Why having a bedtime routine is so important for children (and parents)
Interview with Elena The Nanny, certified child sleep consultant
Why is the bedtime routine so important for children and parents? For sure, if the former do not sleep, neither will the latter. But, as we all know, sleep is key for good physical and mental health. No wonder why we, as parents, will look for any tips on how to make baby sleep through the night…
Children who get enough sleep have generally better memory, attention behavior, and overall health. In general, a good night’s rest helps to regulate the rhythms of life, to settle the sleep-wake cycle during the day and to control the nutritional intake. Especially the naps that structure the day of the little ones promote a healthy combination of bedtime and feeding. Furthermore, as many scientific studies confirm, getting enough good sleep strengthen the immune system and stimulate creativity.
The same goes for grown-ups: sleeping well helps manage stress and improve one’s psycho-physical well-being. When parents are well rested, they are better equipped to handle the daily challenges of parenting, including children’s needs and tantrums.
Overall, then, a consistent night time routine is essential to improve everyone’s well-being.
Following this idea, we asked one of the most renowned Italian experts on the subject to help us figure out what is a good bedtime routine and how to set it up.
With more than 180K followers on Instagram, Elena Biondi, better known as Elena the Nanny, is a certified infant sleep consultant with over 15 years of. With her work she helped many families in Italy develop and maintain healthy sleep habits.
Elena’s “gentle” approach to sleep training is based on two key principles: building trust between the baby and the parent and establishing tailor-made sleep routines for each child. Elena’s expertise and empathy have earned her the nickname “La Tata del Sonno” (the sleep nanny) and today she is considered one of the most respected sleep experts in Italy and beyond.
bedtime routine: tips from elena the nanny
- What is the bedtime routine and what are the benefits?
ETN: A night time routine is a series of predictable actions, which are intended to be repeated consistently every night, designed to encourage children to relax in the evening and thus guide them towards falling asleep. Perhaps we might be tempted to think that small babies do not need predictability, yet it is exactly the opposite. After the first two months of life, having more or less fixed rules and patterns concerning sleep is very useful: this is proven by several scientific articles that emphasise how having a pre-sleep routine improves the overall sleep quality and helps children in their evening relaxation. Let us also not forget that it can be a fantastic opportunity for parents and children to connect.
- When is it advisable to start a bedtime routine with your baby?
ETN: I think it is necessary to wait until the first 2 months have passed to start setting a pattern for the day and then define an initial evening routine. It will then be past the fourth month, with the acquisition of the circadian rhythm, that we will want to start being more constant and consistant in what we offer them in the evening.
- How important is the environment on children’s ability to rest properly?
ETN: Very much so! Perhaps in the first few weeks this might not be the case (but those are a bit of a mess, as you can imagine), but from the third month onwards the environment starts to play a crucial role in falling asleep. This is both in relation to stimuli (lights and noises) and also in relation to the proximity of the parents, their moving around and their noises (like snoring, for example). The use or lack of use of the cot is also of significant importance after 6/7 months.
- What essential features must the nursery have to promote a peaceful and lasting sleep for the child?
ETN: I would start with the stimuli. We want the room to be quiet, or at most the parents can cover up any sounds by means of a white noise machine, which is much appreciated in the early days. Light is also important: bright stimuli such as night lights are not necessary before the age of 2, and indeed reactivate the little ones. A good approach is to propose absolute darkness in conjunction with night and daytime naps.
Last factor, the temperature. We want the room to be neither too hot nor too cold, and to have a temperature of around 20°-21° C.
- Do you have any strategies for dealing with resistance before bedtime or stalling tactics from your child?
ETN: First of all, let us remember that any resistance is the result of a little fatigue, and that to improve this we must start out with the day. As general suggestion, it is important to check the distribution of their naps during the day so, when evening comes, they do not get too tired or too rested. A very common advice is not to switch from activity to bedtime all at once, all of a sudden: it is much better to approach bedtime gradually, maybe through relaxing rituals such as a massage or a lullaby. Any relaxing, quiet activity is certainly useful to guide them towards sweeter nights. Of course, electronic devices and bright screens must be avoided.
- Are there any tricks or tips to encourage independence and self-regulation in the bedtime routine?
ETN: It clearly depends on the age. Past a certain age, and reaching 6 or 7 months, my advice to parents is often to give them the benefit of the doubt. We don’t want to intervene prematurely, and even though the sleep of little ones can be bumpy and not always uniform, intervening and picking them up at their every movement, almost out of fear that they might wake up at all, does not encourage them to use their internal resources. Independence always comes from gaining confidence and even if they are so small, it is right to give them trust when we teach them a new way of sleeping. We must be the first to believe that they can do it.
- Among the many facets and specificities of each child and family, what do you think is the most important aspect of a good bedtime routine?
ETN: Definitely constancy. Constancy and serenity. The life of a new parent, as we all know, can be disorientating and not always predictable. Therefore, it is key to preserve serenity, also in the most challenging situations: one or two less easy days can happen to anyone, and it is imperative not to give up.
Montessori method and bedtime routine
And what does Babylodge® can tell you about the Montessori method and sleep routine? What are the benefits of combining Montessori principles with a bedtime routine? How do these aspects relate?
We know it well: the Montessori pedagogical method starts from the respect for the child’s natural development, his independence and self-directed learning. These same principles can also be applied to the bedtime routine: indeed, very positive rituals can arise for the benefit of the whole family.
Here are some ways and tips to combine the principles of the Montessori method with your child’s bedtime routine, selected in part from the scientific literature on the subject, in part from our direct experience with many, many families.
Let your child take the lead.According to the Montessori method, children need to be encouraged to make choices and be independent. If so, then letting your child choose his own pajama, which book to read, and what lullaby to sing can be a good practice. It will help him feel more secure and calm as he prepares for bed.
Provide a calm and quiet environment. It is important that the atmosphere in the bedroom is relaxed and that the space is welcoming. Turning down the lights and minimizing distractions can help create a peaceful, relaxing environment. A good way to start your child’s bedtime routine as night approaches might be a warm bath before bringing him to his bed.
The rituals of self-care. The Montessori method emphasises self-care and the practical skills of everyday life. Encourage your child to little autonomous activities before bedtime, such as brushing his teeth or washing his face, will gratify and relax him.
Encourage him to go to bed by himself. With a real Montessori bed, accessible and without obstacles, going to bed alone becomes a special and gratifying activity. Moreover, the absence of rails or any other barriers allows the baby to have mom or dad really close, turning goodnight into a unique moment of closeness and sharing.
Give preference to natural materials. Consider using natural materials for bedding and pyjamas. It is best to avoid synthetic materials, which can be uncomfortable or over-stimulating.
Care for the mattress and pillow. As for adults,the selection of matress and pillow significantly affects the quality of sleep. There are all kinds of solutions on the market, of course. Our recommendation is to pay attention to the materials – preferably natural – and the right balance between firmness, softness and flexibility.
Avoid screen time before bedtime. The Montessori method discourages the use of screens in the classroom, and the same principle applies to the bedroom. Avoid screen time before bed, as it can disrupt natural sleep and overstimulate the brain.
By incorporating Montessori principles into your child’s bedtime routine, you can help them develop healthy and wholesome habits, while encouragingindependence and self-care. Gradually your child will learn to know itself, to listen to himself, and to understand his body’s signals when it is time to rest.
Special thanks to Elena for taking the time to answer our questions, in the hope that this contribution will help mothers and fathers to better manage their children’s wake-sleep cycle, to the benefit of the whole family.