Is your little one having trouble settling down at night? Establishing a few nighttime rituals can help.

In fact, science says evening family routines can be good for kids. A small 2018 study linked regular bedtime routines to cognitive function, attention, and other signs of well-being.

Here are some ways you can stop the bedtime battles — and start getting more sleep.

The routine you’re starting with your toddler should be:

  • unique to your child and family
  • based on activities that fit into your schedule
  • able to help soothe your child to sleep

A child who gets an energy boost in the tub, for example, probably shouldn’t have bath time as part of their bedtime routine.

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Illustration by Alyssa Kiefer

Set a time

Determining when to put your toddler to sleep may feel entirely up to your family and lifestyle. At the same time, having a set bedtime each night can be good for your child, according to science.

A 2020 study of 107 children linked going to sleep late and too little sleep with obesity. Another study showed an associated of regular bedtimes and regular mealtimes on better emotional self-regulation and less risk of obesity.

The time you choose to send your kiddo to bed may be earlier than you think. Watch your child’s cues to see when they get sleepy.

Slow down

Young kids often need help with transitions. Moving from a busy day to a sleep state is a huge transition.

Try swapping any activities that stimulate your child with ones that will help them relax, especially in the hour before bed.

This may be as easy as switching off the television, stopping the wrestling or tickling matches, and skipping anything with caffeine.

Activities that might help unwind your toddler include:

  • taking a warm bath
  • reading stories
  • playing quiet games
  • singing bedtime songs

While you want to slow down right before bedtime, also make sure your child gets plenty of physical activity during the daytime hours.

Try playing outdoors, taking walks, dancing, meeting with friends for playdates, and engaging in other activities that get your kid moving and grooving.

Dim the lights

You may have heard that bright lights before bedtime can disrupt the body’s desire to sleep. It’s true.

A 2014 study suggested that exposure to artificial light at night suppresses the body’s melatonin levels and, therefore, sleepiness.

It can even shorten your body’s understanding of how long night lasts, creating greater sleep problems.

Anything that emits blue light — computer screens, tablets, cell phones, televisions — may have even more of an effect than regular artificial light. You might even try illuminating the room with a night light or amber light bulb.

At the very least, dim the lights in your child’s room during the bedtime routine to help them feel sleepy.

Leave the room

Does your toddler call you back into the bedroom again and again? Or worse, is your presence required for sleep to happen in the first place? You’re definitely not alone. Many toddlers have trouble falling asleep on their own.

If you find your child just won’t stop calling for you, experts at the Mayo Clinic recommend trying to wean your child off of your support by waiting progressively longer periods before checking on them.

Some kids do well using a dim night-light or comfort object like a special blanket.

Mistake 1: Changing routines

The whole point of a routine is that it has to be consistent. If you’re attempting a lot of trial and error with your routine, it won’t ever really have the chance to become that routine your child can count on.

Mistake 2: Ignoring your child’s cues

Most parents seek to establish a routine that fits their schedule, but you could be missing out on sleep if your toddler is giving sleep cues earlier than your currently established routine calls for.

Starting your routine too late could lead to your child being overtired and not responding as well to the routine.

Mistake 3: Making your routine too long

Only you know how much time you can commit to a bedtime routine each night. But if your routine lasts over an hour, you’re going to have a much harder time sticking to it on a regular basis.

After all, some nights you’ll go out to dinner, or attend a child’s baseball game, or simply have plans with friends. If you’re getting home later than usual, it can be more difficult to get through a lengthy routine.

  • Embrace a soothing scent. A squirt of lavender spray in your child’s room can have calming properties.
  • Choose the perfect story. Check out “The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep” before you put your toddler to bed. This book may be helpful for kiddos who have a harder time settling down.
  • Teach time. One of the things a lot of toddlers struggle with is understanding when it’s bedtime and when it’s time to wake up. Night lights like the LittleHippo Mella can help them to better understand when they need to stay in bed by providing a visual cue.
  • Make their daytime routine. Schedule nap times as consistently as you do bedtime. Consistency is key.

These tips might not work immediately, but keep your commitment strong. A little work goes a long way.

If your little one’s sleep issues seem too big to solve, you’ll want to talk to your child’s pediatrician. There are also sleep consultants who can work in tandem to help. Ask your pediatrician for advice.