Top 10 Bedtime Routine Hacks for Toddlers

Do you feel like you’re gearing up for the final battle every night when it’s time for your kids to go to bed? Toddler sleep schedules can be chaotic. Thankfully, there are some tricks of the trade you can learn that will help ease the situation.

Toddler asleep on a bed cuddling a plush toy

Getting your toddler into a habitual bedtime routine is the key to establishing a consistent sleep schedule he can stick to. In this post, we’ve come up with 10 of the best bedtime routine hacks for you to try with your little one. Hopefully, these will get him to sleep in no time and get your nighttime stress levels down to healthier levels.

1. Do the Same Thing Every Night

There’s something highly effective about following the same routine every night on a consistent basis. It not only enables your toddler to memorize his bedtime routine in his conscious memory, but also subconsciously. When he goes through the steps of his nightly routine, his brain gives his body signals to feel sleepy because it already knows what’s coming next based on what it learned from the past.

Write down the steps in your toddler’s routine so that you have a list of tasks and a start time and an end time. Keep this for you, and follow the next tip to put the routine on display for your little one.

2. Put It On the Wall

Use a whiteboard, chalkboard or bulletin board that displays your child’s nighttime routine as a step-by-step timeline. Use picture representations so your child can understand what each step is. Depending on whether you used a whiteboard or a bulletin board type of system for your bedtime routine wall display, set it up so that your child can “check off” each task in the routine as he goes. Make it as interactive as possible, so that your child can make a checkmark or tack place a piece of felt over a picture on a bulletin board. This helps them stay motivated and always coming back to the next task once they’ve completed one.

3. Have a Bedtime Routine Song

Create a bedtime routine song you can sing together with your toddler as you go about the steps in your bedtime routine. Use a classic tune and insert your own lyrics describing the steps of the routine. For example, you could sing, “bathtime, pajama time, brushing teeth, book and hug and we’re off to sleep,” to the tune of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” Sing the song as you go along, to help reinforce the routine and direct your toddler what to do next.

4. Give Her Soothing Bedtime Herbs

Parents and grandparents have given children chamomile and other herbs before bed for centuries. They’re safe and gentle, yet they still have medicinal-like effects. Traditionally, children often drank herbal tea before bed. You can give your toddler chamomile tea or passion fruit tea in place of water at dinnertime, since these are both mild-tasting, calming, nerve-soothing herbs.

5. Diffuse Essential Oils

Certain essential oils, such as orange oil and chamomile oil, promote sleep by helping to regulate your child’s sleep-wake cycle. In fact, inhaling these essential oils is proven in studies to improve sleep quality and length. Get a small diffuser for your toddler’s room, and run it with a few drops of calming essential oils, starting 30 minutes before bed. Diffusers help distribute the therapeutic molecules in the essential oils into the air throughout the room so that your toddler can safely inhale it without it being overpowering. Let the diffuser go off automatically when the water is gone, or turn it off once your child falls asleep.

6. Wind Down with a Relaxing Bath Time

Including your toddler’s bath time as part of his bedtime routine can add a relaxing element to the routine, since warm water can help him wind down. You can also incorporate music and bedtime aromatherapy essential oils into his bath, to make bath time even more relaxing and therapeutic.

7. Sleepytime Baby Oil Massage

Baby oil massages aren’t just for babies. Baby oil products or homemade baby oil mixtures are great for toddlers to use before bed, especially if they contain “bedtime” essential oils like chamomile oil or bergamot oil. These lower stress hormones and activates the part of your nervous system that deals with rest and relaxation. Essential oils have been shown in studies to help children fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer, and they’re good for his skin at the same time.

Massage your toddler after his bath by rubbing him down with bedtime baby oil. As part of his regular routine before getting pajamas on, it starts to train his brain and body to recognize the scent in correlation with bedtime, which helps it induce sleepiness even more.

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8. Keep Screens off and Lights Dimmed for 2 Hours

The blue light from screens like TV screens, computer monitors, tablets and smartphones enters your toddler’s eyes and disrupts the brain’s normal release of hormones, preventing the sleep-inducing hormone known as melatonin to flood the brain. Keep your little one away from any screens, even if it’s just a TV that’s on while he’s playing or trotting around the house. 

Lighting matters a lot when it comes to the brain’s sleep-wake cycle. Utilize dimmers or turn off about half the lights in your home about 2 hours before bedtime. This will get your toddler’s body clock on track for sleep.

9. Make Sure He’s Dressed Appropriately For Bed

One of the main reasons kids wake up in the middle of the night or the early hours of the morning is that they’re cold. If a child’s arms and legs get cold, so too will the rest of their body, causing them to waken the night. For warmer climates it’s best to dress kids in light, breathable material such as organic cotton or moisture-wicking bamboo fabric. See our guide about what babies and kids should wear to bed.

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10. Read Going-to-Bed-Themed Bedtime Stories

Your toddler probably loves being read to before bed. Many children’s books are geared toward a “going to bed” theme, in which the main character is preparing for bed, or going on some sort of hero’s journey, and ultimately ending up in their bed for a good night’s sleep. Reading your toddler a book about getting ready for bed can help get his brain and body thinking about going to sleep. Plus, the book can stir conversations about feeling tired, getting cozy in bed, seeing the sky getting dark outside, and so on.

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11. Commit to the Bedtime Routine and Hold Your Ground

If you want your toddler’s bedtime routine to become habitual for him, then don’t let him disrupt, cheat or get out of the routine. Many toddlers revolt against routines, but what they’re really doing is testing their boundaries. When your toddler throws a tantrum because he doesn’t want to brush his teeth or put on pajamas, what he’s really doing is testing how firmly you’ll hold him to the structure of his nightly routine. Structure and routine make toddlers feel safe and secure at a stage when they’re discovering newfound independence all the time. Commit to the bedtime routine not just as a plan but as a discipline, and you’ll see the results pay off not just in your child’s sleeping patterns, but also in his behavior.

Best Practices for Toddler Bedtime Routines

Involving your toddler early on in the bedtime routine process can help her become more independent sooner, and accomplish the tasks in her routine all on her own when she’s ready. Plus, it winds her down for bed and the repetitive routine night after night trains her subconscious for sleep. It takes an effort to see results, because you need to stick to the routine. However, it pays off for both you and your toddler. While she gains the benefit of establishing a routine and learning the value of habits, you get to do without the extra stress that bedtime often brings.

 

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