We’re excited to bring you monthly blog posts from our Gaia Women’s Leadership Certified Coaches. Enjoy this offering from Brook Packard, on bedtime as an opportunity for ritual and connection.

Bedtime Is the First, Best Habit.

Nutritionists, exercise and meditation teachers might all disagree with me on this (and they have!) but I maintain that bedtime is the habit that nurtures all other good habits.

An intentional, positive bedtime routine leads to sleep. Perhaps not 100% of the time, but there is enough gain from practicing a consistent bedtime routine that examining its components is the first thing medical sleep experts will ask a patient with sleep issues: What’s your sleep hygiene like?

But, bedtime is no more a clinical “sleep hygiene” routine than sleep is a medical study in hormone levels and EEG patterns flickering on a screen. Both happen in our hearts and our souls.

No one knows this better than the medical sleep experts themselves. There remain “mysteries” when it comes to sleep. Sleep clinicians are like physicists – their work opens more to be discovered, more paradoxes and conundrums as they search for truth rather than just facts.

When sleep goes right, we can control our nutrition and motivation for all other healthy practices. Enough sleep has been proven to be the centerpiece for regulating impulses and emotions, focus, and willpower.

What makes bedtime even more delicious as a habit to prioritize is it allows us a moment of grace for ourselves and our families every single day.

That’s why making bedtime an intentional ritual rather than a routine can support our family connections as well as our sleep.

Routines and Rituals

Routines and rituals both hold important places in our lives and our family’s lives. Both are repeated regularly. Routines, however, don’t necessarily hold a special meaning. Routines can be both positive and negative. When routines are transformed into ritual – which takes no extra time out of the day, just the infusion of meaning – we can transcend the “here and now”. We communicate to our children that there is more here than just climbing into bed, reading a story, and turning out the light.

My neighbor has a routine which is painful to watch. Every morning at 8:10, he gets into his car, backs it out of his driveway and parks in front of his home, idles it for about 5 minutes and then leans on his horn because he must drop his daughter off at school before driving across the Tappan Zee bridge to his job in New Jersey.

As an ADD parent of a child with ADD, I empathize with this father of a dawdling child. But the messages he is sending her with this routine are so negative. Does she shudder when she hears the car horn? Does she feel shame? Does this routine nurture an awareness that getting to school on time is just “one of those things” about life that we need to manage? Without the extra helping of car-horn anxiety?

The same goes for bedtime. It’s painful to hear parents using bedtime and sleep as a punishment. I am weary of seeing “funny” videos being shared on social media of toddlers racing around the house to escape bedtime. The worst posts are the “mommy wine” memes where many parents think it’s amusing to state wine consumption is essential for parenting and a reward for getting the kids to bed.

Bedtime is the first, best habit. And it can become a delightful, intentional ritual.

Because everyone has to have one, bedtime can become the ideal “delivery system” for all the good things we want for ourselves and our kids. Being consistent and present at bedtime nurtures in our children all those good things that sitting down for a family meal can nurture.

Each of us has a bedtime routine. How we “do bedtime” affects our immediate and long-term health and relationships. Equally important, our attitudes, language, and practices around this daily unavoidable habit can be a neutral or negative routine, or a positive ritual, and one that opens the possibility for shifting into sleep.

The Foundations of a Bedtime Ritual

Here’s how to create the foundation to make bedtime intentional. It will take a little bit of planning, but no gritting your teeth or white knuckling.

Get started with these bare-bones practical steps:

  • Know how many hours of sleep you and your children need. This varies by age, and is critical. Elementary school-aged children require between 9 and 11 hours of sleep while an adult requires 7 to 9 hours of sleep. That’s a potential 4-hour difference every single night! It’s worth planning so you can get some nurturing adult time every night.
  • Decide when you, the adult, want to get up in the morning. Do you need some alone time in the morning as well as at night to bookend your day? Decide on your personal lights out time and begin your bedtime routine at least 30 minutes before then.
  • Know how much time your child needs to get ready for school without rushing, anxiety, or nagging. Decide on a wake-up time and count backwards to when it’s lights out for each child. At least 30 minutes before lights out, schedule the bedtime routine.
  • Be consistent! Don’t vary this schedule too much even on weekends and vacations. Our children learn trust in relationships when we’re consistent.

