“Nighttime rituals,” or regular bedtime routines, can help a toddler’s sleep schedule, daytime energy levels, and even mood. When a young child knows what to expect at bedtime, she is more likely to approach the end of the day with a positive mood, instead of sadness at having to go to bed.
Toddlers and Sleep
Most toddlers have the ability to develop and maintain a regular sleep schedule; their sleep has been consolidated from the erratic patterns of infant sleep into one or two daily naps and nine to twelve hours of nighttime sleep. As a toddler grows up, she will first give up the morning nap sometime between two and five years of age, and eventually outgrow the need for an afternoon nap as well.
The need for long hours of nighttime sleep may continue into later childhood; if your child suffers from behavioral problems or moodiness, consider moving his bedtime earlier for a few weeks to see if extra sleep makes a difference. Of course, it will only be worthwhile if your little one is willing to go to bed and can actually fall asleep earlier. A regular set of nighttime rituals can help.
Setting Up a Nighttime Ritual for Your Toddler
Nighttime rituals can help a child look forward to bedtime and know what to expect each evening. Enjoyable, relaxing activities that will make bedtime easier can include:
- A warm bath. Most toddlers enjoy bathtime, and the warm water can be relaxing. Dim the lights a little if possible to further cue your little one’s body that it’s time to feel sleepy.
- Hygiene. This is the time for tooth brushing lessons, hair brushing lessons, nail trimming lessons… your toddler will relish the time spent with you and learn how to care for himself a little at a time. Do things in the same order every night—use the toilet, take a bath, brush teeth, put on pajamas… whatever works for your family. The regular routine will help your child understand that bedtime is approaching, while he enjoys time with the people he loves.
- Read. Just 20 minutes a day of reading time can set your child up for a lifetime love of reading. Curling up with a good book is an excellent way to let your child unwind while keeping him occupied and entertained. Just don’t fall into the “just one more book?” trap. Set a limit and stick to it, so he knows what to expect every night.
- Snuggle. Physical contact is important in helping young children feel secure and relaxed. Rock in a rocking chair or curl up in bed with your toddler to help her prepare mentally for sleep. Just make sure your child is curled up comfortably under the covers before she falls asleep, to help her feel safe in her own bed. If she can fall asleep on her own at the start of the night, she’s more likely to fall asleep again on her own if she rouses in the middle of the night.
Nighttime rituals can be a powerful way for both you and your child to enjoy bedtime and sleep better all night long. When you help your child learn to fall asleep and stay asleep comfortably, you are helping him develop skills that will last a lifetime.