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"I Love You. Now Go to Sleep!"

Few people can work hard all day, collapse into bed and immediately fall asleep. We generally need to wind down a bit. For some of us, this might mean taking a hot bath; for others, reading a book or watching TV. Our kids are the same way.

As parents, we can sometimes fall into the trap of playing with our kids, giving them sugary snacks and getting all their senses running at full speed before saying good night and expecting them to go right to sleep. Children often need more than a good-night kiss and hug to drift off peacefully.

Develop a Pre-Bedtime Routine
Learn to see sleep the way your child sees it ... saying goodbye to someone you love very much. Most children spend far more time alone at night than during the day, so sleeping can be a scary prospect for them. Developing a predictable, loving pre-bedtime routine will help you and your child embark on the journey with calm and confidence. Set a routine that includes these common-sense elements:

This information is included in our Guide to Sleep ​Issues. Click here to see the rest of the guide.

  • Winding Down - In the hour before bedtime, help your child wind down by engaging in relaxing activities like taking a bath or story time.
  • Location, Location, Location - Once you are in the child's bedroom, continue doing calming activities. This is where your child will spend the night, so get him used to the surroundings. For example, have your child softly saying good night to every stuffed animal on the bed. Or, sing a lullaby or read a few stories in a voice that's interesting, but not arousing. In other words, don't tickle and wrestle with your toddler, or fly your baby around the room in your arms.
  • Sleepy but Awake - A century of sleep research proves that children move through four sleep cycles six to eight times each night. The first stage is the lightest. You can help them make their way through the first cycle and into deeper sleep independently by laying them down while they're still awake. Furthermore, resist the urge to rock your baby to sleep in front of the TV or to lie down in your bed with him; if you do and your baby wakes up during the night in his crib, he'll be in unfamiliar surroundings because those things won't be there. In other words, try to put your child to sleep in the place he will be sleeping.
  • Ritual Length - Spend as much or as little time as you need with your child's pre-bedtime routine. Just remember that whatever you establish is what your child will learn to expect. So, if you only have 15 minutes each night, don't start out with a 45-minute ritual. Keep it to what you know you can reliably continue and adapt.

Establishing a bedtime routine can help you and your child look forward to sleep as a pleasant experience.

Learn more about this topic in Good Night, Sweet Dreams, I Love You, Now Get Into Bed and Go to Sleep! by Patrick C. Friman, PhD.