A study by a University of Manchester psychologist in the United Kingdom has scientifically defined for the first time what constitutes a good bedtime routine for children between the ages of two and eight.
The definition, agreed upon by 59 British experts, is published in the journal Plos One and will provide welcome guidance to parents who want the best for their children at bedtime.
Funded by the UK Medical Research Council, the definition identifies six key areas that should be covered for a good bedtime routine:
- Brushing teeth before bed.
- Time consistency for going to bed.
- Book-reading before bed.
- Avoiding food/drinks before bed.
- Avoiding use of electronic devices before bed.
- Calming activities with child before bed, including a bath or shower, and talking.
The study also devises two different ways of scoring bedtime routines: one which measures a single routine and the other for activities over seven days.
A parent should aim to score at over 50 points to achieve an effective routine, says Dr George Kitsaras, who led the study.
The same scoring system is used for another “dynamic measurement” where, depending on how many nights a week parents achieve the activities, different weighted scores multiplied by 1.0 are given.
Says Dr Kitsaras: “Bedtime routines are important family activities and have important implications on children’s wellbeing, development and health.
“Organisations as diverse as the Book Trust to the BBC and the NHS (UK’s National Health Service) are all engaged in this debate, but up to now, there has been no real scientific consensus to inform them; we need to untie the conflicting signals and messages parents receive.
“This lack of a clear consensus-based definition limits health professionals’ ability to communicate best practice effectively with families.
“Our definition considers the parental stresses and difficulties that might arise at bedtime, while incorporating best practice and available scientific advice.
“This study for the first time, provides that expert and scientific guidance.”
The psychologists, dentists, public health specialists and other experts from education, health visiting and sleep research participated in what is known as a Delphi Process – a method of achieving wider consensus by collecting opinions through several rounds of questions.
Eleven experts took part in an initial group, followed by 25 in the second round, 20 in the third round and 13 in the fourth round.
Dr Kitsaras added: “All activities around bedtime matter for children’s development and wellbeing.
“From the wide range of activities around bedtime, our experts considered toothbrushing to be the most important to remember each night.
“There are strong links between inadequate oral hygiene practices and dental decay in children and adults.
“For children, early childhood caries can lead to higher occurrence of dental disease in later life, and in some cases, untreated childhood caries can lead to extractions under general anaesthetic, causing additional problems for children and parents.
“Washing or having a shower each night before bed, on the other hand, might be a common practice for families, but our experts considered it to be part of a wider umbrella of child-parent interactions, rather than a standalone practice we need to specifically target.
“I have no doubt the debate will continue and our definition might even be refined as more people engage with it.”