The Importance of Bedtime Routines with Children and Youth

Does your child/youth have difficulties falling asleep at night?  Do you find them walking in and out of their room, making several excuses about why they are still awake (“I have to go to the bathroom”, “I am thirsty”, “I forgot to tell you something”)?

Are you a child or youth who has been finding it hard to fall asleep?  Do you have a lot of thoughts that seem to race through your mind, just when you are trying to rest?  Are you waking up tired because you haven’t had a good night’s sleep?

Sleep problems can be very frustrating and can contribute to several challenges, both physically (ex. Fatigue, muscle tension, physical illness) and emotionally (ex. Difficulty concentrating, anxiety, irritability).  As a counsellor and a mother of young ones, I have learned the importance of emphasizing bedtime routines, which include calm activities and relaxation strategies.  Bedtime routines are crucial in training your mind to fall asleep after a sequence of activities that are predictable and consistent.

Bedtime routines will vary from person to person but finding the right routine makes a big difference.  When my son was experiencing difficulties with falling and staying asleep, I dug deep into my clinical resources that I regularly give to my clients and developed the following sleep routine for him:

  1. Hygiene – shower, brush teeth – taking a warm shower has been known to relax tense muscles, reduce swelling, decrease anxiety, regulate body temperature, and relieve pain.  In other words, warm showers have a calming effect that makes it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.  The picture below is helpful in explaining the helpful calming effects of showering (found in http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/shower-at-night-to-sleep-better_us_55ad171ce4b065dfe89ecfb1)

showering and sleep

2. Stretches – simple stretches are helpful to regulate breathing and blood circulation.  We reached for the ceiling and reached for our toes, rotated our necks to each side and forward and backwards, and ended with the bound-angle seated pose.  During these stretches, we made sure that our breaths were deep and controlled.

3. Relaxation – We used a standard muscle relaxation script for young children.  We started from the head and moved down to the shoulders, stomach, fists, legs and feet. The script below was helpful because it combined muscle relaxation with visualization (ex. “Imagine your are squeezing a lemon in both of your hands.  Squeeze them as tight as you can…now, drop the lemons onto the ground”).  https://depts.washington.edu/hcsats/PDF/TF-%20CBT/pages/4%20Emotion%20Regulation%20Skills/Client%20Handouts/Relaxation/Relaxation%20Script%20for%20Younger%20Children.pdf

For older youth, a simpler script with no visualization can be equally helpful and effective.  An example of this can found on several websites, including this one: http://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/docs/Info-PMR.pdf.

This routine really helped my family and I continue to recommend it to my clients’ and their families.  It may seem like a lot of work, but the routine, with rehearsal and repetition, can be condensed to about 10 minutes.  We were also able to incorporate 15 to 20 minutes of reading into the bedtime routine.  The most of important thing to remember is the importance of consistency in order to see improvement in sleep patterns.

Other helpful websites are found below:

http://www.cheo.on.ca/en/Sleep-Youth

http://www.cheo.on.ca/uploads/Sleep%20Pamphlets/Sleep%20for%20youth%20online%20with%20references.pdf

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