Make bedtime the best time.
If you’ve read any books about sleep for children, you know the importance of having a consistent bedtime routine. It’s a time to slow down and connect with your little ones at the end of the day. Children find security in knowing what to expect; routines are one way to provide cues about what is coming next.
It’s never too early or too late to establish a bedtime routine.
Newborns (0-3 months)
If you have a newborn, your first few weeks will likely be spent recovering from birth and getting established with feeding so baby is growing at a healthy rate. In those early weeks, you should be helping baby get plenty of sleep, whether they are peacefully snoozing in a bassinet or they’re cozied up in your arms while you binge a new show. There is no need to worry about sleep associations like rocking, holding, or even feeding to sleep in the first few weeks when you are focusing on healing and just making it through the day with a baby who is well-fed and sleeping safely (according to the American Academy of Pediatric’s ABCs of Safe Sleep)
A great time to begin working toward a consistent bedtime routine is around 6-8 weeks so that hopefully it’s a normal part of every evening by 8-12 weeks. It can be a gradual process where you try different things and settle on a routine that works for your family.
A simple newborn bedtime routine should take 15-20 minutes. It might include a diaper change, a gentle massage with oil or lotion, putting on some cozy pajamas, reading a short book together, swaddling or putting baby into a sleep sack, singing a song, and laying down in the crib or bassinet. The routine exists to help your baby wind down at the end of the day and be ready for sleep.
In the early stages of this process, you may rock baby all the way to sleep at the end of your bedtime routine, while taking care not to feed baby to sleep. As you settle into the routine, you can experiment with putting your baby down drowsy, but still awake, offering them some extra soothing support if they need it while they settle to sleep in their crib/bassinet. You can eventually move toward putting baby down calm, but wide awake. At first, you can expect baby to need extra soothing while they lay in the crib and get comfortable falling asleep flat on their back, but eventually you can give them space to fall asleep completely independently.
Separating feeding from sleep is the first step of teaching your little one to fall asleep independently.
Babies, Toddlers, & Preschoolers
Whether you’ve just moved out of the newborn stage or you have a four year old who has never had a consistent bedtime routine, you can start one today. As you think about what to include in your daily ritual of ending the day, it helps to consider the whole family.
- What sounds calming and connecting for your child AND you as the parent(s)?
- Do you want bath time to be a bedtime cue every night?
- In a two-parent home, does it make sense for one parent to always do bedtime or should you take turns?
- Do you have another child you will also be getting ready for bed? Is one parent managing bedtime solo for everyone or will you divide and conquer?
- Are there parts of the bedtime routine that can include all children? Should the children be going to sleep in the same room at the same time or would a change in that dynamic help everyone to settle down easier?
What can you realistically do consistently every night for the last 20-30 minutes of the day to prepare your little one for sleep? After you’ve had a chance to think it over, the next step is to just do it. Your child will learn best through experience. If your child is around 18+ months old, you might also consider introducing a visual bedtime routine chart. It can be a simple list of the sequence of events that happen before bed with a picture to help them understand. Draw the pictures or find some clipart online; it doesn’t have to be fancy.