Newshub headline with Children's Wisconsin logo
Bedtime routine Children's Wisconsin

How to turn bedtime nightmares into sweet dreams

We’ve all been there. It’s nearly bedtime and your kids are running wild throughout the home. Telling them to start settling down because it is bedtime only seems to rev their engines into high gear. Habits like these can be hard to break, but establishing new ones can help smooth the transition to bedtime. 

My colleagues at the American Academy of Pediatrics call it the “four B’s of Bedtime” and I like to add a few Cs, too! The four B’s are Bathing, Brushing, Books and Bedtime, while the C’s are Choice, Consistency and Calm. 

Bedtime routines are a consistent, repetitive set of activities that help prepare your child for sleep by having them relax and wind down. A predictable routine also gives your child a sense of security and teaches them how to fall asleep on their own.

A good night of sleep is as important to your kids’ mental and physical health as healthy eating and exercise. With distractions everywhere from screens to toys, you can’t force your children to sleep by telling them it’s time to sleep now. Establishing a soothing nighttime routine will help signal to your children it’s time to start settling down and encourage an easier bedtime. 

The four B’s

Bathing: A warm bath or shower can help their bodies start to settle down. The warm water soothes them in a way that a TV show or video can’t. Starting your nighttime routine with a bath will signal to your children it’s time to start settling down. Bonus, it will wash away any dirt and germs accumulated during the day and leave your kids smelling fresh and clean!

Brushing: Brushing teeth at night is a good habit to start as soon as your children have teeth. For the little ones, parents can brush their teeth or take a washcloth or a little gauze and wipe their teeth. For older ones, having them brush their teeth right before bed is good for preventing cavities and keeping their gums healthy. It’s also another signal that it is time to settle down. 

Books: My favorite part of the bedtime routine! Reading books is a signal to kids that it's time to snuggle and a great way for parents and kids to bond. Reading together has many other benefits, too. It helps kids develop language and become readers themselves, while stimulating their imagination.  

Our office (and many other Children’s Wisconsin primary care offices) participates in Reach Out and Read, a program in which we get books to give to our patients. We start at 6 months and continue through 5 years old. Reading is something I love to do in my free time and it brings me joy to see my patients (and kids everywhere!) enjoy a book, especially in our digital world. 

I love this program because we are able to give our patients books on a diverse selection of topics that reflect the wide representation of children and families we serve. The Reach Out and Read program encourages daily reading and allows us to stress to our parents the importance of reading with their children as a catalyst for healthy child development. 

One of my cherished memories with my son is reading the Harry Potter series aloud to each other and then seeing the movies as they came out. It was a great way to settle down at night and help him develop a love of reading — it was also a lot of fun to then see if the movie matched up to our imaginations. 

Bedtime: With the three above routines in place, kids should be soothed and ready for bed. It’s important to let your child fall asleep independently. Granted, this isn’t a magic wand, but with practice bedtime should get easier by signaling to your kids that this is how we settle down for bedtime. 

And now for the C’s 

Choices: It doesn’t have to be all about your rules at bedtime. Allowing for a bit of flexibility will let your children know they are a part of this, too. Let your kids have some choices — let them choose a stuffed animal to sleep with, which pajamas they’ll wear, or what book to read. 

Consistency: Consistency is important! If you're constantly changing your child's sleep times, you'll have a harder time settling them down at night. Aside from special occasions (holidays, birthdays, vacations), be sure your child stays on schedule and stick with your nightly routine. Choose a time to start and stick to it. For example, if you want your child to be asleep by 8 p.m., give yourself enough time to get through your routine without rushing. Try starting 30 minutes before and seeing how that goes. If you need more time, start earlier the next night. Creating these healthy habits now will help your child in the long run.

Calm: Children need a calm, quiet space for sleep. Make sure your kids have a safe sleeping environment (for babies that means a firm mattress with no other blankets or pillows) and that the room is a comfortable temperature. While a dark room is preferable, if your child is more comfortable with a nightlight, put one in their room. Screens — TV, iPads, Kindles, phones — serve as distractions and shouldn’t be available in a child’s room. 

Our jobs as pediatricians don’t end when you walk out of the office. If you have any questions about your child’s bedtime routine or any other wellness questions, please reach out to us. We want to make sure your child is as healthy as they can be!