Bedtime Routines for Children: Important, But Why?

A good bedtime routine promotes child wellbeing.

Posted Dec 07, 2020

Photo by Picsea on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Picsea on Unsplash

Bedtime, a time when parents and children spend time with each other during the ritual of getting ready for bed. For most families, bedtime revolves around a series of activities from brushing teeth to reading a story. It is easy to think of these routines as just another part of a family’s daily schedule and discount their importance. However, we now know how important bedtime routines are for children and parents alike1. We also know what constitutes a good, optimal bedtime routine.

Why are routines important? To answer this question, we need to take a closer look at those key activities around bedtime.

  • Having a consistent time when children get to bed is essential so that children can have a good night’s sleep. Continuous, uninterrupted sleep is extremely important with benefits for children’s brain and cognitive development, and negative implications if overlooked2. A good night’s sleep also allows children to feel refreshed, and more able to focus and tackle the demands of the next day.
  • Brushing teeth before bed is one of the most automatic and repeated health-related behaviours we all undertake in our lifetime. Brushing at night, and in the morning, is crucial for good oral health. Lack of regular toothbrushing can result in cavities that, if left untreated, can result in pain, sleepless nights, and in some extreme cases, dental extractions3. Children all over the world suffer from dental disease which is in most parts fully preventable. Therefore, establishing a good oral hygiene regime as part of a family’s bedtime routine is crucial4.
  • Reading before bed or simply enjoying some storytelling can have a range of benefits for children. Language development, creative thinking, and other critical cognitive functions are all stimulated through these activities5. There are many age-appropriate stories available for children, and storytelling in itself provides priceless opportunities for parents to engage with their children in a creative and positive way. It can also have a soothing, relaxing effect allowing children to get to sleep easier.
  • Finally, all other interactive, encouraging activities that families undertake as part of their routines can enhance parent-child relationships, create stronger bonds, and promote children’s prosocial development6

A good bedtime routine can help children sleep better, maintain good oral health, and promote their cognitive, language, emotional, and prosocial development.

Not bad for such a simple daily activity that most families will undertake for a significant number of years, that is until their children are fully grown or have flown the nest!

Obviously, bedtime routines are not a panacea-solution to all health, well-being, and development issues for children. Children’s overall wellbeing will be determined by a myriad of other contextual, environmental, genetic, and social factors. Having said that, the humble bedtime routine mustn’t be overlooked and should hold an important space in each family’s daily schedule.

Preliminary evidence also shows that bedtime routines tend to transcend demographic and socio-economic divides. Parents from affluent areas still struggle with their routines while others from less affluent areas can achieve sustained optimal bedtime routines7. What these findings seem to indicate is that bedtime routines are much more nuanced in their application, whilst being universally important to all. When parents of any background really want to really invest in their children’s wellbeing and development, they will try everything in their power to do just so, including setting time aside for a good bedtime routine each night.

For as long as the sun rises in the East and sets in the West, bedtime routines will be around. Investing some time and effort in creating a good routine can go a long way towards helping children achieve and succeed in later life. The more consistent the bedtime routine, the higher the likelihood that children will experience these benefits for years to come.

References

1. Mindell, J. A., & Williamson, A. A. (2018). Benefits of a bedtime routine in young children: Sleep, development, and beyond. Sleep medicine reviews, 40, 93-108.

2. El‐Sheikh, M., & Sadeh, A. (2015). I. Sleep and development: introduction to the monograph. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 80(1), 1-14.

4. Hughes, C. V. (2001). Reasons for dental extractions in children. Pediatric dentistry, 23(2).

5. Kawashita, Y., Kitamura, M., & Saito, T. (2011). Early childhood caries. International journal of dentistry, 2011.

6. Hale, L., Berger, L. M., LeBourgeois, M. K., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2011). A longitudinal study of preschoolers' language-based bedtime routines, sleep duration, and well-being. Journal of Family Psychology, 25(3), 423.

7. Kitsaras, G., Goodwin, M., Allan, J., Kelly, M. P., & Pretty, I. A. (2018). Bedtime routines child wellbeing & development. BMC public health, 18(1), 386.