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Ask the Expert: Why is it important for children to have a bedtime routine?

Ask the Expert: Why is it important for children to have a bedtime routine?

Why is having a bedtime routine for kids so important, especially during this pandemic?

Having a bedtime routine is important for children, but can be especially important in an anxiety-producing time such as the current pandemic, where there are a lot of unknowns and information changes on a daily basis.

The routine helps children to know what to expect, emphasizes the importance of sleep and all the rituals leading up to and including sleep, and hopefully leads to a better quality of sleep because children feel safe, loved and secure in their environment. This will go a long way to establishing healthy sleep habits. Having a routine also offers control to children in terms of predictability and what is going to occur next, which can make bedtime less stressful.

The bedtime routine should include getting ready for bed (bathing, brushing and flossing teeth, putting on pajamas, etc.) and then special time with a parent or guardian in the child’s bedroom. This special time can include reading a book or telling stories, allowing a wind-down period, saying prayers or the equivalent, and then lights off to go off into dreamland. In doing this routine every night, this ritual can bring about sleepiness.

The best environment for sleep is dark, cool and quiet, with no light-emitting electronics in the bedroom. Children should be placed in their own beds in their own bedroom as part of this bedtime ritual to set a pattern or routine that is expected and comforting in the repeatability. Children should not be watching TV or any type of screens at bedtime, as the blue light does affect the brain’s ability to get a good night of sleep and contributes to poor sleep hygiene. What children crave is having time with their parent, knowing they are loved, and having a routine. All of these things can be accomplished at bedtime.

School-age children (ages 5 to 12) need an average of 10 hours of sleep per night, so bedtimes and the beginning of the bedtime routine should be scheduled to meet this goal. Some children may need more or less sleep, and there is also night-to-night variability, but in general 10 hours per night should be the goal for school-age children. Setting a consistent bedtime and wake-up time is important to align expectations.

In summary, having a bedtime routine and giving your child sufficient sleep each night is a free and easy way to help your children combat the anxiety they may be facing during this time of unprecedented change and many unknowns.

If you suspect that your child has a primary sleep issue like sleep apnea (due to snoring and/or breathing abnormalities during sleep) — or is having daytime issues like being too sleepy or too hyperactive or having other behavioral issues as a result of poor sleep — these symptoms should be discussed with your child’s doctor. Poorly controlled anxiety can be the cause or contributor to poor sleep and should be addressed. To learn more about pediatric sleep disorders, visit childrens.uvahealth.com/services/pediatric-sleep.

Dr. Pearl Yu is director of the Pediatric Sleep Disorders Program at UVa Children’s. 

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