Establishing a Bedtime Routine For Your Baby: Everything You Need to Know
Before we get ready to tuck into bed at night most of us walk ourselves through a routine. Whether you’re conscious of it or not, you likely have at least a few different steps that you take consistently every night before you head to bed. It doesn’t matter if you’re an adult, a newborn, or a toddler, a bedtime routine is a great way to help your body begin to unwind and prepare for sleep. That’s why it’s helpful to get your child started with some nightly rituals and routines early in life. These healthy habits during baby’s bedtime will help set them up for restful and restorative nights. And, when they get more sleep, you get more sleep. Need we say more?
Table of Contents
- What is a bedtime routine
- Why is a bedtime routine important?
- When should I start a bedtime routine?
- How to establish a newborn sleep schedule
- How to establish a bedtime routine for toddlers
What is a bedtime routine?
A bedtime routine is a set of activities that are performed consistently before sleep. These activities can be practical like brushing your teeth and putting on pajamas. They might also be activities that help you bond with your child like reading a book together. Some parents even implement practices that encourage mindfulness and reflection, like sharing the best part of the day. Sometimes avoiding certain activities can also be part of the bedtime routine for baby. For example, some parents find their children sleep better if their little ones don’t consume any food or drinks too close to their bedtime. Limiting screen time before bed can also be a part of a healthy sleep routine.
Why is a bedtime routine important?
Bedtime routines are so important for a number of different reasons and there is no shortage of studies that highlight just how effective they are. When performed consistently, nightly routines can improve several aspects of infant and toddler sleep from wakefulness after sleep onset to sleep continuity. The benefits, however, aren’t just related to sleep quality, they are actually much more far-reaching. Healthy bedtime rituals can improve working memory, attention, and other cognitive skills. They can also improve mood, stress levels, and behavior. Additionally, the benefits extend to later stages of your child’s life. In the long term, a newborn bedtime routine can improve readiness for school, academic performance, and social skills.
What’s more, it’s not just your little one that will benefit from healthy sleep habits, maternal mood and parent-child bonding have also been shown to improve as a result of consistent nighttime routines.
When should I start a bedtime routine?
If you’re excited to get your little one started on some healthy sleep habits and maybe, in turn, get a little more sleep yourself, you might be wondering: how soon can I start a newborn sleep schedule? Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to impose a newborn sleep schedule during the first few weeks at home. You and your little one will be getting to know each other and adjusting to some big changes so a set schedule might not happen right away. That’s ok!
When your baby reaches 6 - 8 weeks of age, your day-to-day schedule might be starting to settle and become more predictable. This is the perfect time to introduce a short and simple newborn bedtime routine that you can build upon as your child gets older.
How to establish a newborn sleep schedule
Before you dive into establishing nighttime rituals and sleep schedules with your newborn, start with a little bit of research and observation. Keep a sleep log to track how long your baby is sleeping each time you put them down at night. Identify when they tend to go down for the longest sleep stretch of the night. Let’s say you’ve figured out that your baby tends to have their longest sleep stretch when you put them down at around 8:30 PM. Time your sleep routine to begin about 30 minutes before that. In this case, you would get started at 8:00 PM.
There is no one-size-fits-all sleep routine that will work for every baby. However, there are some common elements and practices that can be very helpful to most newborns. Here are a few ideas for activities and rituals you can incorporate into your routine. Try different combinations and orders until you find the baby bedtime routine that works best for you and your little one.
- A feeding. Newborns often sleep better if they have just been fed and many even fall asleep during feedings so this is a great bedtime activity to try with your little one.
- A warm bath. Warm water can help your baby’s muscles relax before sleep. Incorporating a gentle, baby-friendly lavender or chamomile wash can help make bathtime even more relaxing. Finish off by wrapping them in a cozy towel.
- Cozy pajamas. Putting your little one into comfortable pajamas before bed can also help signal to your newborn that it’s time for sleep so set aside some clothing specifically for sleep. For younger babies, a swaddle or a sleep bag, from about 4 months on are also wonderful for helping your little one drift off comfortably.
