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Toddler bedtime routine for better sleep

Most people have a specific wind-down routine ahead of bedtime, whether deliberate or not. Maybe you have some herbal tea, read a book, take a bath, or meditate — all calming activities that signal to your body and mind: “Time to get into sleep mode.” Crafting a similar type of evening ritual for your toddler may prove to be a gamechanger for these often-finicky sleepers.

The growing minds of kids are frequently even more wired than ours, so expecting them to seamlessly shift into a sleepy state immediately after activities, such as playing or watching TV, is likely setting toddlers up for restless sleep and leaving parents facing a frustrating nightly struggle.

To gently ease toddlers into tranquility, you might wish to consider putting mindful bedtime rituals into practice.

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What’s the best toddler bedtime routine to help kids sleep?

Key takeaways:

  • Why a bedtime routine is important for toddlers
  • Bedtime routine tips for toddlers
  • How meditation can help kids sleep

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Try this short, calming meditation with your child to wind-down for sleep

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Why is a bedtime routine important for toddlers?

We know that quality sleep is an essential element for kids’ overall well-being (and let’s be honest, yours, too). The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children ages 1-2 years (toddlers) get 11-14 hours of sleep per 24 hours, including naps.

While a healthy bedtime routine can certainly help toddlers wind down to catch much-needed Zzz’s, the benefits of an evening ritual extend beyond solely improving kids’ sleep habits. Studies have shown the actual act of a consistent bedtime routine can lead to heightened language development, literacy, emotional intelligence, stronger parent–child attachment, and better family functioning.

For many parents, this is also the time of the day to really bond with their children, without the endless distractions and duties of daily life. So whether it’s one-on-one time, reading time, or snuggle time, everyone benefits from whatever bedtime rituals work for you.

Establishing a toddler bedtime routine

The best toddler bedtime routine will inevitably vary from child to child. However, there are a few basic principles that all parents can follow to help kids sleep.

Typically, these basics involve a combination of healthy sleep hygiene and specific sleep-inducing tactics that work for you and your child. You might try turning off screens an hour before bed, budgeting time for a bedtime story, and practicing a short meditation together.

Whatever routine you establish, it’s important to aim for as much consistency as possible. This might mean you begin their bedtime routine at the same time every night, and always in the same order. While this may seem like a regimented routine on the surface, the repetition should ultimately help to create a conditioned response around the ritual, allowing their young minds to consciously (and unconsciously) drift off.

If you’ve already put the basic sleep hygiene tips into practice and your toddler is still having trouble getting to sleep, try incorporating these two additional science-backed hacks:

- A white noise machine. Placing a sound machine on low volume (around 50 dB) in a toddler’s room can be a great sleep solution for families who live in noisier environments, such as apartment buildings or households with other children who have a later bedtime. Even if your home is already relatively quiet, ambient sound may still help, as it has been scientifically linked to encouraging deep sleep. Some experts say the sound is particularly comforting to babies because it reminds them of being in the womb.

- Keep the room dark. Light exposure can decrease melatonin production (a key sleep-inducing hormone) in both adults and kids. One easy way to promote a healthy sleep pattern for toddlers is to create a dark bedroom environment, therefore encouraging melatonin to work its snooze-inducing magic. When doing so, keep in mind: one study found that children’s eyes let in even more light than adults’ eyes. So what’s dark to your eyes may not be quite as dark to theirs. In some cases, it may be worth installing blackout curtains to block out even more light.

Bedtime meditation for toddlers

In addition to the tips listed above, incorporating elements of meditation and mindfulness into a child’s bedtime routine is often a great way to settle young minds and introduce them to the concept of relaxing and listening to their bodies.

This may be as simple as doing a breathing exercise in bed with your tot before you leave the room, or it could be something with a bit more structure. The Headspace app features a number of different meditations for kids* of all ages, making mindfulness fun and playful.

Take Headspace’s Monster Meditation* series, for example. In this collection of in-app videos, some of Sesame Street’s most beloved characters teach kids how to wind down, explore their senses, and self-soothe.

There are also dedicated meditation exercises for children in age groups 5 and under, 6-8, and 9-12 that cover whether they need to cool off, calm down, or rest. Plus, they get to practice things like kindness and appreciation.

In time, every parent will figure out a bedtime routine that works for them in terms of lifestyle, and for their toddler, in terms of the rituals they like. It may take a bit of trial and error, but eventually you’ll find a way to discover harmony before bed … and a night of uninterrupted sleep.

*available only to Headspace Plus subscribers

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