Whether you realise it or not, most of our days are made up of routines, even as an adult. Although we may not refer to it as a ‘bedtime’ per se, each evening we’ll go through the motions of turning off the lights, brushing our teeth and heading up to bed – our own little routines.
Why Is A Bedtime Routine Important?
Following each step of a routine, be it subconsciously or not, has a reassuring and calming impact on both adults and babies. It’s essential to establish a baby bedtime routine to help both yourselves and your little one understand that bedtime is coming, and it’s an excellent chance for some additional bonding time.
Children can become stimulated in the evening despite their need for sleep remaining high, and if the cortisol is high, overtiredness can take over. A consistent and predictable bedtime routine will set the body up for good sleeping habits and, eventually, will help your baby sleep through the night.
When Should You Introduce A Routine?
Babies aren’t born with a circadian rhythm that regulates the sleep-wake cycle so it can take between two and four months before they are influenced, through hormones, by dark and light, night and day. When you see those first social smiles from your little one, around 6-8 weeks, that indicates a time of development that includes some sleep development that can allow you to start working on establishing a routine. From here, you can utilise a routine to help support your childs developing the circadian rhythm and encourage good sleep habits.
It’s important to avoid getting into any habits with your baby from early on, such as them only drifting off in your arms. By establishing a routine early, you’re not only supporting your little one in falling asleep but allowing yourself time to relax in the evenings. Babies will feed off your energy, so it’s essential to allow yourself some time to unwind.
Furthermore, the ritual of a bedtime routine and the comfort it brings will help see you through the trickier sleep periods of a babies development such as sleep training which occurs between four and six months old and sleep regression.
What Does An Ideal Bedtime Routine Look Like?
A bedtime routine won’t start bang on bedtime; in fact, I suggest starting at least two hours before. A babies bedtime will change as they develop and settle into their nap and nighttime routines.
Once weaned onto solids, ensure your baby has a good carb-based meal at approximately 5 pm. I would recommend avoiding protein in their dinners until around nine months.
Next, give them a warm bath. Although this may not relax them entirely, it’s a good indicator that the evening routine has begun and bedtime is coming.
After the bath, head to a brightly lit living space, not the bedroom, for their last feed of the day followed by some gentle floor play.
About twenty minutes before bedtime, move to their bedroom and dim the lights. If possible, you should read two age-appropriate books or sing a gentle lullaby to cue that bedtime is near.
Change their nappy, pop them in their sleeping bag, turn off the light and kiss them goodnight.
Although it may seem like quite a simple routine, by repeating it day in day out when winding down for bedtime or naps your baby will soon learn the signals and cues for sleep. It’s essential to remember that consistency is key and this will help both you and your baby master the routine.
Tips For Establishing A Bedtime Routine
Timing is an integral part of all routines. Be sure to allow enough time for each stage and not to simply rush through the motions. It’s important to track your baby’s sleep patterns and understand their sleep cues such as rubbing their eyes and yawning. Aim to put them down when they are sleepy before they become overtired.
Flexibility is essential as your routine will likely change as your baby grows and develops. Bath and playtime could become rowdier as they grow, or perhaps stories become longer. If this is the case, you may need to begin the routine earlier to allow for enough time.
Location is also a vital part of the routine to consider. Although babies will often fall asleep in their car seat or pram, it’s more consistent and safer for them to sleep in a cot. If you’re out and about and they do drift off be sure to transfer them as soon as possible. It will also be easier to manage the light and atmosphere in your child’s room than in other areas of the house. Keep the lights dim, curtains closed and try white noise machines if needed.