How to Create a Successful Nighttime Routine for Easy School Mornings

Mother reading to son
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Parenting is messy and complicated and can be stressful at times. Many of us are looking for ways to make our lives easier. Whether you send your child to daycare or school, there are ways to ensure that transition is seamless.

A successful nighttime routine can make all the difference in keeping school mornings smooth and stress-free. We’ve turned to the experts to share their knowledge on how and why you need a predictable nighttime routine to ensure an efficient morning the next day. Keep reading to see how a nutritious dinner, a bedtime checklist, and a consistent routine can set your family up for success.

Set a Good Foundation With a Healthy Diet

Make sure your child has proper nutrition and a full belly, which will help them sleep longer and more deeply. Start the nighttime routine on the right foot by choosing nutritious, filling foods for your child’s dinner and bedtime snack.

Choosing healthy proteins, fats, and fruits can also help little ones go and stay asleep. “Quality proteins with dinner, including turkey and oily fish such as salmon, can improve sleep quality,” says Nikki Hurst, MD, an Occupational Therapist at Embodied. “Avoid sugary foods where possible, as well as foods that might contain caffeine such as chocolate, before bed. Nuts, cherries, and kiwis have been shown to improve ease of falling asleep and can make great options for dessert.”

Something your child has been drinking since infancy can also help. “Milk has been shown to contain tryptophan which can assist with sleep,” says Dr. Hurst. “A single glass with dinner or before bed as part of the nighttime routine could potentially help with sleep.”

Create an Evening Routine

Creating a routine and schedule is very important for children to feel comfortable and safe.

“Research shows that family routines support healthy social and emotional development,” says Carole Kramer Arsenault, founder of Boston Baby Nurse & Nanny. “Whether with a parent or a nanny, children benefit from relationships and environments that are predictable to them. Routines provide kids with security, and with the current uncertainty of the pandemic, security is a good thing.”

Getting your child to wind down, whether they are a toddler or a teenager, can seem like a daunting task. But rituals are important and lead to better sleep. “Have a family book club and read a few pages of a book together each night,” suggests Arsenault. “Have a mini yoga session for winding down or learn simple breathing techniques that calm and relax the nervous system.”

It’s also important to keep a consistent bedtime and wake time, even on the weekends. “Stick to a regular sleep schedule as much as possible, including on weekends,” adds Dr. Hurst. “This establishes a consistent sleep cycle for your child.”

For newborns, give a bath with a relaxing product, like Baby Dove's Calming Nights Tip to Toe Wash. It has no phthalates, parabens, or sulfates, but it does have a calming chamomile scent. Follow with a full body massage to soothe them into sleep.

For toddlers, start with a bath, move into potty time, brushing teeth, and then choosing and reading a few books together. Read in a dimly lit room in a rocking chair or their bed. Putting their white noise machine on low while you read will signal to them that it's almost time to go to sleep.

Since many toddlers try to resist bedtime, keep focused by having a checklist or chart of things “to do” before bed. Checking off things can focus a younger child, as well as keep things moving at a steady pace. "Some children may like the assistance of a visual schedule or checklist that they can help ‘check off,’” adds Dr. Hurst.

Start Bedtime Early

A bedtime routine can easily get derailed with an unscheduled potty break or a few extra books snuck into the pile to be read. Start early, so as a parent, you’re not panicking that your child isn’t in bed by a certain time.

Finding the exact right bedtime for your child may take some trial and error. Look for cues like your child yawning or rubbing their eyes. Overtired children tend to get fussy and fight sleep, so try to find the sweet spot before that happens.

Every child is different, but a general rule of thumb for children 9 to 12 months is a four-hour maximum wake window. For children ages 1 to 2, it increases to five hours. For children ages 2 to 3, the maximum wake window is six hours, according to pediatric sleep consultant, Lauren Wolf of Lolo Lullaby.

Also, prepare for bedtime in advance. “Avoid the use of screens (including iPads, phones, and television) at least one hour before bedtime,” says Dr. Hurst. “This prevents blue light from interfering with the sleep cycle, and helps children wind down their minds to prepare for bed.”

For kids of all ages, taking a shower or bath at night is a great time saver in the morning, when things are more hectic and rushed. In addition to saving time, it can help them wind down at night. “A bath can be a calming and relaxing activity for the child to prepare their bodies for sleep," says Dr. Hurst.

Choosing fun bedding together can make a toddler or older child feel more in charge of their bedtime. We especially love this jungle print crib sheet from Rookie Humans.

Prep for The Mornings

Preparing for mornings ahead of time will help ensure you and your child get a good night’s sleep. By checking off to dos, making reminders, and planning ahead, your mind will be able to relax and recharge at night.

Some examples to prepare for the morning is to pack homework, make lunches in advance, and lay out outfits. This will help make mornings less rushed. “A nighttime routine is so important to helping manage our chaotic mornings,” says New Jersey-based Jennifer Turrone, an 8th-grade math teacher and mother to Mackenzie, 5, and Tyler, 2.

Though mornings will always be somewhat stressful, doing as much as you can the night before will save time. “Everyone's lunch is made the night before (parents too!)," Turrone shares. "My husband and I both have jobs that we cannot be late for—we are both teachers—so every minute counts. The only thing we have to do in the morning is to grab the lunch box and an ice pack from the freezer and throw it into a backpack. Water bottles are also filled the night before and we just drop in an ice cube in the morning.”

Try to gather and pre-pack any necessary items like sports equipment or homework. “Pack bags and gather any items needed for the following school day the night before,” says Arsenault. “Load up the backpacks, make sure all papers and homework get into the bag, and have them ready by the door. Load any big items into the car the night before if needed.”

By pre-planning lunches and packing homework, there will be less of a chance of things getting forgotten or misplaced as well.

Allow Your Children to Help

Toddlers, especially, love to feel like they have some control, so allow them to help out at night. Their brains and bodies are quickly changing, and they will love extra responsibility.

“After getting in pajamas, we pick out clothes for the next day,” says Turrone. “To avoid arguments in the morning (I don't like that shirt, I don't want to wear pants, etc.) I let my daughter choose with me. I pick out a few appropriate items (I try to stay away from dresses on gym days and white on art days!), and she actually does 'eeny, meeny, miny, moe.'" Although she admits her daughter sometimes "cheats" and picks what she really wants to wear, the extra two minutes it takes to play this "game" are well worth avoiding any morning meltdowns.

Another tip is to check the weather together with your child to ensure you pick temperature-appropriate clothing. “This will help you with clothing battles as your kids get older by getting this foundational skill in place early!” adds Arsenault.

Keep an Open Mind

With children, not everything goes to plan. Schedules get delayed and bedtimes get pushed back. “Part of not going completely insane is embracing the crazy!” says Turrone.

Have an open mind that your children are probably stalling bedtime to spend more time with you, and that a couple of minutes won’t make or break a schedule. However, consistent routines and a predictable flow at bedtime will help both nights and mornings become more enjoyable, and less stressful. Try incorporating healthy fats with dinner to keep your kid's bellies full, a calming scent at bath time, and reducing screentime before bed.

With these helpful tips, you'll be on the way to a successful nighttime routine and easier mornings ahead.

A Word From Verywell

Although everyone’s bedtime routine may be slightly different, the key is consistency. Having a set routine will help relax your child and prepare them for bed. Making sure some, if not all, morning tasks are prepped and ready to go—lunches packed, outfits picked—will ensure more restful nights and less stressful mornings.

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6 Sources
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