Is your little one having trouble settling down at night? Establishing a few nighttime rituals can help. Here are some ways you can stop the bedtime battles and start getting more sleep.

How to set up a toddler bedtime routine and schedule

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.

Here are some ideas for how to get started.

Toddler bedtime chart

Set a time

Determining when to put your toddler to sleep may feel entirely up to your family and lifestyle. At the same time, a study published in Mind, Brain, Education discovered that timing does actually have an influence on how your toddler will react to snoozing. The team collected saliva samples from 14 children ages 30 to 36 months to track their melatonin levels.

The peak of the sleep hormone was at 7:40 p.m., which happened to be a good half hour before most parents planned to tuck their tots into bed. The bigger the difference between the melatonin onset and bedtime, the harder it was to get the kids to sleep. Watch your child’s cues to see when they get sleepy.

Try setting the bedtime earlier or later, depending on how hard they’re fighting sleep.

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 half hour before bed. This may be as easy as switching off the television, stopping the wrestling or tickling matches, and skipping the sugary snack foods.

Activities that might help unwind your toddler include:

  • taking a warm bath
  • reading stories
  • playing quiet games
  • eating healthy snacks

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 play dates, 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 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism uncovered 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, televisions, bright room lights — may have an effect. 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.

The Cleveland Clinic suggests tucking your tot into bed in a “sleepy but awake state.” When your child learns to fall asleep on their own, it also helps with those pesky night wakings. Some kids do well using a dim night light or comfort object like a special blanket.

Common mistakes when starting a toddler bedtime routine

  • Mistake 1: Changing routines
    The whole point of a routine is that it has to be routine! 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 baby’s cues
    Most parents seek to establish a routine that fits their schedule, but you could be missing out on sleep if your baby is giving sleep cues earlier than your currently established routine calls for. Starting your routine too late could lead to your baby 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.

Tips and hacks for establishing a foolproof toddler bedtime routine

  • Embrace a soothing scent: Lavender is said to 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 Good Nite Lite can help them to better understand when they need to stay in bed by providing a visual cue.

Next steps

When your toddler is fighting bedtime each and every night, the battles can feel lost before they even begin. With a little structure and care, you can get your child snoozing at a decent hour sans tears. These tips might not work immediately, but keep your commitment strong. A little work goes a long way.