How to Establish a Good Bedtime Routine for Babies Aged 3 to 18 Months
Are you finding it a bit challenging to get your little one to sleep? I’m here to help. Creating a good bedtime routine is one of the secrets to making bedtime easier for both you and your baby. Here’s how a good bedtime routine can help your child:
- Feel Better When Sick – When your baby isn’t feeling well, knowing what to expect at bedtime can be very comforting and can help them get the rest they need.
So, what does a good sleep routine look like?
In simple terms, a sleep routine (or sleep ritual) is a set of relaxing activities that you do with your baby every night before bed. Think of it like a countdown to sleep time, with activities like taking a warm bath, reading a story, or gently rocking your baby.
I recommend splitting the routine into two main parts:
Part 1: Getting Ready for Bed
This part is all about helping your baby wind down. This could include:
- Going to the bedroom: Simply moving to a new room can signal that it’s time to start slowing down.
- Lowering the lights: Dimming the lights can help your baby’s body know it’s time to sleep.
- Having a bath: A warm bath can be very soothing and is a great way to start winding down.
- Playing quiet games: Keep games calm and gentle before bed, leaving the energetic games for daytime.
- Eating: A satisfying feed can also help your baby feel ready for sleep.
Part 2: The Bedtime Routine Itself
This is the time to help your baby relax completely and get ready to sleep. Consistency is key here, so try to do the same activities in the same order each night.
For example, you might start by kissing your baby goodnight, then put them gently into their crib. You could then give them their favorite toy or blanket and quietly say, “Night night, it’s sleep time now.”
By keeping to a regular, calming bedtime routine, we can help our babies move smoothly from daytime fun to nighttime rest. And when they wake up well-rested, they’ll be ready for a new day of learning and growing!
What Does the Ideal Bedtime Routine Look Like?
Well, the truth is, there’s no one-size-fits-all ‘recipe’ for the perfect bedtime routine. Every child is unique and will have different needs and preferences when it comes to their sleep routine. What we can aim for is a routine that works best for your child.
A good routine typically meets these common criteria:
For babies older than 6 months, start about 30 minutes before bedtime. If your child is particularly energetic or has difficulty settling down for sleep, you might want to start a bit earlier—about 40 to 50 minutes before bedtime.
Create a soothing atmosphere by dimming the lights and speaking in a quiet, calm voice. If your child is restless or fussy, resist the urge to raise your voice to be heard. Instead, speak softly, whisper if needed.
Choose a routine that brings joy to both you and your child. This shouldn’t be a chore, but rather a special time you share together.
Your chosen routine should be something that anyone can carry out, whether it’s Dad, Grandma, Mom, Auntie, or the babysitter.
5. Age Appropriate
Make sure to tailor your routine to your child’s age. What works for a newborn might not be suitable for an older baby or toddler.
Avoid activities that can over-stimulate your child, especially if they are naturally energetic. The goal is to help them wind down, not rev them up.
Your routine should be something you can easily replicate when you’re away from home, such as on vacation.
Consistency is key to establishing good sleep habits. Write down your bedtime routine to make it easier to stick to it. And importantly, follow it every night, or at least until your child has established and reinforced new sleep habits.
Remember, a good bedtime routine should be pleasant, relaxing, and lead naturally to sleep. With patience and consistency, your child will soon associate these activities with bedtime, and you’ll both enjoy a more peaceful night’s sleep.
Example of a Bedtime Routine
Below, you’ll find a typical nighttime routine that you might consider for your child. But remember, this is just a guide – it’s important to customize your routine to fit the unique needs and preferences of your child.
Part 1: Preparing for Sleep:
- Move to the Bedroom – Begin your routine by transitioning your child to the room where they’ll be sleeping.
- Warm, Soothing Bath – A gentle, warm bath can help to relax your child and signal that it’s nearly time to sleep.
- Baby Body Oil Massage – A massage with baby body oil can be soothing and comforting, further helping your child to relax.
