Bedtime rituals are important. They can help children recognise when bedtime is coming and help them adjust, so that even over-tired or over-stimulated children can mentally prepare themselves to fall asleep more easily.
Bedtime rituals vary in each household. Some recommended rituals are minimising blue light exposure in the hour before bedtime, bath time, winding down with yoga, playing music or listening to audiobooks. The key is that they need to be consistent to be effective.
We have a pretty consistent bedtime routine for our older two (aged 6 and 4). They consists of toilet, teeth and bedtime stories in bed with Daddy. It calms them down, so that when we turn the main light off, they are ready to read independently in bed until they fall asleep.
Our bedtime routine has been the same for about three years. Until recently, Ioan and Finn shared a bedroom. Now they each have their own room, but the only difference now is that we alternate which bedroom the bedtime story is in.
Our bedtime rituals usually work well. The exception to that is when my husband is away with work. Then I have to try and juggle reading bedtime stories with keeping an excited one year old safe. As you can see below, things don’t always go to plan.
When Daddy’s away we do bedtime stories downstairs to avoid Cian (15 months) flinging himself off the side of the bed. Cian feeds off the excitement of anything out of the ordinary routine, so bedtime stories downstairs always make him giddy. Today, whilst I read the first story, he started emptying toys everywhere and charging about. When I finished the story, Ioan and Finn leapt down and joined in.
This active play led to a lot of excited hugging and piling on top of each other on the trampoline. Far from the relaxing lead up to bedtime I desired.
We all know that active play, which engages children’s gross motor skills, can help wear children out and make them more tired by the end of the day. Clinical sleep psychologist Lynelle Schneeberg (Fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and an Assistant Clinical Professor at the Yale School of Medicine) says, “I think the best way to do this is to offer lots of outdoor play or any type of ‘large motor’ play. Physical exercise deepens sleep and also relieves stress and frustration, which all toddlers certainly have.” Exercise doesn’t have to be outside, but the child does need to exert themself.
The exception to this, as shown in the video above, is at bedtime. Exercise should not be encouraged as a bedtime activity. You should avoid energetic play for the last hour before starting your bedtime ritual. As I found, over-stimulated children find it difficult to mentally prepare themselves to fall asleep.
Once the big boys are in bed, Cian usually gets overexcited and swings off the stair gate for a short period. He then has another hour of quieter play, usually reading books, doing jigsaws, stacking bricks etc. When he’s looking tired we change his nappy, put him in his sleeping bag and he has a bottle of milk with Daddy. The middle picture is “Mor muh” (more milk) with his nose scrunched up and lips pouted in his version of ‘Please!’
Cian already settles himself to sleep at nap time. I put him in his sleeping bag, he says goodnight to everybody in the house and then I take him upstairs. He picks two books from his shelf and two teddies. He then reads or plays until he falls asleep. Sometimes if he is tired at lunchtime, he will come to me and pretend to snore, letting me know he is ready for his nap.
At the moment, Cian’s bedtime varies depending on how much exercise he has had during the day. If he’s had to sit and watch swimming lessons after school, then he is less tired than if he’s walked to the park. When he has a more consistent time for falling asleep, we will transition to putting him in his cot awake at bed time too.