By TMoM Team Member Sydney D. Richardson, Ph. D.

Sleep routines. I have always hated sleep routines because they seemed so complicated. Read any parenting book and you’ll quickly feel as though you need a specialized degree to put a child to sleep. Even more, how do you establish a sleep routine when your family’s schedule is constantly shifting? I’ve always worked first shift, but my husband has worked first, second, and third shifts. That means I’m either putting the kids to bed with him or putting them to bed by myself. Believe me, the children act differently when it’s just me in the house.

As we all know, a difference in routine can throw a child off. Because of this constant change, my family did not start off with a stable night routine. Each night’s success was based on how tired we all were. When my husband and I were finally at our wits end without a constant routine and the kids getting out of bed throughout the night, we decided to create a sleep schedule and routine that fit our life. Now, five years after doing so, we’re so glad that we did. Our night times are no longer hectic, and everyone is happy.

So here are some tips to establishing a sleep routine for your child(ren)/family:

  1. Keep it simple: When thinking about sleep routines, my husband and I wanted to make sure that whatever we established, we’d be able to continue long term; therefore, we decided to keep it simple. Nightly prayers, a bedtime story, hugs and kisses, and lights out was all that we did. That’s something we could do together or by ourselves. Pre-COVID, this was also a routine that the kids’ babysitter could easily do as well. For your child’s sleep routine, don’t make it complicated.
  2. Check on your child in increments: Our children’s major fear was that we would somehow disappear after putting them to bed. Therefore, we checked on them and still do after putting them to bed. At the beginning (when they were toddlers), we did sleep checks every 10 minutes until they fell asleep. As they got older, we shortened the number of times we checked on them, and now we do so once in the middle of the night before we head to bed. Checking on them makes them feel safe, and it was something easy that we could do.
  3. Sleep aides: When my children were babies, we used a white noise machine. Then we switched it to ocean sounds, and later, the kids no longer wanted sounds at all. I’m definitely not the parent who’s against sleep aides, so when my kids switched from sounds to wanting a night light, I happily said yes. One child is now phasing out the use of a night light (by choice) and the other one uses two. For your child, it may be something else. For example, my niece loves Moshi and it puts her to sleep in a short amount of time. Regardless of the sleep aide, try soothing methods until you find what works for your child.
  4. Choose a time that works for everyone: My spouse and I really wanted to have enough time at night to finish our work and spend time together. Also, our children are early birds and wake up at 6am. So, an 8pm bedtime seemed to work for everyone. It allowed all of us to spend time together as a family, the kids could participate in after school activities, and no one felt rushed in the evening before heading to bed. Sleeping from 8 pm- 6 am also seemed to give our kids the amount of sleep that they needed. During the holidays and during the summer, they’re allowed to stay up a bit later. As they get older, we’ll revisit sleep times, but make sure that you choose a time that works for your children and gives you the time that you need.
  5. Set boundaries: Even though my children are in bed at a certain time, there’s always one who likes to stall by making request after request. Water? One more game? Read another story? This child knows how to outlast us as parents, so I had to make a rule: only one request per night. After a few nights, my child understood that there would only be one “yes” per night. So, while one child falls asleep within 10 minutes of bedtime, the other one lays quietly in bed and then falls asleep after the request is met (usually a drink of water or another hug). Some nights, this takes 15 minutes and other nights it takes 45 minutes, but both children know the rules now.
  6. Make some noise: Another point of a sleep routine is to have time to do what you (the parent) need to do. You can’t do that if you’ve trained your child to only fall asleep when it’s absolutely quiet. Don’t be afraid to make a little noise. My children know the sounds of dishes being washed, laundry in the dryer, and the printer/copier going at 10pm. After a few times of getting out of bed to check on the noise, they sleep through it now. They know that their parents are still up, and my husband and I no longer have to tiptoe around the house. Let your children get used to noise while they’re in bed. It will make your life easier.

Regardless of your child’s age, a sleep routine can help make for a smooth-running household. It will definitely take time, but just as with anything else, consistency is key. As your child gets older, know that a new routine (as simple as adjusting the bedtime) will be implemented, so don’t get too attached the one way of doing something. In the end, what works for your family is all that matters.

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