Sweet Dreams: How to Establish Bedtime Routines

Kimberly Wagner-Dabbour is a certified pediatric and adult sleep consultant with Beddy Bye Sleep Solutions. Photo provided by Kimberly Wagner-Dabbour.

A good night’s sleep is a key component of good health. Quality sleep has been shown to reduce stress and boost immune systems. But so many factors can disrupt sleep, especially for children. Time changes, holidays, vacations and moves are just a few life experiences that can throw off the nightly routines. 

Kimberly Wagner-Dabbour is a certified pediatric and adult sleep consultant with Beddy Bye Sleep Solutions, helping parents and children find their much-needed rest.

“Healthy sleep for children is critically important because of its direct effect on their physical, mental and emotional development,” Wagner said. 

Wagner-Dabbour cites a long list of benefits that good sleep provides, which include:

  • Improved coordination and attention
  • Emotional regulation and better coping skills
  • Memory consolidation of the day’s events and retention of learned material
  • Release of growth hormone
  • Appropriate release of hunger hormones
  • Strengthened immune response
  • Overall positive feeling of being ready for the day
  • Consistency is key

Every parent knows that sleep is a good thing. But what can they do when bedtime becomes a battle?

Wagner suggests establishing a bedtime routine.

“The secret to the best bedtime routine is consistency,” she said. “You need to do the same routine every night in the same order to cue your child’s mind and body that it is now time to go to sleep over night.”

Wagner-Dabbour speaks from experience with this method.

“My own kiddo has basically had the same bedtime routine for the last seven years, except baths are now showers and she reads the bedtime story to me now,” she said.

“When it comes to bedtime battles, I can tell you what doesn’t typically work long term: sticker charts, rewards, warnings or ultimatums. After working in pediatric sleep for almost 8 years, I’ve found using audio timers, natural consequences and giving appropriate choices when you are able will lead to a more enjoyable bedtime for everyone without the battle of wills.”

Wagner-Dabbour suggests using a visual bedtime routine chart. This takes the focus off the parent and puts it on the chart instead.

“To help with pushback during the routine, give them two options where you are able, like picking between two pairs of pajamas or two books,” Wagner-Dabbour said.

Dim the lights and turn down the volume

Creating the ideal environment for sleep is also a crucial part of the bedtime routine. 

“The most helpful areas to pay attention to when optimizing your child’s sleep are darkness, sound, temperature and humidity level,” Wagner-Dabbour said. “Babies aren’t innately afraid of the dark, so no night light is needed or recommended.”

“When it comes to electronics, screens, or any bright lights, I recommend no usage within one hour before bedtime, as the blue light suppresses our natural melatonin production. I love amber-colored lights only during the bedtime routine as it will not interfere with our melatonin production.”

White noise machines can also be helpful in some circumstances.

“If you live next to a busy road or noisy train, your child will get used to the sounds. Using some white/pink noise (50 decibels or lower) or an in-room air purifier will help dampen any jarring sounds that may wake them fully,” Wagner-Dabbour said.

The power of temperature

Room temperature should be set between 68 and 72 degrees, but lower temps are fine as long as the child is dressed appropriately.

“When we sleep, our core body needs to drop in temperature, so dressing too warmly or having a room hotter than 72 degrees will most likely lead to restless sleep,” she said.

Midwesterners know that weather can swing from hot and humid one day to chilly and dry the next. This, too, can impact sleep.

“Humidity level is the most overlooked area of the bedroom,” Wagner-Dabbour said. “If the room is too dry, there is little to no moisture in the air to pull down the dust and allergens floating around. Oftentimes, this dries out our skin and airways while asleep. This leads to increased coughing and congestion that may disrupt sleep quality overnight. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if there is too much humidity in the room, this may promote mold growth and create an even bigger issue if not resolved.”

She suggests using a simple temperature and humidity gauge in the bedroom to monitor when more or less humidity is needed.

For more sleep tips and information on sleep evaluations, visit the beddybyesleep.com