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The Importance of Sleep Routines for Young Children

By Rachel Morgan ; Updated June 13, 2017

Lack of sleep isn't just a problem for busy adults. Kids of all ages are not getting an adequate amount of sleep, affecting both their development and behavior. The National Sleep Foundation reports that 25 percent of infants, toddlers and preschoolers are sleepy during the day, and 30 percent of school-aged kids have trouble getting up in the morning. Establishing soothing bedtime routines helps keep young children from becoming part of these statistics.

Importance of Sleep

It's clear sleep is essential, but why it is so vital isn't fully understood. Multiple theories point to why sleep is necessary for survival. Certain physiological processes occur primarily -- if not completely -- during sleep, including muscle growth, the release of growth hormone and tissue repair, according to Harvard Medical School's Division of Sleep Medicine. Another theory, involving a concept known as brain plasticity, points to certain changes in the brain that occur during sleep. These changes, affecting both the organization and structure of the brain, play a key role in the development of young children. Inadequate sleep not only affects kids' growth and development but also behavior, contributing to daytime hyperactivity and misbehavior.

Routines for Young Children

Bedtime routines play an important role in young kids. These nightly rituals help ease separation anxiety that sometimes occurs in little ones. Certain activities, such as a soothing bath or nightly story, also help children relax for bed. Stimulating activities -- including watching television or playing video games -- aren't effective or wise bedtime routines. In fact, they are detrimental to sleep. Kids with televisions in their rooms go to bed each night about 20 minutes later, according to Laurie Weinreb-Welch, MPH, CHES, a Pennsylvania State University Extension educator. This adds up to more than two hours of lost sleep a week, which is unlikely to be made up.

Infant and Toddler Routines

Babies also benefit from bedtime routines. One study, published in May 2009 in the journal "Sleep," found that nightly rituals have multiple positive impacts on the sleeping habits of infants and toddlers. Mothers participating in the research gave their babies a bath and massage. They also cut out the lights 30 minutes after the bath. Cuddling and singing lullabies were incorporated into the routine as well. The study's findings suggest that these rituals help infants fall asleep quicker and wake up less often. These bedtime routines benefit toddlers in the same way and also improve their moods in the morning.

Encouraging Sleep

If you're having trouble getting your young child to sleep at night, there are things you can do to encourage him to settle down. Don't give your child caffeinated products or large amounts of food before bed as this can disrupt sleep. Keep activities before bedtime quiet and calm; don't let him play games, watch television or participate in other activities that stimulate his senses. Stick to a consistent bedtime. Ensure your child's bedroom is conducive to sleep. It should be dark and have a comfortable room temperature. A small nightlight is okay to use in the bedroom.

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