How To Create Restful Bedtimes For Children
Sleep is crucial for everyone, especially for kids who experience mental and physical development every day.
As any parent knows, a good night’s sleep involves more than just getting your child to fall asleep (which can be an enormously stressful task in its own right); it also requires them to stay asleep and wake up feeling rested. One of the best ways to achieve this is by sticking to regular a bedtime routine.
You may be surprised to hear that a positive bedtime routine starts as soon as kids rise and ends when their eyes shut at the end of the day. Let’s walk through a day of habits that can create an optimal sleep routine.
How much sleep do kids need?
From the newborn stage to teenage years, the amount of sleep children need varies depending on their needs and stages of development.
Bedtimes by age
The National Sleep Foundation recommends the below optimal sleep times by age:
- Newborns-3 months old: 14-17 hours of sleep is required, split between night and day, with breaks for feeding.
- 4-11 months: Ideally they should be sleeping through the night for 12-15 hours. They should also take naps throughout the day.
- Toddlers from 1-2 years: 11-14 hours of sleep is required, mostly at night, with some naps during the day.
- Children 3-5 years old: 10-13 hours of sleep a night is recommended, with fewer or no daytime naps.
- Kids 6-13 years old: 9-11 hours of sleep a night is recommended.
- Teenagers: 8-10 hours of sleep a night is recommended.
How can I improve my child’s sleep habits?
The key to improving children’s sleep habits is consistency. Following a regular night routine for kids provides them with the comfort and security of a familiar process, while their bodies learn that sleep is on its way.
Going to sleep and waking up at the same time is essential for a good sleep routine, and can result in a greater amount of sleep over night. It’s okay to go to bed 30 minutes later or sleep in for an extra hour but try to keep it as consistent as possible. A few hours here and there may not seem like much, but it can make a world of difference.
Here are some tips to make bedtime for kids a little easier.
Better sleep starts in the morning
While waking up to the rays of the sun may seem like something of a fairytale, there’s method to the madness! Exposure to natural light in the morning supresses melatonin production and helps regulate the sleep cycle, which is known as the circadian rhythm. Doing morning exercise in the sun, like going for a walk, can be a great way to get the body moving, too!
Throughout the day, try to keep as much consistency as possible, with regular mealtimes, activity times and nap time. It’s best to keep caffeine intake to a minimum, especially in the afternoon. For teenagers, watch out for energy drinks, coffee and chocolate.
Winding down before bed
One of the best things you can do to help your child get a better night’s sleep is to limit their screen time. Keep devices like TVs and video games out of bedrooms, and turn off smartphones, tablets and other screens a few hours before bed. Remind your kids that the bed is purely for sleeping and rest.
A bedtime routine
Create a bedtime routine with your child. It may be useful to create a list of steps For example, this could include:
- Have a warm bath
- Put on pyjamas that the child wants to wear
- Drink a cup of chamomile tea or hot milk
- Brush teeth
- Get into bed
- Read a book
- Lights out + sleep time
Be sure to praise your child if they’ve kept to the routine to encourage continuation. Focus on their success and support good sleep behaviour to ensure it becomes a habit in their lives.
The environment most conducive to sleep is a cool, dark and quiet room. Ensure your child’s bedroom is dark and not too hot or cold, with minimal noise.
If your child resists going to sleep, remind them of the benefits of sleep, such as waking up more energetic or being more awake for exciting activities the next day.
How long after dinner should kids go to bed
It’s recommended for everyone to allow two to four hours between eating dinner and going to bed, to give the body sufficient time to digest food. However, if your child is hungry before bed, give them a small snack, as feeling hungry can make it harder to fall asleep. Stick to snacks that are high in protein or fibre, like nuts, peanut butter, Greek yogurt, hummus, eggs, beans, tofu, berries, and wholegrains, and avoid foods that are high in sugar or simple carbs, as this will make blood sugar rise and then fall again quickly.
Milk contains melatonin, which is a hormone that helps regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycle, so a cup of warm milk before bed may help your child relax and feel ready for sleep. Just make sure your child brushes their teeth after drinking milk or eating a snack, and don’t let younger children take a bottle to bed, as this can contribute to tooth decay.
If your child finds it difficult to fall asleep, it may be helpful to incorporate mindfulness, meditation and relaxation techniques into their bedtime routine, such as breathing exercises or positive imagery. These activities can help reduce stress, calm the mind and reduce any pre-sleep nerves or worries.
Beneficial breathing exercises include the 4-7-8 method, known as the relaxing breath, which entails inhalation for four seconds, holding the breath for seven seconds and exhaling for eight seconds. This can be repeated as many times as necessary. Other relaxation exercises involve the whole body, such as telling your kids to squeeze everything and make every muscle in their body tense for a few seconds and then releasing them.
Sticking to a regular bedtime routine may help your child drift off peacefully and get more restful sleep, which will allow them to reap all the wonderful benefits that sleep has to offer.
- Staples, A., Bates, J., Peterson, I., (2015) ‘Bedtime Routines in Early Childhood: Prevalence, Consistency and Associations with Night time Sleep,’ [online]: Society for Research in Child Development.
- National Sleep Foundation (2015) ‘National Sleep Foundation Recommends New Sleep Times’.
- Wirz-Justice, A., Graw, P., Krauchi, K., Sarrafzadeh, A., English, J., Arendt, J., Sand, L., (1995) ‘’Natural’ light treatment of seasonal affective disorder’, [online]: Journal of Affective Disorders.
- Sleep Foundation. Is Eating Before Bed Bad? https://www.sleepfoundation.org/nutrition/is-it-bad-to-eat-before-bed Sourced 22 July 2023.
- Riley Children’s Health, Indiana State University. Food Before Bed: What to Offer Kids and When to Hold Back https://www.rileychildrens.org/connections/food-before-bed-what-to-offer-kids-and-when-to-hold-back Published 28 April 2016.
- Sangsopha J, Johns NP, Johns J, Moongngarm A. Dietary sources of melatonin and benefits from production of high melatonin pasteurized milk. J Food Sci Technol. 2020;57(6):2026-2037. doi:10.1007/s13197-020-04236-5.
- Pascoe MC, Thompson DR, Jenkins ZM, Ski CF (2014) ‘Mindfulness mediates the physiological markers of stress: Systematic review and meta-analysis.’ Journal Psychiatric Res. 2017 pp.156‐178.