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Bedtime Stories for Kids: Do They Work?

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WE’VE ALL SEEN the TV trope of a kid drifting adorably off to sleep as Mom or Dad closes a bedtime storybook with a satisfied smile. But if you’re a parent, you might be understandably skeptical.

It’s hard to believe that anything as simple as a book can quell the nightly comedy routine of getting kids to stay in bed. Can a bedtime story really help circumvent the “I need a glass of water” and “There’s a monster under my bed” theatrics that many kids use to postpone sleep for as long as humanly possible? Science says yes, and there’s even more good news: it can work for grownups, too!

Bedtime Stories for Kids

Creating a nightly routine and enforcing a consistent bedtime has been shown repeatedly to improve sleep quality in children.

The earlier in life you establish a sleep schedule for your kids, the better. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia reports that kids who have regular bedtimes as toddlers show measurable cognitive gains later in life.

Pediatricians urge parents to get into the habit with kids as young as six months old, but if you’ve missed that window, take comfort: it’s never too late to start.

Bedtime routines can be as simple or elaborate as you want them to be. For some, it may be as basic as “brush your teeth, put on pajamas, and we’ll read a book.”

Others may incorporate additional elements, but the important thing is to establish a series of events that occur at the same time every night. Kids quickly come to associate this pattern with bedtime, which tells their brains to prepare for sleep. Including a bedtime story in the routine significantly increases its value. When kids begin to associate their nightly story with positive things, like comfort, relaxation and love, it not only improves their sleep, it also conditions them to view reading as a rewarding activity.

girl_reading_book.jpgThere are no hard and fast rules for reading to kids, but some general guidelines can help you and your child get the most out of the activity. Choose books that are enjoyable to kids, but not stimulating. A book that encourages action, like Eric Carle’s From Head to Toe or Herve Tullet’s Press Here, is a great choice for a daytime read-aloud, but not such a good idea when the goal is to lull kids to sleep. Some tried and true kids bedtime stories, according to Children’s Book Guide, include Goodnight Moon, The Going to Bed Book, Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book, and In the Night Kitchen. If your kids are too old for picture books, any book with a soothing cadence and minimal action will do.

Does It Work for Adults?

The CDC reports that insufficient sleep in adults is a public health crisis. About 40 percent of us consistently come up short on sleep, and it can have serious consequences ranging from underperforming at work to nodding off while driving. The good news is that you can apply childhood techniques to yourself.

A soothing routine that includes even as little as six minutes of reading can improve both the quality and the quantity of your sleep. What you read is more important than how long you read. Low-key fiction is a great choice, while it’s best to avoid heart-pounding genres like thriller, suspense, action, and horror. Jane Austen makes a better bedtime companion than Stephen King. Keep a pile of suitable bedtime reads on the nightstand (“old-fashioned” hard copies of books are better than e-books, because the backlit screen can actually rob you of sleep) and reap the benefits of a good bedtime story.

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