Sleep Tight with Ayurveda: How to Create a Balanced Bedtime Routine for the Kids

When my wife and I tell other parents that our two kids under 10 are usually asleep by 6:00 or 6:30 pm, they usually scoff or choke on their coffee. Then they ask us how we do it. 

Every family is unique, but what works for us is an approach based in the ancient teachings of AyurvedaAyurveda is a deep and profound system designed to help us live in harmony with the cycles of nature and healing. According to Ayurveda, we are all made up of three basic qualities, or doshas: pitta (fire), kapha (earth), and vata (wind). Most people tend to be dominant in one of the three, and the balance among them can easily get out of whack. Too much vata is generated when we are moving and thinking too much, which is the way most families live these days—too much driving, too many activities, too much sensory stimulation, and not enough grounded (kapha) energy. Those of us in our thirties or forties can remember being kids and getting bored. Being home for days, nothing to do, playing in the backyard, exploring the creek. Kids today, unfortunately, don’t even have a chance to get bored because they have so little downtime.

So what can we do as parents to break the cycle of “vata derangement” and help our kids live healthier, happier, more balanced lives? It boils down to one thing: Do less. Simplify your life as much as you can. Say no to more things. Start clearing family commitments outside the home and start prioritizing downtime. Cook and eat at home more often. Get a handle on your tech usage; don’t let it eat away at quality time together. Get outside in nature. Eat nourishing, seasonal food—and yes, get enough sleep.

Getting plenty of sleep is essential to living a balanced life, and creating a bedtime routine is the key to making that happen. When we do the same things at the same time each day, the body and mind become trained, and bedtime becomes very natural and easy. Our daughter Cora is a spitfire all day long, but by 5:30 she wants to go to bed and she’s usually asleep in 10 minutes. Here’s how we do it.

Start Early

Start the bedtime routine around 3:30 pm. I know it sounds ridiculously early, but kids need 10 to 12 hours of sleep per night, so you have to begin early if you want them in bed by 6:00 or 7:00. Around 3:30, start cooking dinner. Put on soothing music and draw the curtains. Give the kids free time to play, read, or be creative. No screens, phones, or computers for the rest of the day. Try to eat dinner by 5:00 pm. (See why it’s important to eliminate those after-school activities? You will be amazed by how much peace it brings.)

Oil Massage

After dinner, get the kids into a bath or shower. Afterward, apply warm oil (sesame oil in winter and coconut in summer) to their feet and temples, or to the entire body. This practice is incredibly soothing to the nervous system and a great way to help little ones settle down for bedtime.

Warm Milk, Ayurveda Style

Drinking warm milk before bed is an age-old recipe for sleep (the peptides in the milk activate GABA centers in the brain that help us relax). For the Ayurvedic version, mix in a little cardamom, maple syrup, and turmeric. 

Set the Mood

Salt lamps give off beautiful, serene light and are said to release negative ions, which can benefit air quality and have a positive effect on mood. Choose a bedtime music you love: Ever since our son was born, we have played a recording of one of our favorite mantras, the Mahamrityunjaya Mantra, at bedtime. Having this on every single night is a cue that helps our kids feel safe and ready for bed. An essential oil diffuser adds moisture to the air, and an aromatic oil adds another layer of tranquility to the bedtime routine. We like lavender and sandalwood.

Gratitude and Well-Wishing

Bedtime is a great time to instill a practice of gratitude and also well-wishing for others. Create your own tradition that helps your kids settle into sleep full of good feelings and love. All parents feel the urge sometimes to rush through this part so we can have some time to ourselves, but I always remind myself that these moments are fleeting. I know that I will one day look back and wish I could relive this sweet time.

Micah Mortali is lead Kripalu faculty, the Founder of the Kripalu School of Mindful Outdoor Leadership and author of Rewilding.

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