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Why the Hour Before Bedtime Is So Crucial for Your Child’s Sleep

Ashley Abramson

March 4, 20244 minutes

If you have kids, sleep can be hard to come by. One way to help everybody in your home feel a bit more rested? Incorporate a simple bedtime routine into your evening. By creating a predictable PM schedule of calming activities, especially in the hour leading up to bedtime, you can help your little one wind down before bed — which, hopefully, results in more shut-eye for everybody. 

Below, learn more about the role of bedtime routines for babies and kids, and how to kickstart your own family bedtime rituals for better sleep, according to a sleep doctor. 

Why bedtime routines are so important 

Kids, in general, thrive with routine. “Some flexibility in life can be good, but having a routine makes kids feel more confident, assured of what’s happening next, and probably more willing to engage in the activity that’s planned,” says Jessee Dietch, Ph.D., a behavioral sleep psychologist, researcher at Oregon State University, and Hatch medical advisor.

Bedtime routines are important for everyone because they help our bodies and minds prepare for sleep. Think of the bedtime routine as a buffer between the busy, wakeful activities of the day and the restful state of mind needed for falling asleep. “Our brains and bodies aren’t a lightswitch,” says Dr. Dietch. “You can’t just go from being up and alert and active all day to asleep immediately. There has to be a transition period.” 

A Tip From Hatch: You can use the Time-for-Bed feature on your Hatch app to help cue your child that it’s time to slow down and get ready to slumber. Set up a light and sound combo that they will begin to associate with their wind-down time.  

With bedtime rituals, consistency is everything. Your kiddo’s brain will eventually start to associate your nightly activities with bedtime, Dr. Dietch explains, ultimately forming a new pathway that ideally makes it easier to fall asleep when the time comes. Trying out a simple bedtime routine can be beneficial for children of all ages -- even very young babies. 

All humans, even newborns, are very good at making connections. Dr. Dietch says that parents can start new babies off with small routines -- things like reading a book, playing soothing sounds, or rocking them -- to try to create a connection between those cues and sleep time. It’s consistency rather than complexity that matters. But having a newborn can sometimes be about getting by and getting whatever sleep you can, she says, so don’t worry if a sleep routine comes later. While it might take time to find what works for your child, soothing bedtime rituals form the building blocks of comfort and connection.

Forming your own night-time routine 

Every kid and family is different, so there’s no hard-and-fast rule about when to start the bedtime routine. At a minimum, Dr. Dietch recommends dedicating 15 or 20 minutes to helping your child transition into sleep mode — but some children may do best with up to an hour, depending on their needs. “Some kids need a long time to unwind and will need to get out the last bit of energy at the end of the day,” she says. “It’s worth experimenting and seeing how they respond.” 

Your child may sleep better if you end screen time an hour or so before bed — blue light emitted from screens can inhibit hormones that help us fall asleep — but not all screen time is “bad.” If your kid is watching a show before bed, focus on calming shows instead of ones that might cause anxiety or excitement. 

As for what to do before bed, when and how often you engage in bedtime activities is more important than the “what.” You can focus on getting energy out if your kids have the wiggles — Dr. Dietch suggests trying yoga, stretching, or even just jumping and running around the house before bed if needed. You can also add in hygiene-related tasks, like brushing teeth, taking a bath, or going potty, plus relaxing activities like snuggling, calm music, or storytime. 

No matter what you choose, try to be as consistent as possible to help your child’s brain form new sleep-promoting pathways — but don’t stress too much about doing it perfectly. “Some flexibility is fine, as long as the general order, cadence, and approach are the same,” says Dr. Dietch. 

And if you don’t have an official bedtime routine in place now, know even small changes can make a big difference. Dr. Dietch recommends adding one or two new bedtime activities into the hour before sleep to start — anything you can do consistently for a few weeks or months. Then, as your kids get used to the change, try building a few new components into the nightly ritual. “Try to gently introduce consistency into your routine,” says Dr. Dietch. “It doesn’t have to happen all at once.”