Transitioning your kids to a new bedtime may seem daunting, especially when you’re pressed for time (you returned from vacation the night before you need to go back to work) or you have a new schedule (your child starts kindergarten in a week).
I’ve always been a little crazy about my kids’ sleep schedule (I’m *that* mom who always plans events around my kids’ nap schedules), but it’s easy during busy seasons to get off track. Sometimes, a consistent sleep routine (or changing to a new sleep routine) can be really stressful.
If you’re struggling to get your kids on a better sleep schedule, here are some great tips.
How to Create a New Sleep Schedule for Your Kids
1. Figure out how much sleep your kids need
Every child is different, but experts recommend that children should have a certain amount of sleep based on their age.
My Baby Sleep Guide has a great chart that breaks down the total amount of sleep children need every 24 hours, the number of naps they should take, and even a general feeding schedule for babies.
2. Work backward from your ideal wake-up time
If you have to be out the door at a certain time every morning (or if your child regularly wakes at a certain time, regardless of his bedtime), use your child’s ideal wake-up time as your starting point. Based on the amount of sleep that your child needs, work backward to find his ideal bedtime.
For example, during the school year, my son needs to wake at 6:30 a.m. in order to have time to get ready for school. Since he needs 11-12 hours of sleep every night, he goes to bed at 7:00 p.m.
3. Make the bedtime routine fun for everyone
In a pinch, I can get my kids ready for bed in about 15 – 20 minutes, but that usually includes a lot of whining and frustration on all accounts. If you make the bedtime routine fun, everyone will be happier.
As you’re creating your kids’ bedtime routine, think about what you’d like to include in addition to the necessities. Instead of just trying to cram in cleanup, baths, medications, and brushing teeth, think about what you would enjoy, like letting each child choose a book to read, family snuggle time, and singing songs.
When you’re choosing your child’s bedtime, make sure you allow enough time to get everything done in your bedtime routine. We typically start winding down an hour before bedtime. This gives us enough time to spend a few minutes picking up the day’s toys, take baths (with time to play), read, snuggle, and sing songs. It’s a full routine, but we all enjoy it.
4. Transition your kids to their new bedtime
Once you determine your kids’ ideal bedtime, you’ll need to get them to start going to bed (and fall asleep) at the right time.
There are two popular methods to start your kids on a new bedtime. Both have their perks (and flaws).
Gradually transition your kids
Of the two methods to start your kids on a new bedtime routine, a gradual transition is usually calmer and gentler. Once you determine your ideal bedtime, move your current bedtime 15 minutes earlier every night until you reach your ideal bedtime.
The 15-minute transition is great if you have a lot of time before you need to adjust your bedtime, like in the month before school starts. However, if your bedtime briefly changed while you were on vacation, it may be difficult to get the kids accustomed to their former bedtime.
Abruptly set a new bedtime
If you only have one night before you need to start your new bedtime routine, or if you just got off schedule (like staying up late one night over the weekend), an abrupt change to your bedtime routine may be best.
To abruptly change your child’s bedtime, put him to bed at his ideal bedtime. If he stayed up late the night before, he may be tired and quickly fall asleep. However, if he is used to staying up late and sleeping in, he may have trouble falling asleep. In those cases, the rule in our house is that the kids don’t have to go to sleep, but they do have to stay in their beds. I let them play quietly in their beds until they fall asleep on their own. This causes a lot less heartache (my daughter’s bed could rival our local library, but at least she’s quiet). Even so, expect some crankiness the next day when the kids get up at their new time!
Over the summer, I was a little lax on the kids’ bedtime. Most of the time, the kids were in bed at 8:00. Even so, there were some nights, like on the Fourth of July, when they went to bed after 10:00 p.m.
On July 5, I put my kids to bed early (they were exhausted), so the abrupt bedtime worked well. However, as we get closer to the first day of school, I used the incremental bedtime routine to transition back to their ideal bedtime. It took about a week to get my kids used to going to bed at 7:00 and waking up early to get ready for school.
5. Be consistent with your kids’ bedtime
It’s easy to get off your regular bedtime routine, but kids crave consistency. Even on weekends, I try to put my kids to bed at the same time. Especially during the school year, kids need to get the right amount of sleep and follow a routine.
Kids are healthier and less cranky when they get the right amount of sleep. By following a consistent schedule, you’ll have healthier, happier kids (and probably a healthier and happier you, too).
Revamp your own bedtime routine
While I’ve always been a stickler for following a strict bedtime routine for my kids, I haven’t always been so diligent with my own bedtime routine.
One thing that’s helped me become more intentional about my own routine is the Make Over Your Evenings course. You’ll all feel better if you stick to a consistent routine that ensures you’re getting enough sleep.
Creating an intentional evening routine (for myself and my kids) has been such a game changer. We’re in better moods throughout the day and our home feels more organized.
Everything seems to run smoother when you have a great bedtime routine in place!