read bedtime stories.
Our sleep environment staples include:
- Salt therapy air purifiers
- White noise (we use our HEPA filters for this!)
- Diffusers with bedtime blends
- Dim lighting
- Hot water bottles tucked under their blankets at the foot of the bed (they love the “coziness” of this!)
Connection that fosters feelings of love, safety, and relaxation
This is (by far) the most important part of bedtime to me. This is our time at the end of the day to pause, connect with each other, share the experience of our day, and bring the focus back to our relationship and love for one another. There are a number of ways that we have done this over the years. Some options for you to try:
We always start bedtime routine with conversation. We snuggle, I ask about their day, we talk about the best part of our day, anything that made us sad and angry, and hopes for the next day. I do this first because it helps us to start bedtime with connection and because there is something magical about that moment when we finally get to snuggle in together after a long day. It also helps limit all of the last minute questions and commentary that can sometimes pop up just as you are leaving the room as a means of preventing bedtime!
We love our bedtime stories! Hands down the kids favourite is The Book With No Pictures. If you haven’t read it to your kids, you should. That being said, it is not my favourite for bedtime because they get so silly reading it!
I love books that have a deeper meaning or help ease into relaxation. I love Thank You Body, Thank You Heart: A Gratitude and Self-Compassion Practice for Bedtime. My oldest loves it as well, but also loves us reading chapter books together. My youngest loves his books about the stars and the moon.
We have always had a huge library of books in the house for them. We enjoy browsing the bookstore on family date nights, or getting them as gifts. Check out my favourite books series to see our favourites!
We love watching a quick yoga video before bed (this is the only way I break our no screens after dinner rule on school nights!). Sometimes we will read a yoga book, but most often we just pull up a favourite video on YouTube. My kiddos are fans of Cosmic Kids Yoga.
We use a lot of essential oils in our home and they are incorporated into our bedtime routine. They are in our diffusers, and we use them in rollerball form, but at bedtime I also like to give little foot massages. Physical touch is incredibly important for a child’s development. Most importantly to me, at bedtime, it helps to nurture feelings of love and trust between us and supports them in feeling safe and protected. You can read more about our bedtime oil routines here.
I am sure most of you have spent years singing to your little ones at bedtime, and our home is no different. Before I give a final tuck in we often sing an old lullaby that has been passed from generation to generation. None of us know what it is, but my best guess is that it is an adaptation of an old German cradle song. I would love suggestions if you have found a beautiful bedtime song!
Listening to meditation apps
Recently my oldest has taken to listening to a meditation app at bedtime. This is a struggle for me! I very much want her to be able to listen to a meditation story at bedtime, but I don’t want the screen/technology in her room. For now I am allowing it on weekends, and am sneaking in to take it as she falls asleep, but I am working on a better solution to this! It may involve speakers in her room that are connected to her device in another room!? I haven’t gotten this figured out yet but am open to suggestions if you have some!
Bedtime sets the stage for a healthy sleep, a parent’s evening relaxation, strong immune systems, amongst other things, so we take it pretty seriously!
Check out our list of favorite sound machines, night lights, and sleep trainers to help support your kiddo’s sleep habits!