Do Bedtime Routines Actually Work?

Do Bedtime Routines Actually Work?

The bedtime routine. If you ever came in close proximity to a nighttime parenting book, you know that bedtime routines are an important step in getting children to sleep.

Or at least that’s what they tell you…

I’m not calling all those people who write nighttime parenting books liars, but… well, if I was writing a book like that I would definitely include some lists of stuff for you to do because I know that checklists help people feel in control of their lives.

But let’s circle back to that, shall we?

Instead, let’s focus on bedtime routines. I am a fan of them, let me tell you. In fact, although I am kind of a scattered, slacker mom, I am obsessed with my bedtime routines and quite grumpy when they are interrupted by any outside force.

What does a bedtime routine look like in my house?

Well, when I had a little babies bedtime would look something like this:

  • Bathing
  • Dressing
  • Fresh diaper
  • Hugs and kisses (It’s just fun to hug and kiss a baby, so take all your chances to do so.)
  • Breastfeeding
  • Lights out

Now that my kids are a little older, it goes a tad differently, but same basic deal.

do bedtime routines actually work

The bedtime routine with older children consists of:

  • Dinner prep and eating
  • Showers or bath
  • Jammie time!
  • Reading/scriptures/prayer/family time
  • Hugs and kisses (yes, they still need them)
  • Teeth brushing
  • Potty
  • Lights out

With my kids now preparation for bed really starts around 5pm and I shoot to have them down by 7.30 or 8pm.

I really hate disruptions to the bedtime routine.

For example, now that my kids are older and in school I have monthly parent nights at their school which inevitably fall between 5.30 and 6.30 – right in the middle of prime bedtime routine real estate.

It pretty much ruins my life. UGH. I hate that.

Everyone gets to bed later and dinner is usually take-out. Not a fan.

One would think that with my years of experience being a mother and my anal retentive obsession with not mucking with my bedtime routine that 12 years in things would be sailing along in perfect order.

Not so.

Every night the children are shocked- shocked!- that they need to brush their teeth.

What is this cruel punishment! Why is it required?! They must act as though this is torture and waste toothpaste or avoid brushing. They must! They demand FREEDOM from the tyranny of constant brushing!

do bedtime routines actually work?

When, after the routine is all finished and I send them off to bed a few things happen:

  • They linger in the living room or kitchen.
  • They make conversation. “So, how was your day, mom? How ‘bout them Nicks?”
  • They remember homework assignments. “Oh, I forgot – that huge project that involves complex woodworking is due tomorrow. Can you help me??”
  • Crying. Because tired kids cry. It’s the rule. In fact, it works on adults too.
  • Fighting. “She stepped on my pillow! She turned on the light! She won’t stop talking!”
  • Yelling. (See above.) Ironically, the yelling is often at someone who is “keeping them awake.” They must think I am tricked by this and don’t notice that yelling actually keeps everyone awake. This isn’t my first rodeo, kids.
  • Turning on of lights after lights out. Repeatedly.
  • Bracelet making. (What can I say – I have three daughters. Craft projects must be done after dark! All artists understand this!)
  • Etc.

Eventually, I can only assume they fall asleep. At least the level of noise diminishes to the point where they are either sleeping or carefully plotting a hostile takeover via morse code flashlight signals.

So, the question of the hour – do bedtime routines actually work?

Well…this jaded mom of four who STILL STRUGGLES TO GET KIDS TO BED EVERY NIGHT says this…

Bedtime routines work in that they establish a safe and expected rhythm to end the day for you and your children. I firmly believe that rhythm is in important part of a healthy life for all of us.

That is why people look forward to their morning cup of coffee, picking the paper up off the driveway, running in the crisp, dawn air. It’s not just that those things are nice or we need caffeine – it’s that we find comfort in the everyday things that ALWAYS happen.

It’s a good feeling.

We like to feel a little bit in control of our lives. It strokes the ego.

Yes, bedtime routines work in helping establish your home and your life as rhythmic, comforting, and safe. This is invaluable.

Do bedtime routines ensure that your children will immediately fall asleep as soon as you say goodnight?



At least not in my experience.

But who knows, it could happen.

And I could start dating Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

do bedtime routines actually work?


Photo credits: cathyse97 via / CC BY-NDsusivinh via / CC via / CC BY

6 thoughts on “Do Bedtime Routines Actually Work?”

  1. Several things occur to me. One is, bedtime may be too early. They may not even be close to being tired and ready to sleep. Another is that many American ADULTS put off going to bed, and fall asleep in front of the TV, etc., because they have deep-seated, negative associations with the transition to sleep. Mainstream America has for decades left babies alone to cry themselves to sleep and insisted older children fall asleep by themselves, alone in a dark/darkish room. When children resist bedtime, they are most often resisting separation from you and/or human company. I suggest you try lying down with them till they go to sleep. You might want to allow time for them to talk to you, because this is often the time they will open up to you about things that are on their minds. You could also sing to them or rub their backs….You won’t regret the time you spend doing this, as getting through their adolescences without serious turbulence is much more likely if you have built a strong relationship with them, if they have felt secure, if they know that you are there for them when all they ask for is your presence, when you consistently listen to their expressed needs and they know you really care. (You can read more about the harmfulness of “independence-training” at Peace.)

    1. Wow, Maureen! I really love all you said. It just sits right.
      I experienced two different bed time “routines” growing up and remember the gentle one mich more fondly. In fact, to this day I feel this sense of irritation if bed time is abrupt (just like when I was a kid).
      In America we are really obsessed with routines and having things go a very specific way. I grew up with this concept being absent sometimes (different cultural norms) and guess what… I still went to bed and I still got good sleep. I have a deep seeded trust in children — that trial and error is a great teacher for them. And I trust that they can slowly self regulate, even in the smallest of ways.

  2. As a mom of 7 I gave up on bedtime routines when baby number 5 arrived. Its true nothing insures you that it will be lights out and peace and quiet. Somebody somewhere needs to pee, get a drink has an owie. All I can tell you is in the teens its different. It gets better. Never mind they just stay awake longer than you! Lol
    Blessings Mama
    we have a skeleton routine for the younger ones. Bedtime snack bathroom duties story pray snuggles. Peace out. Well mama sits at the hall saying shhh go to sleep. No you had a drink. Why didn’t you get a bandaid while we were in the bathroom. I snuggled you the same as your brother.etc lol

  3. When my older kids were toddlers, I had a major revelation that rocked my parenting world: you just can’t *make* kids be tired. You’re much better off reading a book or getting in a few rows of knitting while you wait for them to get to the point where they are ready for bed. They don’t fall asleep any later, but you spend less time fighting with them and more time doing what you want to do.

  4. My experience is limited but I’ve seen kids respond well to “ok, it’s quiet time now and you have a choice to do such and such but it has to be in your room”. I think kids struggle with an abrupt ending of the day sometimes (I remember feeling that way) and so, I’m really interested in creating a sense of “easing into sleepiness” instead of “lights out. Be quiet”

  5. Hello all,

    What I see here is the Ferber Method vs the Focker Method (Movie Quote). One insists on self soothing while the other focuses on consoling. I had to combine both. We are all born different, requiring different methods. Both my kids needed to go through a separation to learn to sleep in their beds without constant holding and rocking, this meant they just may need to wake in the middle of the night and cry themselves back to sleep. Like any other training this may be hard the first week or so but after that everyone gets more sleep. This also allows us as parents to install that bed time and the need to sleep.

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