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Creating the Perfect Bedtime Routine

It’s tough to get excited about a routine.

The word itself has pretty much become synonymous with boredom, predictability and banality, and for good reason. Falling into a rut is one of the major fears people have when they get married and have kids.

I agree. Nobody wants to get caught in that humdrum, repetitive life when nothing comes as a surprise anymore.

But trust me, trust me, when I tell you that bedtime routines are the exception to the rule.

Sure, they’re predictable; they’re supposed to be, but they’re also a load of fun. Baths, songs, stories, fuzzy pajama cuddles with your little angel are destined to be some of your most cherished memories of motherhood.

With parents who are having trouble getting their kids to sleep, of course, it’s the part that comes afterwards that’s such a horror show.

So just before we get into the “how” of the perfect bedtime routine, let me give you a quick rundown of the “why.”

Have you ever noticed how great it feels to slip into a freshly made bed, teeth brushed, face washed, pajamas straight out of the dryer? To me, the mere thought of it just puts me at ease. The thought of getting out of bed and getting into the shower, putting on clean clothes and doing my hair and makeup, not so much.

Our minds and our bodies associate those activities with sleep, and when we go through the motions of getting ready for bed, they start doing the same thing. Muscles start to relax, the brain starts to downshift, and the pineal gland starts pumping out some delicious melatonin. It’s the physiological equivalent of putting on PJs and brushing teeth.

So a bedtime routine signals your little one’s brain that it’s time for sleep, and since their brain is pretty much the authority on whether or not they’re going to be sleeping, it’s best to get the old fellow in the mood.

So how do you do that? Well, lemme tell you…

  • Consistency is key
    Whatever your child’s bedtime is, stick to it, and sister, I mean tenaciously. Your child’s internal clock is one of the biggest factors when it comes to the shutdown process.


  • Start with the fun stuff
    If your little one loves bath time, and tends to get fired up with all of the splashing and tub toys, then that’s a good place to start the process. You don’t want to end the festivities by getting her all excited. Bath time and songs are usually good openers, and cuddles, brushing teeth and stories are great ways to finish up.
  • Not too short, not too long
    You want the routine to take long enough for it the brain and body to do their thing, but not so long that baby starts getting bored and wanting to go do her own thing again. I typically recommend about half an hour to 45 minutes, but it can vary depending on the child.
  • We do not negotiate with toddlers!
    I know we hate to be tyrannical with our kids, but this is one of those situations where you’ve got to lay down the law. Offering them choices on things like which pajamas they want to wear is fine, but when it comes to the structure and time of the bedtime routine, don’t get into a debate. They’ll just negotiate for the sake of negotiating, in order to stay up a little later.
  • Give a little notice
    Kids aren’t great at understanding time, so telling them that it’s time to start getting ready for bed “in fifteen minutes” isn’t likely to hit home. Instead, give some sort of a recognizable cue. A “time for bed” song works well, as does running the bath, or my personal favorite…
  • Set a timer
    This little trick is an absolute gem. Kids love trying to beat the buzzer when they’re getting ready for bed, and they get fired up when they see you pull out the timer. Putting stickers on the calendar for every night they’re on time, or an extra story if they’re in their PJs before the bell rings, makes the bedtime routine fun for them and a whole lot easier on you.


Forgive me if I sound like a broken record here, but I just want to reiterate one last time, once you’ve got a routine in place, make sure you keep it in place, come hell or high water. I’ve seen a lot of parents who have a “routine” that they implement three or four nights a week. That’s not a routine, it’s just “the norm,” and your little one’s system never really gets time to adjust to it.

I know it sounds boring and mundane, and maybe you’re a little conflicted about an hour of your daily life becoming so predictable, but believe me, the alternative isn’t excitement and adventure. It’s misery. Sleepless nights and cranky kids will wreak havoc on your family unit, so embrace the repetition. It’s a blessing in disguise, I assure you.


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Dana’s Sleep Blog

Straight talk about sleep, parenting,
babies, toddlers, relationships… and
just about anything else!
My blog is a great place to find opinions, advice, the occasional rant, and some great videos about sleep.

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