There are other essentials to practicing a bedtime routine that works such as unplugging from all screens at least 90 minutes before lights out, how the bedroom is set up, etc. Start with knowledge about the amount of sleep that serves you and your child and be consistent with that for a week. With bedtime boundaries everyone gets clarity on this daily activity.

Bedtime As An Opportunity for Connection

The beauty of a bedtime ritual is it is transactional: Our relationships are cultivated in positive ways that have far-reaching implications. Language, cognition, and social skills aside – nurturing memories and connections make intentional bedtimes worth doing on their own. And we have this opportunity every single night.

We connect in different ways during different seasons of our lives. My daughter and I read together until she was in seventh grade. It became a transactional moment for me as I discovered the Harry Potter books with her and re-read Tolkien.

Different children’s temperaments will also require different bedtime routines. Again, these moments together do not have to take very long. One child may require the assurance of gentle touch. A two-minute massage ritual – a ritual within a ritual – can help the transition to sleep. For other children, the ritual of bringing special “lovies” into bed and arranging them around the pillow could be important. Younger children may need support with the washing up/brushing teeth part while older ones find stability in doing it themselves.

Whatever a child needs, all a caregiver must do is affirm that it’s ok.

Here are a few suggestions to connect at bedtime in less than 10 minutes for those nights when a long picture book is overwhelming. Those nights are inevitable!

  • Connect with a child before any transition. A hug, a touch, eye contact. And make sure all tech is turned off. A parent telling a child to get ready for bed, “I’ll be up in a bit”, while their eyes are glued on their email does not send a good message.
  • Offer children controlled choices rather than orders. Ask your child where they would like to keep their PJ’s: under the pillow? In a special drawer? Should we sing a special lullaby or read a bedtime poem?
  • Breathe together. Lie down together and allow the pattern of 5 to 10 easy breaths.
  • Be present in the moment. Ask your child to identify three different sounds, smells, or sights in the room. Then share yours.
  • Pray. Prayer doesn’t have to be denominational. From the ages of 4 to 9, the prayer I said with my daughter every night was taken from The God Squad. We said “Wow!”, “Thank you!”, “Please help”, and “I’m sorry” but not necessarily in that order. The latter I insisted she say silently – no reason for me to hear her regrets.  This simple process took less than 5 minutes and I still have memories of her saying every single night “Wow for the people we haven’t even met yet.”
  • Help your child to release the day with gratitude. I created the Sleepytime Club “Put the Day to Bed” guided meditations just for that reason. In less than 7 minutes, children go through classic relaxation techniques, are guided through their day, noticing events and emotions pass, and then give the memories to a heron, a cloud boat, a balloon, and have them carried away for safekeeping. The Put the Day to Bed meditation from the bedtime kit Clouds is available on the Insight Timer app as a recording only.  You can download the recording and an illustrated booklet at SleepytimeClub.com. By sharing the book together, you can personalize the experience for each child.

Bedtime really is the first, best habit.

~ Brook Packard is a mom, musician, storyteller, and Gaia Women’s Leadership coach who helps families connect at bedtime. Brook has written for Morehouse, Oak Publications, and Huffington Post and occasionally performs in Off-Broadway and regional theater.  Brook would love to hear your thoughts, challenges, and wins when it comes to bedtime and sleep. Contact her at brook@sleepytimeclub.com. To help children release the day with gratitude at bedtime in less than 10 minutes, download the free guided meditation with accompanying illustrated book at SleepytimeClub.com.

Certified Coach News:

Gaia Women’s Leadership Certified Coach Keisha Shields has opened up private sessions for Intuitive Story Mentoring. Here’s what she has to say about it:

“HONOR YOUR TRUTH and BECOME the woman who speaks up for what matters. You have a story. You deserve to be recognized for your work. And you owe it to your future to focus on having a legacy to leave behind. Sacred money. Sacred stories. Sacred legacy. Email me keisha@keishashields.com or apply for a call directly: http://keishashields.com/apply.”

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