Department of Family Services

Fairfax County, Virginia

CONTACT INFORMATION: Monday–Friday 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m.

TTY 711

12011 Government Center Parkway, Pennino Building
Fairfax, VA 22035

Michael A. Becketts,

Routines for Bedtime: Six Tips for Sleep Success

(Posted 2019 October, Updated 2022 October)

Bedtime Routine Child Sleeping in BedIs bedtime a struggle in your home? Do your children try to stay up late? Do they worry about nightmares or being left alone?                              

You are not alone! DFS Parenting Education Programs’ staff say these are common struggles for many parents. Good news — a regular bedtime routine can create a sense of security that makes it easier for children to sleep. It will absolutely be worth it for you AND them to get more quality rest.

Natalie Bailey, a facilitator with PEP, said, “It’s never too late to develop a nighttime ritual for your children. Overall, a well-rested child is a happier, healthier child!” So, here are some tips on where to get started:

child playing soccer1. A good night’s sleep begins during the daytime.

  • After sitting all day at school, children need to move.
  • Daily physical activity helps children to wind down quicker at night.
  • Limit time on electronic devices and TV/YouTube viewing to encourage active outdoor play.
  • As bedtime approaches introduce calmer activities.

2. Provide a snack well before bedtime.

  • If you have an early dinner, children might be hungry again before bedtime, especially during a growth spurt.
  • Give their stomachs time to digest the food, and avoid giving them snacks with sugar or caffeine.
  • Ensure they get plenty of water throughout the day, and then cut off drinks well before bedtime to eliminate trips to use the bathroom.

clock3. Establish a consistent time to be in their beds.

  • Stick to the same bedtime each evening and keep the exceptions to a minimum.
  • Young children need more sleep than older children. Bedtimes can differ by age.
  • Set a time to turn off screens before bed and stick to it so it isn’t a nightly battle.

4. Prepare children for the transition to bedtime.

  • Remind children 10-15 minutes before they should begin getting ready for bed.
  • Build in time to bathe or wash-up. Make the soap, wash cloth, and towel easily available.
  • Include toothbrushing time.
  • Children may need your help/supervision with their hygiene until they are 11 years old.

child reading5. A soothing storytime can help children fall asleep.

  • Build in time to read or tell age-appropriate bedtime stories. Make sure they are comforting rather than too exciting or scary.
  • Recap all the good things that the child did that day. Tell your child how proud you are to be their parent.
  • Use gentle touch to massage or rub the backs of your children while talking to them.

6. Lights Out? Address fears with empathy.

  • Leaving a small light on or playing soft music can encourage rest and sleep.
  • You can’t make your children go to sleep. Try to get to the bottom of what is causing them to stay awake. Encourage them to think positive thoughts or talk to you if something is troubling them. Be supportive, because being able to talk to you can help to relieve their worries.
  • It is common for children to have REAL fears of the dark, or monsters, or being left alone at night. These fears often come from feelings of insecurity. Be supportive. Don't tell your child it is all in their head and there is nothing to be afraid of. Instead say, "Being scared at night is common. What can I do to help you feel comfortable?"
  • If necessary, set up a sleeping bag next to your bed, or have children share one room. For younger children, jumping into the parents' bed is great reassurance that the world is a safe place. Don’t worry! This phase won’t last forever.

Stick with this bedtime routine to connect with your children and help settle them down to rest.

Return to the Parenting Education Programs' Back to School Routines series' page to learn more tips.

The Parenting Education Programs is now enrolling for upcoming classes. Join us for more information about positive and effective ways parents can interact with their children at every age and stage of development. We would love to hear from you. If you have questions or feedback about the topic in this article email us.

Content in this article is based on the Parenting Education Programs class curriculum: Establishing Nurturing Parenting Routines. Nurturing Program for Parents and Their School Age Children 5 to 11 years (p. 92-95) by Stephen J Bavolek, Ph.D.

This posting is part of the Department of Family Services' Community Corner where you’ll find timely information about upcoming events, parenting and wellness tips, programs and services, and more! Share these helpful posts with your friends and family. Don't miss out on future postings; sign-up today!

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