Bedtime routine: How and when to get children to sleep

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children's bedtimes
It's not only babies who need a bedtime routine. Older children do too. Children who get enough sleep are happier and far nicer to be with than tired, grumpy ones.

But if they're used to going to bed when they want, they aren't going to like you changing their bedtime. So stay firm and be prepared for a few tough nights. And just think, you could soon have the TV (and the settee) all to yourself!

Here's our guide to what time to get little (and big!) ones in bed, along with our recommendations for how to make a bedtime routine a little easier.

When should children be going to bed?

Agree a reasonable time. You can't expect a 10 year old to go to bed at 7pm, but they shouldn't be staying up until 11pm either. No matter what anyone tells you, (especially your child) children need more sleep than you do.

We spoke to baby and children consultants at Sleep Sisters to find out exactly when children should be going to sleep and why.

Bedtimes according to age
AgeHours neededBedtimeReason

When a baby is first born it doesn't have what's called a 'circadian rythm'. This means they often sleep in bursts of 2-4 hours at any given time. Day or night! It'll take a little while to get them into a routine, but stick with it - it gets easier! 


1-4 months14-158.00-11.00

Once babies are past the one month mark babies will start to sleep a little more but will still want feeding throughout the night so it's best to wait a little later to put them down to minimise your yo-yoing during the nightly feeds. 


4-8 months14-155.30-7.30

Those 'circadian rhthms' now come into play. At this age babies need regular naps to help their physical and mental development. Try to put them down for naps at roughly 9, 12 and 3 and then judge bedtime on how many naps they've had. 


8-10 months12-155.30-7.30

Now they're getting a bit older babies will need roughly two naps a day. Try to put them down at 9am and again at 1pm. Bedtime should be no later than 3.5 hours after their last naptime ends.  


10-15 months12-146.00-7.30

Between 10-15 months you should be trying to cut down naps for your little one to just once a day. This will mean bedtime might have to be earlier for a little while, until they ajust. Try to make sure their bedtime is not later than 4 hours after waking up from their nap. 


15 months-3 years12-146.00-7.30

If you're now aiming to cut out naps altogether then now is a good time to bring bedtimes forward a little. 


3-6 years11-136.00-8.00

Once your little one stops having naps altogether they will need an extra hour of sleep to make up for it, so try to get them into bed as soon as possible after 6pm. 


7-12 years10-117.30-9.00

School aged children grow a lot, both physically and mentally, so require lots of sleep. The benefits of a good long sleep include improved performance, better behaviour, attention and memory. 


Teenagers 9+Varying

Your teen will probably need to be up nice and early to make school on time, but they also need plenty of sleep. Count backwards from when they need to be up to make sure they're getting into bed with enough time for at least 9 hours sleep. Also keep in mind that it will take them an average of 15 minutes to nod off. 


Getting children into a bedtime routine

We know how important it is for babies to have a routine, but older children still need a routine to help them relax and unwind. However, it has to be appropriate to their age and your lives. It should also involve things they like doing too. Reading stories together, or listening to audio books can calm them down very quickly. So can a hot drink and a cuddle, or chatting about their day.

You can negotiate a slightly later bedtime during school holidays or for special occasions, but make sure they understand these are occasional events, not a sign you're getting soft!

Warn them in advance
It's only fair to let little ones know what you're planning and why. Explain that you don't think they're getting enough sleep and from now on, bedtime will be at a fixed time, every single night. They can complain all they want, but you're in charge and you won't be changing your mind.

Make bedtime a pleasure not a punishment

Children love hearing about what you've been doing, especially if they've been at school or you've been at work and they haven't seen much of you. Putting aside a few minutes to chat about both your days could help make bedtimes something to look forward to.

Ignore the phone during this time if you can. It will distract you both too much.

Build in 30 minutes reading time if they complain they aren't tired. This can be a great way to encourage them to read the best books for kids, favourites old and new, and strengthen their love of reading. But make sure their light gets switched off at an agreed time.

Listen to their complaints
When they complain about going to bed , which they will - don't ignore them.

Be kind but firm in what you say to them. Children often think staying up 'late' is a sign they're growing up so be sensitive to this. Point out that they still go to bed much later than younger brothers and sister and give them a bedroom clock so they can see for themselves what time it is.

If they can't tell the time this should encourage them to learn!

Common bedtime problems: solved

If they keep getting out of bed or coming into your bed…
Just take them back to bed, however many times it takes. We know this could be exhausting so start at the weekend when you don't have to get up for work or school. And remember, consistency is key here.

Continued below...

They're wide awake for hours
If they're used to staying up late, it will take time for their body clocks to adjust to an earlier bedtime so let them read until they're sleepy and stay firm. Don't be fooled into thinking they don't need 'much sleep.' It's far more likely they're just hyped-up and over tired.

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