The best bedtime routines for children and teens

The best bedtime routines for children and teens

Helping kids get a good night’s sleep is so important for their physical and mental health, but the bedtime struggle can be very real, whether you have a toddler or a teenager! The activities and routines you establish for the time period leading up to sleep create the foundation for helping kids fall asleep and stay asleep all night. While children may resist new routines or bedtime structure, especially if they aren’t used to it, stick with the plan and it will get easier for them and for you.

Set the stage

While you might not think about sleep until you’re rushing to get the kids in bed, the reality is that good sleep requires some pre-planning throughout the evening hours. Here are some ways to set the foundation for sleep before bedtime even comes around. 

  • Avoid high energy potentially over-stimulating activities in the hours leading up to bedtime. For younger kids this means limiting activities like rough-housing or running around, loud games or toys, or outings with a lot of people later in the day. It may seem like “wearing them out” with intense physical activity is a good idea, but this actually backfires and makes it more difficult for children to wind down and sleep. If you have older children or teens this means avoiding vigorous exercise in the evening, limiting intense video games or movies, or even doing stressful homework later at night. 
  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening. Children shouldn’t be drinking caffeine anytime, but this can be a common issue for pre-teens and teens. Teach them how caffeine takes times to exit the body, and how it can interfere with sleep when ingested later in the day.
  • Create a calm physical environment in the evenings. This could include dimming the lights or turning on lamps instead of brighter overhead lights. Playing softer calming music also supports winding down later in the day.
  • Use the Apollo wearable on Relax and Unwind mode to set the stage for an easier bedtime transition. It helps kids of all ages settle so they are more willing and able to get in bed and fall asleep. Make sure you’re using this yourself to keep you calmer and more regulated as you navigate the end of the day with your children. A calmer parent is better able to facilitate a calmer bedtime for everyone.

Bedtime basics

You’ve probably heard about the importance of a bedtime routine for children, and it’s true that this really is key. Routines benefit all of us, but children especially thrive on predictable patterns of activity and connection. If you have a child or teen who tends to be anxious, routines are especially important because they allow them to know what’s coming and feel safe with that consistency. Here are some ways to build a great bedtime routine for your children:

  • Start the bedtime routine about an hour before you actually want your kids in bed. This avoids the stress of rushing, which can create power struggles and definitely gets in the way of falling asleep.
  • Determine the appropriate bedtime based on your child’s age and stage of development, and stick with that consistently. They should be getting to bed at the same time every night, with obvious exceptions for things like special events or illness. This consistency helps their brain and body get into a predictable rhythm, which is essential for falling asleep more easily at night and waking up more easily in the morning.
  • Have a consistent list of things that get done in the time leading up to bed. This typically includes things like eating a snack, taking a bath or shower, brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, reading a book, etc. Figure out what makes sense for your child and family, and then create a consistent structure around those things. Kids often respond better to having some choice and control, so you can determine the things that get done in the routine but allow them to have a say in the order of things and how they do them.
  • A bedtime snack can be very helpful for supporting sleep in children. Make sure it’s something with protein, healthy fat, and steady carbs – not something with a lot of sugar. Great options include apple slices or a banana with nut butter, Greek yogurt with berries and granola, whole grain crackers or toast with cheese slices, or trail mix with nuts and raisins.
  • Turn off devices about an hour before bed (even sooner for young children). The light and mental stimulation from screen time leading up to sleep makes it more difficult for kids (and adults) to feel tired and fall asleep. Opt for activities like reading, listening to music, or even watching a show on a TV that isn’t close to their face. For middle and high school age kids who may have homework, make a plan for them to get that done at least 45 minutes before bedtime so they get a break from the screens and can mentally wind down. Speaking of devices and screens, they don’t belong in the bedroom with kids of any age at night. Not only do they interfere with good quality sleep, but there can be significant safety issues as well. Make and enforce a plan for where devices get stored before bed and through the night.
  • Once kids are in bed, use Apollo in Sleep and Renew mode to relax your child’s brain and body, and support falling and staying asleep all night long. You can schedule for Apollo to run all night if needed, or just during the first hour or so they are in bed. I find that the Clip is great for nighttime use, as it allows you to place the Apollo on your child’s pajama waistband or wherever it’s most comfortable for them. 

Getting enough good quality sleep each night is essential to support growth and development in children and teens. Establishing healthy consistent bedtime routines is a key part of reducing bedtime stress and ensuring kids get the sleep they need. Don’t get overwhelmed with it! Start with one strategy, implement it consistently, and then build from there. Any steps you take to establish consistent healthy sleep routines for your children will pay off now and as they grow into adulthood.