Better Bedtime Routines

Children rarely want to go to bed. No matter the age, it seems children would rather do anything else than wind down and go to sleep.

The only people who dread bedtime more than kids are their parents. Most parents try countless ways to make bedtime smoother and still it’s not easy.

These age-related guidelines can help you find what works best for you to help your child get enough sleep.

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Bedtime Routines for Infants

Bringing home a newborn is a tough adjustment for new parents, especially when it comes to sleep. For the baby and the parents, the first few weeks can be exhausting.

Your infant’s physical needs — like hunger and diaper changes — guide their sleep patterns. Most infants will need to eat at certain intervals, and newborns often will only stay awake for a short time after eating.

Some habits to consider for optimizing your baby’s sleep:

  • Put them in their own crib. Babies need to be in a safe sleep environment to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). This includes a standard-size crib, bassinet, or portable crib that meets the standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
  • Establish routines. Consistency is key, and routines don’t need to be complex. A sleep routine can include singing lullabies, reading books, playing soft music or white noise, and turning out or dimming the lights.
  • Teach them to fall asleep on their own. This can be hard on parents since your baby will cry — and your natural reaction will be to comfort them. Instead, give them the opportunity to pacify themselves before comforting them or picking them up.
  • Learn your baby’s sleep cues. You know your baby better than anyone, so you will be able to read when they are ready to sleep. Common signs include yawning, fussiness, and eye rubbing.

Just as healthy habits are important with infant sleep, unhealthy habits can creep into any routine. Here are some patterns to avoid. Don’t:

  • Feed your baby to get them to sleep.
  • Engage in play during nighttime feedings.
  • Overfeed your baby.
  • Give your baby medicine to help with sleep.

Better Bedtime Routines for Toddlers and Young Children

A 2019 study shows the importance of bedtime routines for toddlers. Consistent bedtime routines work, and they allow your child to sleep longer with fewer awakenings.

Many of the same routines established with infants also are effective with toddlers.

  • Tell them several times that bedtime is approaching. They are less likely to resist if they are forewarned.
  • Establish a post-dinner routine. Let them play after dinner, give them a bath, and then sit and read together. This gives them a routine they can look forward to.
  • Talk about their day. Praise them for something good they did that day. This helps reinforce good habits and ends the day on a positive note.
  • End bedtime with lights out and leave the room. Toddlers are notorious for getting out of bed to ask one more question or use the bathroom one more time. Unless it is an emergency, tell them you’d be happy to talk about it in the morning.

Make sure you are consistent with your routine. Kids will try to delay bedtime by asking for a snack or a drink. Create rules around these types of tactics, such as no snacks after they brush their teeth.

While you want to be firm about bedtime rules, make sure you listen to your child. If a part of the routine is consistently not working for them, make a reasonable adjustment.

Like babies, there are patterns you want to avoid with your child’s bedtime routine.

  • Avoid the use of screens in bed. Blue light from televisions, tablets, and phones can have a negative impact on sleep.
  • Limit sugar and caffeine in the evening.
  • Don’t wait until they are tired to start bedtime. Children can become overtired, making it more difficult to fall asleep.

How Much Sleep Does My Child Need?

The number of hours considered a full night’s sleep varies depending on age and developmental level.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following:

  • Newborns (0-3 months): 14 to 17 hours.
  • Infants (4-11 months): 12 to 15 hours.
  • Toddler (1-2 years): 11 to 14 hours.
  • Preschool (3-5 years): 10 to 13 hours.
  • School age (6-13 years): 9 to 11 hours.

Watch for signs that your child isn’t getting enough sleep, including:

  • Difficulty waking up.
  • Irritability.
  • Trouble paying attention.
  • Declining academic performance.

Is your child experiencing sleeping problems?

Contact UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh’s Pediatric Sleep Program to schedule a sleep assessment and learn more about potential treatment options.

About Pediatrics

From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is a national leader in pediatric care, ranking consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. We provide expert treatment for pediatric diseases, along well-child visits, urgent care, and more. With locations across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, you can find world-class care close to home. We also work closely with UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, a national leader in care for newborns and their mothers. Our goal is to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond. Visit our website to find a doctor near you.