It’s safe to say that everyone knows about the importance of having a bedtime routine for helping us get a good night’s sleep. But when you have kids, things can get tricky, because there are plenty of competing factors.
Sometimes, it takes forever, plus an hour, to get your child to bed, and by that point, you’re exhausted — and restless. Maybe you find yourself zoning out on the couch or staring at the ceiling, thinking about the 100,000 things you need to do. And maybe you start doing them. Catch up on email. Unload the dishwasher, and load it back up. Sweep. Dust. Fold. Fix that random thing. Start organizing that random shelf.
Maybe you work a split shift, and when your kids finally fall asleep, your job essentially resumes. You get back on your computer to edit, or brainstorm ideas, or pitch a project, or think through the week’s logistics.
It’s also interesting that we put so much effort into making our kids’ bedtime routines genuinely calming and actually routine, but we don’t do the same for ourselves. Maybe we think it takes too much energy or effort, and those are the last things we have to give, especially in the evenings.
However, whatever season of parenting you’re in, you can create a relaxing routine in the midst of a bit of kid chaos. It just takes some intention and consistent practice. Here’s a variety of realistic tips and tricks.
Think simple. As Sara Robinson, MA, author of Self-Care for Moms and founder of GetMomBalanced.com, said, “My bedtime routine has always been pretty minimal and the simplicity works for me, because everything else—especially since kids—seems to be complicated enough.”
For instance, Robinson, who has two kids, puts on a pair of cozy pajamas, and watches TV. Then she brushes her teeth, takes out her contacts, and watches a bit more. “While a bedtime routine can be a great time to include self-care and relaxing activities, I find that mindless TV checks those boxes for me.”
Keely Clark, also a mom of two, is a licensed clinical social worker who offers supportive counseling and coaching to moms as they navigate the transitions of motherhood at her private practice MotherBloom Wellness PLLC. Her straightforward routine includes: setting a timer for 30 minutes before bedtime as a gentle reminder to wind down; washing up; dimming the lights; changing into pajamas; lighting a candle, and applying her favorite scented lotion; and wrapping a heated lavender rice bag around her shoulders, or tossing it into bed to warm the sheets.
Think brief. Bedtime routines don’t have to be long and elaborate—unless, of course, you want your’s to be. According to Robinson, “15 minutes of purposeful activities that help you wind down may be enough to set the stage for sleep.”
She noted that these activities might be journaling, meditating, gentle stretching, putting on comfortable pajamas, or drinking a cup of tea. And remember that doing a relaxing activity for 5 or 10 minutes counts, too.
Don’t wait until the kids are finally asleep. That is, you can start your bedtime routine while your kids are awake, Robinson said. She shared this example: Everyone gets in their pajamas and reads together — “this works better for older kids who can read on their own and you can read your own material.” Or you practice a few stretches while your kids get ready for bed, she said.
Unplug — realistically. “[D]isconnecting from any blue light source for 1 to 2 hours before bed is optimal for settling our brains and nervous systems,” Clark said. But that might not be realistic for you. Which is why she suggested trying to unplug from all screens about 15 to 20 minutes before bed.
Sunit Suchdev, a life and business coach for moms who has twin boys, suggested creating a buffer between screen time and sleep time. “Read a book, chat with your partner, meditate, [or practice] deep [breathing].”
Use aromatherapy. “The limbic brain loves to create habits through association,” Suchdev said. “Diffusing the same oils every night can start to signal the brain that it’s time for the nightly routine and eventually, sleep.” Lavender and sandalwood are both potent stress relievers, Clark said.
You also can light candles, apply scented lotions or balms, or drink fragrant (decaffeinated) tea, she said.
Write down your worries and wins. Clark encourages her clients to keep a journal by their bed and “write down any lingering worries, as well as two or three ‘wins’ for the day. It doesn’t have to be anything extensive; just writing down a few notes can help be a final release of tension and way to evoke small gratitudes for better sleep.”
Have a plan for night-time wake-ups. Because your kids might wake you up in the middle of the night, it helps to have a routine for then, too, Robinson said. It’s a much better alternative than “focusing on the fact that you’re awake,” and calculating the exact number of hours you won’t be sleeping.
As part of your plan, Robinson suggested focusing on your breathing, reciting a favorite poem, drinking some water, or listening to a brief guided meditation. Just don’t do anything stimulating, she added.
Problem solve. Robinson suggested reflecting on the specific interruptions or challenges that hamper your bedtime routine and determining how to deal with them, “or work within those realities.”
For instance, if your kids always ask for water after they’re already in bed, incorporate water into their routine, she said. If you find yourself falling down the social media rabbit hole—and you don’t like it—install features or apps that help you limit your use, she added. (Or leave your phone in another room, and use an old-school alarm clock.)
Honor your bedtime. One way to do that is to literally write down your bedtime routine on your calendar, Suchdev said. Another way is to “set a limit on how much other stuff you will do before bed.” That’s because many of us keep doing and going. We (mistakenly) think we don’t deserve to wind down until we’ve checked off every task on our to-do lists, she said. And, if we don’t, we’re clearly “being lazy.” And so we do everything but relax.
However, remember that you’re not a robot; you’re a human being who works hard, and doesn’t have to prove their worth. So maybe you can do a few things on your to-do list, and save the rest for tomorrow (or delegate it).
Plus, “When we set schedules and systems and honor them, we also teach others to honor them, as well,” Suchdev said. Her husband and sons know that at 7:30 p.m., she starts winding down.
Ultimately, the key is to do what works well for you—and that will be different for everyone. As Robinson said, “I love to watch TV before bed, and even though research says to power down well before going to sleep, I find that I can transition well from TV to sleep.”
Maybe you do, too. Or maybe you prefer to read or write or draw or bake. Or maybe you prefer to do something else that’s not conventionally considered to be calming but helps you get sincerely restful sleep.
Either way, the great thing is that it’s up to you. A truly nourishing routine is one that’s based not on what you should do, but on what you yearn to do. It’s based on whatever you need, and only you can determine that. Whatever shape or form that takes.