- Dressing in Pajamas – Dress your child in their pajamas. The act of changing into sleepwear can serve as another cue that it’s almost bedtime.
- Quiet, Calm Bedtime Play – Engage in a calm activity on the bed, such as looking at a picture book. This quiet time can help your child wind down.
- Bedtime Story of the Little Bear – Read your child a bedtime story. In our example, it’s a story about a little bear. The sound of your voice can be very calming to your child.
- Pink Noise – Mountain Stream – Play some soft, ambient noise in the background, like the sound of a mountain stream. This “pink noise” can help mask other sounds and create a calming environment.
Part 2: Bedtime Ritual:
- Lights Out – Switch off the light in the room. This is a clear signal to your child that it’s time to sleep.
- Lie Down in the Crib – Help your child to settle down in their crib or bed.
- Handover of the Comfort Object – Give your child their favorite sleep toy. This can provide comfort and familiarity as they drift off to sleep.
- Kiss and Sleeping Words – Give your child a goodnight kiss and say your special sleeping words. These could be something like, “Sweet dreams, it’s time to sleep now.”
Remember, this isn’t a ‘recipe’ but merely a suggestion. It’s all about finding the routine that works best for your child. Don’t be afraid to experiment and adjust until you find what works perfectly for your family.
If your child is struggling with daytime sleep – perhaps they have difficulty falling asleep, their naps are too short, or their sleep is fragmented and restless – you may want to consider introducing a naptime routine, similar to the bedtime routine used for nighttime sleep.
The same principles apply as for nighttime sleep, but it’s crucial to adapt them for daytime conditions. Here are some specific tips on how to choose a suitable routine for daytime sleep:
Typically, the pre-nap sleep routine should take about 10 minutes. However, if your child has difficulty falling asleep during the day:
- ensure that the sleep-wake rhythm is suitable for them
- create a pleasant, relaxing routine at least 15 minutes before the scheduled nap
2. Pay Attention to the Sleep Environment
If your baby has trouble falling asleep during the day, take a look at the environment they are sleeping in.
- Is the room too sunny?
- Is it too hot or cold?
- What’s the humidity like?
- Is it noisy?
- Is there enough fresh air in the room?
- Are there toys or other “interesting” items around the bed that might distract your child?
3. Use Appropriate Awake Windows Between Naps
Split the wakeful time symbolically into two parts. Allow your child to spend:
- The first half in active wakefulness – time for games and fun with noisy and interactive activities.
- The second part should be spent in calm wakefulness – time for quiet and calm games.
4. Make Sure Your Child Spends Enough Time in the Sun During the Day
Sunlight helps regulate the body’s hormones – it regulates the circadian rhythm and signals to the body when to increase and decrease levels of melatonin. In other words, time spent in the sun will help your baby sleep better.
Be Flexible When Necessary
On one hand, it’s important to stick to the chosen bedtime routine. On the other hand, it’s good to show flexibility when circumstances require it. If your child is tired and/or in a bad mood, and is giving clear signals that they are ready for sleep, it is better to skip the bath or bedtime story and let them sleep earlier.
Also, special occasions like grandpa’s birthday are a good reason for flexibility. In such circumstances, simply skip the sleep routine during the respective event and resume it the next day.
Creating a bedtime routine for your baby is more than just an end-of-day ritual—it’s a gentle guidepost that helps them transition from an active day to a peaceful night. These routines signal to your baby that it’s time for sleep, and when consistently followed, they can help your baby fall asleep easier, sleep more soundly throughout the night, nap better during the day, and even find comfort when they’re not feeling well.
The key to establishing an effective bedtime routine is understanding that what works best will depend on your child’s unique needs and personality. From winding down activities like taking a bath and dimming the lights to the bedtime routine itself, consistency and calmness are pivotal.
If you find it challenging to establish or maintain a bedtime routine, or if your baby still struggles with sleep despite a consistent routine, remember that you’re not alone. As a child sleep consultant, I’m here to provide support, guidance, and personalized strategies to help improve your child’s sleep.
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