- Lullabies or white noise. Sound can have a powerful calming effect on newborns so try singing or playing a short lullaby or turning on a white noise machine to let your child know that it’s time to close their eyes and drift off to sleep.
- Storytime. If lullabies or white noise don’t work for your newborn, try a book. Wrap your baby up in a cozy blanket and read them a short story before you place them in their crib.
How to establish a bedtime routine for toddlers
The newborn sleep schedule you establish make work well for your newborn, however, as your child gets older, you’ll likely need to make some adjustments to their sleep routine. Here are a few tips for how to adjust your baby bedtime routine into a bedtime routine for toddlers:
- If your little one has started watching TV or using other screens, be sure to turn those off an hour before bedtime.
- Get your child more involved with the process. For example, now that your child is a little bit older, you can use this opportunity to teach them how to brush their teeth and why its important, engage them more in storytime by choosing books with interactive elements or beautiful illustrations, or let them pick out their bed sheets and what they want to wear to sleep.
- Now that your little one is a toddler, you’ll also want to consider how the level of activity they’ve hard during the day impacts their sleep. Before you even think about nighttime rituals, make sure that your little one has had enough physical activity throughout the day so that they are ready to slow down when the time comes.
- If your toddler is afraid of the dark, try a dim night light or a comforting object like a cozy blanket or stuffed animal.
- If your child tends to have trouble sleeping without you in the room, work towards gradually making them feel more comfortable and confident on their own at night. You can do this by extending the time between check-ins or waiting a few minutes before responding to your child when they call you back into their room. In time, your little one will learn that there is nothing to be afraid of and they’ll become better at falling asleep on their own.
Frequently Asked Questions
There are many reasons why you might want to make changes to your baby’s bedtime. Perhaps you want to move your baby’s bedtime later in the summer to take advantage of the extra sunlight and longer days. Or maybe you’re finding that your child’s current bedtime simply isn’t working well with your routine. You might also want to encourage your little one to sleep in a little bit later by pushing their bedtime back. Whatever the reason may be, there is good news: it is entirely possible to adjust your toddler’s bedtime over time. Try pushing your little one’s bedtime up by 15 minutes for a week. Evaluate how that worked - if your child continued to wake up at the same time or a little bit later that’s a great sign. Continue this process until you’ve shifted your little one to the desired bedtime. It’s best not to change your child’s bedtime by more than an hour over a short period of time, especially, if you might want to make the shift back-and-forth between bedtimes seasonally.
The answer to this question depends on your baby’s age. Typically, when you first bring your little one home from the hospital there will be no such thing as ‘bedtime’ for at least the first few weeks so don’t get too caught up in establishing a newborn sleep schedule right off the bat. Sleep will be cyclical and relate more to feeding time rather than the time of the day. As your baby matures, this will slowly change.
By around 2 - 3 months of age your baby will likely be ready for a more fixed schedule. During this period, try to get your little one to sleep between 8 to 11 PM.
Once your baby reaches 4 months of age until about 10 months of age, aim to get them to bed between 6 PM to 7:30 PM. This may seem early to you, however, a well-rested baby is a happy baby. When your baby is well-rested and happy they are less likely to be fussy and more likely to sleep soundly.
At around 10 months, you can shift bedtime back to 7:30 PM. This is because by 10 months, most children are sleeping through the night as well as napping so a later bedtime is best.
Once your baby enters their toddler years you can decide their bedtime based on their napping schedule. The more naps they take the later you may want to push their bedtime. If they’ve stopped napping, an earlier bedtime may be better.
Witching hour is a time of day when some babies tend to be particularly fussy. This usually takes place sometime between the late afternoon and early evening. There are a few reasons why this time period might be especially trying for your little one. This is a time of day when the household might be a little bit busier than usual with more people milling around and a noisier atmosphere. It’s also a time of day that your baby may be prone to feeling tired and, therefore, cranky. Finally, some mothers also find that their milk supply is lower towards the end of the day which can be frustrating for your baby especially if they are feeling extra hungry on account of a growth spurt or a less than restful sleep the night before.