Bedtime Routines

baby sleeping
baby sleeping

Bedtime Routines

Why Your Baby Needs a Bedtime Routine

It’s natural to find yourself wondering “why all the fuss over bedtime routines? I’ll put my baby down in her crib when she’s tired, and she’ll go to sleep!” 

If only it were that easy.

Here’s the thing about babies: they can’t tell time. You know that 6:45pm is bedtime, but how does she know that the clock says 6:30pm and bedtime is in 15 minutes? She can’t tell time. That’s where a bedtime routine comes into play: it’s a warning, a heads-up, a kind way of keeping your baby informed that bedtime is on the horizon.

Because babies can’t tell time, they rely on repetitive actions to tell them what’s coming next. The way you warn your baby that bedtime is approaching is by repeating the same steps in the same order, every day, right before bedtime. This cues your baby’s brain: “Oh, we’re doing the bath, lotion, pajamas thing! That means I go into the crib next and go to sleep!”

That is the power of a bedtime routine. 

It’s a way to remind your baby that bedtime is approaching, without saying a word. Routines are soothing and sink deep into your baby’s unconscious mind. If there’s one way to prime your baby towards a peaceful bedtime, it’s having a bedtime routine.

Having something predictable and reliable to fall back on every evening creates a sense of safety around bedtime, for you and for your baby: it signals to both of you, on a level past the conscious mind, that bedtime is approaching. 

Bedtime routines are also helpful in another way: you don’t have to be the only one doing bedtime each night. If Daddy or your nanny learn the routine, they can easily take over doing bedtime so you can catch a break.

Babies as young as a few weeks old can make the connection that a bedtime routine means that sleep is coming – and babies accept sleep more when they know that it’s coming.

 

baby massage

 

Here’s What a Bedtime Routine Consists Of

Bedtime routines are simple. Do the same steps, in the same order every night. That’s it. Yes, there are suggestions and tweaks you can make in your bedtime routine, but that’s the core: plain and simple. It’s not the complicated baby yoga with eucalyptus oil massage that primes your baby before bed: it’s the fact that you’re doing the same steps, in the same order every night, that helps him learn.

Contrary to what you might think, a bedtime routine does not have to include a bath, although many babies love a bath before bed. If it works for you, keep it. If not, leave it. You can even do a bath some night and not others- as long as you keep the rest of the routine uniform each night.

For babies who rely on nursing/bottle to fall asleep, it can be helpful to have the last feeding take place before the bedtime routine, or at the start. Some babies can feed to sleep and sleep great at night, while others will struggle to sleep if they fall asleep mid-feed. If your baby struggles, try moving the feeding to the start of the routine.

 

baby bath

 

Sample Bedtime Routines

The following routines are just suggestions. Pick and choose as you like and keep what works for you and your baby.

You generally want to keep your bedtime routine under 30 minutes, as longer than that starts to drag out the night and miss the point: bedtime. A long bedtime routine can actually wind your baby up (instead of helping her wind down) and have the opposite effect that you’re to achieve.

 

Newborn Bedtime Routine

 

  • Feeding
  • Bath
  • Pajamas
  • Dim lights
  • Lullaby
  • Turn on sound machine, turn off lamp

 

For a newborn, the routine can be as short as 10-15 minutes.

 

4-24 Month Bedtime Routine

 

  • Feeding
  • Bath
  • diaper
  • Lotion and massage
  • Pajamas
  • Book
  • Lights off, sound machine on
  • Lullaby
 
 

Toddler Bedtime Routine

 

  • Bottle
  • Bath
  • Pajamas
  • Calm floor play
  • Book
  • Lights off, sound machine on
  • Lullaby

 

Preschool Bedtime Routine

 

  • Dinner
  • Bath
  • Pajamas
  • Snack
  • Brush teeth
  • 2 books
  • Lullaby
  • Lights off, sound machine on
  • Kisses and Hugs
 

When to do the Bedtime Routine?

About 20-30 minutes before bedtime, start your bedtime routine. The ideal bedtime for your baby is likely somewhere between 6:30pm-8:00pm. This is the time of day when babies naturally come to lull in their circadian rhythm and have an easier time falling asleep. If you miss this window and put your baby to sleep after 8:00pm, it’s likely that he’ll be overtired. When babies are overtired, their cortisol (stress hormone) levels spike, making it harder for them to fall asleep, stay asleep and sleep till the morning. So don’t miss that bedtime window!

 

Naptime Routine

In the same way that a bedtime routine preps your baby for night sleep, a naptime routine has the same effect for naps. The difference is, as the nap is much shorter, the routine will be shorter as well. A diaper change, sleep sack/swaddle, and a quick lullaby are all you need.

That’s all you need to know to start your bedtime routine this evening, Mama. Remember, a routine is a great way to start the night, but it won’t magically help your baby sleep through the night. It’s the first step in a series of things you can do to help your baby sleep better. If you need more help, click here for newborns and here for babies 4-24 months.

You’ve got this, Mama!

WILL SOLIDS HELP YOUR BABY SLEEP?

Will starting solids help your baby sleep for a longer stretch at night?

You might have heard parents swear “as soon as we started solids she started sleeping 8 hours!” causing you to wonder if you should be feeding your baby real food too. What wouldn’t we do to gain a few more minutes of sleep at night?

Sadly, it doesn’t help. There is very little evidence that suggests a positive correlation between solids and longer stretches of sleep, and there is some evidence that suggests starting solids too early can disrupt sleep (just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse!)

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