Carrying out a regular bedtime routine also benefited mothers' moods, report Dr. Jodi A. Mindell, at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and colleagues.
Compared with mothers who did not institute a regular bedtime routine with their infants and toddlers, those who did so for 2 weeks "felt less fatigued, less tense, and less depressed," Mindell told Reuters Health.
She and colleagues enlisted 405 mothers - 206 with infants 7 to 18 months old and 199 with toddlers 18 to 36 months old - to participate in a 3-week intervention to assess how a nighttime bedtime routine altered children's mild to moderate sleep problems and difficult bedtime behaviors.
The mothers, who ranged from 18 to 49 years old, completed daily sleep diaries for one week to establish how long their children took to fall asleep, how often they awoke at night, and their general bedtime behaviors and sleep patterns.
For the next 2 weeks, 134 mothers and their infants and 133 mothers and their toddlers followed specific 30-minute bedtime routines that included a bath, a massage or applying skin lotion, and cuddling or another restful activity.
The remaining mother/child pairs - the "control" group - maintained existing bedtime habits, while all participants kept to pre-established bedtimes and "light out" times, the researchers report in the journal Sleep.
The mothers' sleep diaries over the subsequent 2-weeks showed infants and toddlers fell asleep faster, awoke less often and for shorter periods during the night, and slept more regularly after following the bedtime routine, plus toddlers had improved morning moods.
By contrast, sleep patterns and bedtime behaviors for the control groups did not significantly change.
Moreover, mother's who instituted and followed the specific bedtime routines had improved mood profiles while control group mothers did not.
Mindell's team calls for continued investigations to determine whether a specific aspect of the bedtime routine is more effective, or if the routine itself calms children's sleep problems.