Sleep: The importance of a bedtime routine

Sleep: The importance of a bedtime routine
Bedtime routines are still important for school-aged children.

A good night’s sleep promotes learning and growth. A bedtime routine can help children fall asleep and sleep soundly, even after they’ve started school.

Why are bedtime routines still important after age 5?

A bedtime routine helps your child gradually relax their body and mind. It also prepares them for sleep with comforting, soothing, and enjoyable activities that they do every night (e.g., putting on pajamas, brushing their teeth, reading a story). In short, a bedtime routine helps your child get enough sleep every night.

Getting adequate sleep in terms of both quantity and quality is essential for physical and mental health. It promotes healthy childhood development and supports learning. While your child is sleeping, they consolidate what they’ve learned during the day.

More specifically, a good night’s sleep allows your child to do the following:

The right amount of sleep is different for every child. Generally speaking, once a child reaches school age, they will need 10 to 11 hours of sleep a night.
  • Retain newly acquired language and motor skills, information, and problem-solving strategies
  • Enhance their logical reasoning skills
  • Better control their emotions
  • Stay alert throughout the day
  • Focus better and for longer periods of time
  • Be more creative
  • Have more energy throughout the day
  • Establish and maintain good relationships with others
  • Properly develop physically
  • Strengthen their immune system

Helping your child wind down before bedtime

To help your child relax before bedtime, set aside some time every night to transition between the evening’s activities and their bedtime routine. A soothing transition helps your child gently shift gears and gradually prepare for sleep.

Here are a few suggestions for creating a soothing transition:

The important thing is to make the transition to bedtime positive and relaxing.
  • Put away any toys, games, or notebooks used during the evening.
  • Lay out your child’s school outfit for the next day.
  • Play soft music.
  • Have your child take a bath.
  • Read a book with them.
  • Talk to your child (e.g., ask about their favourite part of the day). Keep in mind that this is not the time to broach subjects that could create conflict.

In addition, the hour before bedtime should be calm. During this time, your child should avoid physical activity, like jumping or running, and activities that keep their brain engaged. As a result, you should try to get your child to do their homework as early in the evening as possible.

Likewise, put screens away at least an hour before bedtime, as the bright light tends to keep the brain active, making it harder to fall asleep. Instead, focus on spending time together as a family.

Since digestion can interfere with sleep, try not to put your child to bed too soon after dinner. Ideally, they should be eating dinner two hours before bedtime. From late afternoon onwards, avoid giving your child foods or drinks that contain caffeine (chocolate, chocolate milk, tea, energy drinks, etc.).

A soothing and effective bedtime routine

Help your child develop good routines from morning to night. Download this Kittycat and friends routine! (Resource in French only)

A good bedtime routine is fairly short (15 to 20 minutes) and stays the same from one day to the next, no matter which parent is on bedtime duty. It should start at around the same time every day so that your child gets used to going to bed at a regular time. During the routine, your child can do things like put on their pajamas, brush their teeth, read or listen to a story, and cuddle with you.

Don’t rush through it, or your child will sense your impatience and may resist going to sleep. Keep an eye on the time, however, because kids often try to delay bedtime.

To prepare your child for the end of their routine, you can give them a heads up when there are only five minutes of story time left or when you start reading the last story for the night. It may be helpful to set a timer.

The older your child gets, the more autonomy you can give them during their bedtime routine. Once they get used to it, they’ll be able to do each step without fussing, especially if you introduced the routine at a young age. If not, it’s not too late to start a bedtime routine now. To help your child take responsibility for their routine, you can use pictograms to illustrate each step and the order they should be done in.

What to do if you have two children who share a room

If you have two children who share a bedroom, bedtime can be a challenge, especially if they like to play high-spirited games. To make bedtime go smoother, explain to the older child why it’s important to have a calm transition between the evening’s activities and sleep. Ask them to help you by setting an example for their sibling. This will give them a sense of responsibility, and they’ll feel like a “big kid” showing their younger sibling what to do.

Sleep problems

Your child may feel anxious at bedtime (link in French). If so, take some time to talk to them about what’s bothering them, well before they go to bed. Sleeping with their favourite stuffed animal might make them feel better.

Temporary sleep problems (trouble falling asleep or disturbed sleep, for example) may also appear when your child encounters new situations at school. Establishing a routine, creating a restful environment, and talking about the issue with your child after school should help them sleep more soundly.

However, don’t hesitate to consult a health care professional (family doctor, nurse, psychologist, etc.) if your child’s sleep problems persist or become too difficult for you to handle on your own. Here are a few examples of when to seek professional help:

  • You have concerns about your child’s sleep.
  • You or your partner are overwhelmed by your child’s sleep problems.
  • You believe that your child’s sleep problems are related to a physical health problem (e.g., snoring, sleep apnea, nighttime restlessness) or psychological health problem (e.g., anxiety).

Chronic sleep deprivation can affect many areas of your child’s development. What’s more, the longer sleep problems persist, the harder they are to correct.

The importance of encouraging autonomy

Some children’s sleep problems can be attributed to their parents’ behaviour at bedtime. Well-intentioned parents may unwittingly engage in overprotective behaviours, such as staying with their child until they fall asleep or letting their child sleep in their bed if they wake up at night.
However, it’s important for kids to get used to falling asleep on their own, without an adult around. Of course, as with all behavioural changes, this will take some time for you and your child to get used to. But your efforts will be rewarded. Eventually, if your child wakes up during the night, they’ll have less trouble going back to sleep without help, because they’ll have learned that they can do it on their own.
When children can fall back asleep independently, the length of their night wakings decreases dramatically, and they are able to sleep longer and more soundly.

Things to keep in mind

  • It’s important to create a soothing transition to sleep.
  • Developing a short, consistent bedtime routine that either parent can do helps children fall asleep and get a good night’s rest.
  • It’s never too late to introduce a bedtime routine.
Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Évelyne Touchette, Ph.D., professor/researcher and sleep expert
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: November 2023

Photo: GettyImages/Adene Sanchez

Sources and references

Note: The links to other websites are not updated regularly, and some URLs may have changed since publication. If a link is no longer valid, please use search engines to find the relevant information.

  • American Academy of Pediatrics. “Bedtime routines for school-aged children.” 2013.
  • Learning to sleep like learning to walk.
  • “Routine pictograms.” Learning to sleep like learning to walk. 2022.
  • Centre of Excellence for Early Childhood Development and Strategic Knowledge Cluster on Early Child Development. Eyes on Sleeping Behaviour: Good Sleep, for Good Growth. 2014.
  • CHU Sainte-Justine. Hygiène du sommeil pour l’enfant de 2 à 12 ans : information sur le sommeil destinée aux parents. 2021.
  • Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development. “Sleeping behaviour.” 2020.
  • Leroux, Rémi. “Les écrans nuisent au sommeil.” 2014.
  • Lund, L., et al. “Electronic media use and sleep in children and adolescents in western countries: A systematic review.” BMC Public Health, vol. 21, no. 1, 1598, 2021.
  • Petit, Dominique, et al. “Sleep: An unrecognized actor in child development.” Québec Longitudinal Study of Child Development (QLSCD 1998–2010). Quebec City, Institut de la statistique du Québec, vol. 5, fascicle 2, 2010.
  • “Positive bedtime routines: Babies, children and teenagers.” Raising Children Network. 2022.
  • Touchette, Évelyne, et al. “Factors associated with fragmented sleep at night across early childhood.” Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, vol. 159, no. 3, pp. 242–249, March 2005.