As a pediatric sleep specialist, avid reader and author, the concept of shared bedtime reading is very close to my heart. In my professional practice as a baby sleep counsellor, I often advise parents of 0 to 5 year olds on the importance of a bedtime routine. And one of the most beautiful and effective components of a good bedtime routine is reading.
Sharing books while snuggling before naps or night sleep is a practice that can begin from infancy itself. Even when your newborn little wiggly bundle has no day/night clock and no schedule, she can have this wonderful ritual to indicate that “it’s that time of day again”. As circadian rhythms form after month 4, it becomes all the more important to have a robust bedtime routine – a series of steps we take in the same sequence every night to signal that night sleep is coming, like a bath or sponge, a light dry or cream massage, changing the diaper, putting on pajamas, saying good night to people and objects around the house, curling up in the parent’s lap with books, and then lights out and the final soothing. Bedtime routines stand us in good stead in the tumultuous toddler and preschool years as well, when bedtime battles become an everyday affair.
Reading is also extremely effective as a wind-down before naps after month 8 (and all the way up till the child drops the final nap sometime between years 3 and 5), when babies and toddlers find it very difficult to manage transitions. With boddlers (not quite babies, not quite toddlers ☺), just leafing through a stack of books without trying to read it end to end sets the stage for the perfect nap.
Bedtime reading WORKS because:
- It is a ritual that indicates that it’s time to unwind now
- Reading acts as a bridge between the world outside the bedroom and the land of dreams, between outer and inner worlds. It helps children disconnect from the goings on outside the bedroom.
- It is a bonding activity that represents the end of separation from the parent through the day and the beginning of a night full of connection and closeness.
- Cuddling up with a book releases oxytocin in the child and the parent, which relaxes them.
- It makes the transition to sleep enjoyable, not something to be detested and resisted.
Moreover, bedtime reading builds an immovable “slot” for reading in your daily schedule – a happy time when books represent connection with the parent. So, not only is the reading soothing, the feeling of being soothed conversely makes reading a cherished activity and helps to build a love for books. It’s a win-win!
Any book that your child enjoys can be used for bedtime reading. It does not need to be specifically about bedtime, though there are some lovely ones aimed specifically at lulling to sleep as well. Here are some suggestions to get you started – favourites of my own two little ones from our unique home library (Read about the home library created by my mother-in-law, pioneering children’s librarian, Bandana Sen, here).
The first year
- Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathman
- Where’s My Teddy series by Jez Alborough
- Silly Suzy Goose & Look Out, Suzy Goose by Petr Horacek
- Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
- Hug by Jez Alborough
- Mummy & Me by Katherina Manolessou
- Cave Baby by Julia Donaldson
- How to Catch A Star by Oliver Jeffers
- Owl Babies by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson
- Elmer series by David McKee
- We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury
- Come on, Daisy! by Jane Simmons
- Bears in Beds by Shirley Parenteau
- Shoe Baby by Joyce Dunbar and Polly Dunbar
- A House in the Woods by Inga Moore
- Florentine and Pig and the Spooky Forest Adventure by Eva Katzler
- The Scariest Thing of All by Debi Gliori
- The Very Cranky Bear and The Very Noisy Bear by Nick Bland
- A Brave Bear by Sean Taylor and Emily Hughes
- Eliza and the Moonchild by Emma Chichester Clarke
- Stormy by Guojing
- Goodnight Everyone by Chris Haughton
- The Ugly Five by Julia Donaldson
- Mog series by Judith Kerr
- Blue Kangaroo series by Emma Chichester Clarke
- The Night Monster by Sushree Mishra and Sanket Pethkar
- Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel
- Rhinos Don’t Eat Pancakes by Anna Kemp
- Oh My Baby, Little One by Kathi Appelt
- Lovabye Dragon by Barbara Joosse
- Alfie series by Shirley Hughes
- Mercy Watson series by Kate di Camillo
- If I Built series by Chris van Dusen
- Hairy MacLary series by Lynley Dodd
- Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola
(There is much overlap in age appropriateness and most books easily work for a span of one year before and after that age as well, if not two years)
Of course, bedtime routines and bedtime reading work as part of overall good sleep management. You can find out about how to facilitate better sleep for your baby or toddler with scientific, child-led, biologically normal methods in my book co-authored with Neha Bhatt, Sleeping Like A Baby: the Art & Science of Gentle Baby Sleep) As a part of that, a strong bedtime routine can really set the stage for a night of sound sleep and deep connection.
Himani Dalmia is co-author of Sleeping Like A Baby: the Art & Science of Gentle Baby Sleep, published by Penguin Random House. She is an Australian-Certified Infant and Child Sleep Specialist and co-founder of the support group, Gentle Baby Sleep India. Her first book, a bestselling and critically acclaimed novel titled Life Is Perfect, was published in 2009. A children’s picture book by her is currently under publication by HarperCollins India. She has written extensively on culture and society for various newspapers and magazines. Himani graduated with honours in English from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University, and holds a master’s degree in South Asian Literature from the University of Oxford. She lives in New Delhi with her husband Akash and two little girls, Devika and Yamini.
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