Perfecting Your Child's Bedtime Routine: Page 2 of 3

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December 1, 2013

with the sound of the door handle, she stretched her tiny mouth and rubbed her eyes. I popped her in bed and she rolled over and fell asleep.

Here’s what my daughter has helped reinforce for me about bedtime routines:

·       Sleep associations are incredibly strong . The repetitive nature of a parent’s  exact actions before bed—in my case: talking in a soft voice, my son saying “goodnight”, closing the bedroom door, closing the blinds, and turning on the sound machine in the same order every night—is very powerful. It doesn’t matter that there’s no massage or books (we read every morning instead), what matters is that we created a reliable set of steps before bed that cue her brain and body that it’s time to sleep. As a colleague of mine says, “You could stand on your head as the first step in your bedtime routine, as long as you do it every night.”

·       The power of a bedtime routines is not in  what you do, but  how you do it.  Just after dinner (around 6:00 p.m.), I play jazz music and turn down the lights in the house (dim lights allow their bodies to shift into sleep-mode). I keep my energy and voice calmer and move more slowly; both my kids pick up on this. That wind-down period starts 15-30 minutes before their actual bedtime routine begins. You can’t go-go-go and then plop your child in bed—the lead up time to sleep is really important.

My daughter is now one-and-a-half, and thankfully the needs and bedtime routines of both kids align. She splashes in the bath, gets on her PJ’s, and brushes her teeth right alongside my son. But still, when he says good night to her and I walk into her room and softly close the door behind me, she yawns. I put her in her crib and she grabs her blankie, rolls over, and drifts off to sleep.

Heather Turgeon is currently writing The Happy Sleeper (Penguin, 2014), a parenting book about children's sleep. She is the author of the long-running