How many times have you heard the stomping, stamping, and giggling of your child and your partner upstairs right before bedtime and thought to yourself, “Great, now she’s never going to go to sleep”?

What if I told you that this playful roughhousing before bed *might* actually allow your child to have a more restful night’s sleep? Keep reading to see how this can happen effectively!

You’re probably wondering how it could possibly make sense to get your child all worked up before bedtime.

Honestly, I had the same reservations before I understood the benefits of rough and tumble play before bed. It seemed counterintuitive to encourage my child to be active and excited right before settling down in bed, where she needed to be calm and relaxed.

What I learned, though, is that rough and tumble play that has a clear start and finish can actually promote better sleep for many sensory-seeking children for several reasons.

3 Reasons Rough & Tumble Play Helps Children Have a Better Sleep

1. Sensory Input

For many children, especially those who are sensory-seeking (think of those who are very active and need to move their bodies often), this type of activity before bed can actually help them get the sensory input they need before they go to sleep. Some children need that extra bit of movement, touch, and connection to fully relax and get a good night’s sleep. 

Related Post: How Your Child’s Sensory Needs Affect Their Bedtime Routine

2. Stress Relief

Rough and tumble play not only provides children with sensory input, but it can also act as a stress reliever. 

For many families, no matter what they do, the bedtime routine always seems to end in tears. For many children, these tears are coming out because they have stress that has built up during the day. Rough and tumble play provides them with an opportunity to have some fun and be silly, which can help to let off some steam and ease the stress and tension they may be feeling. Instead of going to bed thinking about the stressors of their day, they are going to bed thinking about how much fun they had running around and laughing before they got ready for bed. 

Related Post: 3 Life Situations that Make Sleep Tricky for Kids

3. Connection Time

Another reason rough and tumble play helps children have better sleep is because it provides a period of connection time with their caregiver. 

We might see tears during the bedtime routine because our children don’t feel like they have enough connection time with us during the day. Rough and tumble play can provide them with this extra special time with us. It can also include physical contact – like piggyback rides, for example – if a child is seeking extra physical connection. 

Related Post: Why Won’t My Child Let Me Leave at Bedtime? Here Are 3 Common Reasons.

4 Guidelines for Rough and Tumble Play

1. Have a Clear Goal of the Play

Instead of having a free-for-all “fight,” it is better to ensure the play has a clear start and finish. This will help your child transition out of play into the rest of their routine. You might play: climb on top of a pile of pillows, try to climb the tower (pretending your bed is the tower), use a twisted sheet for a game of tug-a-war, and so on. To help your children stay on task and transition easier, keep the play intentional and with a clear start and finish.

2. Prioritize Connection

One thing that roughhousing with your children before bed does is boost connection with you. When a child feels close to their trusted caregiver and feels like they have spent quality time together, it can help reduce separation struggles at bedtime. Put away your phone or other distractions and make this special time with your child really about being together and playing. This will help the rest of your bedtime routine. 

3. Add Playfulness at the Start of the Routine

Introduce rough and tumble play into your child’s bedtime routine at the beginning of the routine – at least 40 minutes before bed. Starting and ending early will give your child a chance to calm down as they continue with the rest of their routine: brush their teeth, put on their pyjamas, etc. If you have a child who has a hard time calming down after they are worked up, I would suggest setting a timer. This could be a timer on your phone, a kitchen timer, or even a sand timer. You can let them know that they will have this special time for 5 minutes, and when the timer goes off, it’s going to be time to brush their teeth and continue with the rest of the bedtime routine. 

If your little one typically has a difficult time with transitions and you are worried about how they are going to transition between rough and tumble play and the rest of their bedtime routine, it can be helpful to also plan ahead. Talk to your child about what the bedtime routine is going to look like:

“Hey buddy, I noticed bedtime has been hard lately. I thought tonight we could try to switch up our routine. Maybe we can go outside and play a game of chase or hide-and-seek before we go for a bath, and then we’ll brush your teeth and read a story. What do you think?”

4. Tune In With Your Child 

For some children building in this rough and tumble play and connection time at the start of the bedtime routine can be absolutely life-changing (in a good way)! However, for children who are sensory-avoiders or children who may have sensory processing disorder, it can take their nervous system a very long time to calm back down. You are the expert on your child and know what will be most helpful to them! 

Your Guide to Better Sleep

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Key Takeaways

  1. Rough and tumble play before bed can help sensory-seeking children achieve a more restful night’s sleep by providing necessary sensory input.
  2. This type of active play can serve as a stress reliever, helping children release tension from the day and focus on fun before bed.
  3. Rough and tumble play can enhance connection time between a child and their caregiver, contributing to a smoother bedtime routine.
  4. Create clear goals and boundaries for this playtime, ensuring it has a definitive start and end to ease the transition to other bedtime activities.
  5. Prioritizing connection during this playtime can help reduce separation struggles at bedtime.
  6. It is recommended to introduce this active play at the start of the bedtime routine, ideally 40 minutes before bed, to allow time for children to calm down afterwards.
  7. This method might not suit all children, particularly those who are sensory-avoiders, and they should adjust the approach based on their child’s needs.