How to create a stress-free bedtime routine
In the Night Garden has teamed up with Mandy Gurney, Founder of Millpond Children's Sleep Clinic to provide top tips on adjusting young children's body clocks for when the clocks change, and establishing an effective, happy and stress-free bedtime routine.
Move your child's body clock
In the two weeks before the clocks change delay the start of your child's bedtime routine, putting them to bed 15 minutes later than usual. After three or four nights of the new time, shift bedtime again by another 15 minutes and continue repeating this process until the bedtime has moved an hour later. Don't worry if your child still wakes at the same time in the morning, by slowly shifting their body clock you will find the morning will soon catch up. Nap, meal and milk times all need to be adjusted in the same way too.
Be melatonin savvy
Light has an enormous influence on our body clocks and on the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, so get children outside in the afternoon light for some outdoors play to keep them up a bit later at bedtime.
Wind down with relaxing activities in the half hour before the start of your bedtime routine. Many children love to watch In the Night Garden so now is an ideal time to soothe them with the programme, or new web app. It's important to time their screen time carefully and turn off all TVs, tablets and computers an hour before they go to sleep. Recent research has shown that bright light from screens can interfere with the production of the sleep hormone, melatonin.
Get your routine right
About 30 to 40 minutes before your child goes to bed, carry out the same steps every night - make this routine your bedtime ritual. Having a regular routine means your child's body will start to prepare for sleep as soon as you start this process.
Give children a warm, relaxing bath lasting no longer than 10 minutes. But this should not be playtime as this could over stimulate your tired child. Washing hands and cleaning teeth can be done in the bathroom before you all go straight into the bedroom. Do not go back into the living area, as you will lose the focus and magic of the routine.
Dim the lights in the bedroom ready for your return from the bath, as this will help with the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
Dress for bed
Have all your little ones' night clothes ready for your return from the bathroom so they can quickly get dressed and climb into bed.
Read one or two stories or sing a gentle lullaby. Have a cuddle and kiss goodnight and tuck them in with their favourite soft toy so they are warm and cosy.
Now that they're drowsy, leave the bedroom so that they learn to fall asleep independently. Your child should be asleep about 15 minutes later.
When can I get up?
Young children have no idea when they can get up and play, a simple low watt bulb light, plugged into a timer switch in their room will help them to know it's morning. Set the light to come on 15 minutes later than usual, explaining they must stay in bed until the light comes on, even if it means you have to stay in the room with them initially. If your child stays in bed offer them plenty of praise. As bedtime moves back, shift the timer switch later. Don't be tempted to move any quicker as your child may struggle to wait and it won't work.
Delay your child's morning milk and breakfast by 15 minutes every few days, so they don't wake early expecting food. Avoid the temptation of giving your child a feed if they wake too early, in the hope that will get them back to sleep; you are more likely to just set up bad habits for the future.