Kids need regular bedtimes: Here's how a child professional would do it

Kids' bedtimes need to be consistent if they are to do well in school, a new study says. Here's how to establish a consistent bedtime routine for kids from an early childhood professional. 

Marcel Ozama/Simon & Schuster
Bed time can affect children's test scores. Drawing from the Bed, Bed, Bed, Bed, Bed Song by They Might Be Giants.

As every parent knows, bedtime can make or break a night. A perfect night filled with snuggles and pillow talk can make both child and parent wish the night would never end. Other nights can leave parents feeling more like hog wranglers or hostage negotiators.

The unpredictability around bedtime can carry a degree of uncertainty and anxiety for both parents and children. Now it seems that having a varied bedtime could put kids at a disadvantage in school, according to a new study from The University College London, which links irregular bedtimes to reduced test scores in young children. 

The idea that inconsistent sleeping schedules can negatively impact children (and their families) is nothing new. Every parent knows that delayed bedtimes can lead to difficulties in the morning that can continue throughout the day. 

However, establishing a consistent bedtime routine is easier said than done. 

Here are a few tips for establishing a routine bringing consistency to the end of the day. 

Establish a lights-out bedtime and work backward to build a routine.

If bedtime is 8:30 p.m., that means that teeth should be brushed, pajamas should be on, and stories should be finished by 8:30 p.m. By setting a lights-out time rather than a time to start to get ready for bed, parents can defer to the clock when kids ask for one more story, another drink of water, or whatever their latest stalling tactic may be. 

If kids know that the lights are going to turn off on schedule, regardless of whether or not parents have read aloud from bedtime books, they will be less likely to dawdle through tasks like brushing teeth and taking a bath. 

Set the stage for bedtime. 

Parents can begin to set the stage for bedtime an hour or more before lights out. Parents can start talking about bedtime at dinner to make sure kids understand what activities they will have time for before bed. Turning off unnecessary lighting can help to signal kids to begin winding down. While some kids find watching TV before bed to be soothing, others can later have trouble falling asleep. Pay attention to your child's unique needs. 

Make sure bedtime reading is appropriate for settling down.

Reading books to kids can be a delightful bonding experience. There are many opportunities for expanded conversations based on the themes and illustrations in the book. However, bedtime may not be the best time to have those discussions. Kids are pretty savvy and will quickly learn that initiating conversation can prolong bedtime. Try avoiding books that have activities in them, like finding hidden objects in the pictures. Remind kids that bedtime stories are for helping them to calm down rather than play. For parents of emerging readers, bedtime may not be the best time to practice reading. 

Don't be afraid to disengage.

Children may not be ready to go to sleep at lights out time, especially if their body is not used to a consistent bedtime. Resist the temptation to read one more story and instead encourage kids to rest quietly on their own until they fall asleep. Suggest that they try singing softly to themselves, think about something good that happened that day, or focus on taking deep breaths. If kids really can't settle completely on their own, parents can sit in the room with them reading quietly for a set period or until the child falls asleep.

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