Having a bedtime routine is key to helping little ones sleep well. By creating a bedtime routine, you give baby a cue that lets baby know that sleep is near. It helps baby unwind from the day, change gears, relax and calm, and prepare for sleep time. Your bedtime routine should start at around the same time every night, therefore helping to really set their little body clocks and work towards helping them know what to expect next.
Preparing the room
The room should be prepared for sleep before you run the bath so that by the time you get out of the bath, the scene is set and you have created the perfect sleep environment for your little one. The lights should be dim and the curtains closed, keeping the atmosphere as cosy and calm as you can, helping your little one transition from day to night, from awake to asleep.
In my experience, I find the best time for a little one to go down to sleep is around 7pm or a little earlier, as you risk the chance of your little one becoming overtired if he is going to bed later much than 7pm, which could gravely affect his nights.
A baby's daytime sleep and night-time sleep work hand-in-hand. By putting baby down to sleep even just 30 minutes later, you could have a difficult time on your hands. An overtired baby can be difficult to settle and the whole night could be affected by even just a slightly later bedtime.
Getting the balance right
A baby's 24 hour day should be divided in two: 12 hours of daytime and 12 hours of night-time. The beginning days are sleepy and baby may wake in the early morning to feed and will most likely to be happy then to sleep past 7am, but as a little one starts to become more awake and alert and his sleep becomes more solidified, it can be unrealistic to expect your baby - if going to bed at 7pm - to sleep in for much later than 7am. If, however, you are putting your baby down at 8pm and your baby is waking at 6am, your little one is losing out on 2 hours of sleep every day. Multiply that by 7 and your little one is losing 14 hours of sleep a week! That’s a massive difference to a growing, developing baby.
Rest and recharge for parents
A bedtime also symbolises the end of the day, for both parent and for baby. For parents, it means time spent together as a couple and the rest of the evening to rest and recharge. By doing this, a healthy boundary is set so that, as a little one begins to grow older, he will understand that it’s okay for mummy and daddy to have time to themselves while he goes to sleep. He sees that as the norm and, moving forwards as the little one grows older into a toddler, he won’t expect that he should be able to stay up as late as his parents and go to bed when they do. Always start as you mean to go on.
Adopting a great routine
Bedtime routines slightly differ from family to family, taking into account what works best for baby and parents, but in general a lovely, soothing bedtime routine may look something like this:
Bath time: splish splash! Often babies get really excited and love bath time, don’t worry too much about keeping bath time calm and quiet, you may not win. Calm time can come after bath time.
Dry, dry, dry: Take care to dry little one all over. Babies have so many little folds that can easily be missed, causing sores later on if left damp.
Baby massage: Or at best, a little cream all over baby’s body and perhaps a gentle nappy barrier cream, helping to keep baby's bum happy and protected until the next change.
Pj’s: Dress little one appropriately and always remember you are dressing them for the night, not for just how the temperature feels in the present moment.
Story time: Some babies love hearing a story before bed, some are too young or just want their milk too much to bother. A story need not be long or a whole book, it can consist of 1 page, helping set the wonderful habit of reading and some special time for both parent and child before bedtime.
Time for milk: This can be done before story time or after story time, depending on the preferences of parent and baby.
Putting baby down for bed and playing a lullaby: This is a fantastic step and one I highly recommend. By playing the same song/s on going to bed every night, the sound gets linked as a sleep association. Baby hears the song or music and immediately knows it’s sleep time. This is so helpful and can especially come in great use when traveling. Most baby monitors have a selection of soothing lullabies which you can play.
The whole bedtime routine shouldn't take longer than 1 hour from start to finish. It’s easy for a little one to become distracted and 'forget' the aim of sleep which you had in mind, if your bedtime routine lasts longer than 1 hour.
Avoid going back to the room which baby mostly plays in and playing with his toy again before bed. Keep moving in alignment with bedtime, keeping the atmosphere calm and quiet, and the lighting low to match.
About the author
Tracy Newberry, a baby sleep coach and sleep consultant, is the founder of Happy Baby and Me. She teaches sleep in a gentle reassuring way; never using any of the ‘cry it out methods’. Tracy was passionate about working with children from an early age and began working as a nanny in London when she was 18. A year and a half later, she returned to her home country of South Africa, where she nannied and worked as a nursery school teacher.
Arriving back in London in 2009, Tracy continues to work with families, growing her experience and childcare knowledge. As her passion for teaching sleep grew, she set up her own business Happy Baby and Me. Tracy now helps many babies and young children learn the wonderful skill of falling asleep in a gentle, caring way.