Baby sleep can be tricky and you need a realistic bedtime routine. Busy parents can’t always devote a large chunk of time to getting a baby to bed. A complicated process might not be realistic or practical with busy lifestyles, two working parents, or older siblings are thrown into the mix.
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A consistent baby bedtime routine helps your baby get settled for the night faster, go to sleep easier and more peacefully, and snooze longer. This means more time for all the other things you want to accomplish in the evening.
Sounds pretty great, right?
Why a Baby Bedtime Routine is Important
Children of all ages crave consistency. They generally have little control over what happens next, so giving them predictable routines will help them feel safe. A bedtime routine also provides important cues that will help your child transition towards rest.
Bedtime routines, especially ones that help calm the mind and body, can also help children fall asleep faster and therefore get adequate sleep. Getting enough sleep has important health benefits for babies and children including a decreased chance of obesity, and improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, and overall mental and physical health. Another benefit of a bedtime routine is the opportunity to create treasured traditions and a stronger bond with your baby or child.
How to Establish a Realistic Baby Bedtime Routine
Establishing a sleep routine that works for your child and your family takes a bit of planning. First, determine how many hours of sleep would be ideal for your child.
- Babies 4-12 months: 12-16 hours (including naps)
- Ages 1-2 years: 11-14 hours (including naps)
- Ages 3-5 years: 10-13 hours (including naps)
- Age 6-12 years: 9-12 hours
- Age 13-18 years: 8-10 hour
Second, work backward from their usual awake time to determine what time they should be in bed. This is when the bedtime routine should be finished. For example: when my son was 18 months old he consistently woke up at 6 am. After subtracting his one-hour nap, he should be getting 10-13 hours of night sleep. So, counting backward from 6 am he should have been going to bed at 7:00 pm if I wanted him to get 11 hours of night sleep.
Third, take a look at what your family’s typical evening schedule looks like. Then decide how much time you have available to dedicate to a sleeping routine. If it is 30 minutes, begin your bedtime routine 30 minutes before the time you just determined.
Fourth, determine the elements of a bedtime routine that are most important to you. Decide, by priority, which ones fit into your available time period. Do you want baby to have a bath every day? That takes up to 15 minutes of your bedtime routine. Add in additional elements to round out the 30 minutes you have available for your bedtime routine. Perhaps that looks like 10 minutes for reading and 5 minutes for lullabies.
A realistic expectation of how much time you have available, and the activities you can fit, will decrease your frustration.
5 Steps of Baby Bedtime Routine
Bedtime routines should be short, sweet, and create a calming environment. You’ve already determined how long your bedtime routine is going to be and what time baby needs to be in bed. Now, choose from the elements below and decide what fits into your schedule. We need this routine to work for mom, dad, and baby…and allow you time to be by yourself or with your partner in the evenings.
When it’s time for baby to sleep:
- Start your bedtime routine before baby is overtired
- Bath time to calm your baby
- Comfy pajamas and a sleep sack
- Create a peaceful nursery environment (including white noise machine and total darkness)
- Put your baby to bed drowsy, but not asleep
- Repeat, repeat, repeat
Start Your Bedtime Routine Before Baby is Overtired
Using the timing you determined above will lead to your baby going to bed before he or she is overtired. If your baby continues to show signs of being overtired after a week or so, you will have to rethink your schedule.
Signs of an overtired baby include:
- Yawning. Like us, babies yawn more when they’re tired.
- Touching their face, rubbing eyes, tugging at ears
- Becoming clingy
- Lack of interest
As time goes on, it will get easier and easier to recognize your little one’s sleepy-time cues. Putting your baby down before she shows signs of being overtired and cranky will not only be easier for you, but it will also set her up to get the best sleep possible!
Bath Time Calms Babies
Comfortable Baby Pajamas and a Sleep Sack
I have always been super choosy about what my babies wear to bed. I want them to be comfortable and not too hot. I always chose cotton footie pajamas for my babies combined with this temperature-controlling sleep sack.
Create a Peaceful Nursery Environment
A quiet and calm bedroom is essential for promoting sleep. Soft colors, warm rugs, and upholstered furniture all help to absorb and divert noise. The only good kind of sound to promote a sleeping child is white noise.
A white noise machine does a great job of drowning out unwanted sounds so your baby can sleep peacefully at night. Baby sleep expert Cara from Taking Cara Babies says that a sound machine replicates the sound of the womb and makes baby feel at “home.” “Silence is bizarre to babies because they are used to the noise inside the womb,” she says.
Make the room as dark as possible. Invest in high-quality black-out curtains that not only blackout the light in the evenings but in the early mornings as well. Black-out curtains will also help maintain a consistent temperature in the room, especially if you have drafty windows.
For a quiet and calm nursery try these:
- The temporary blackout shades have worked really well in our house and come in multiple sizes or can be cut to size
- Our favorite white noise machine
A room with a cooler temperature is much better for sleeping, just make sure your baby is dressed properly to prevent them from feeling cold. I loved this sleep sack for both of my babies. It’s made of merino wool which can help regulate body temperature which means you can use it year-round and it fits baby from 2 months-2 years. Definitely worth every penny.
Put Your Baby to Bed Drowsy, But Not Asleep
This is the hard part of creating good sleep habits for your baby. You must put your baby to bed drowsy and not asleep. This way, your child will learn to fall asleep on their own and they won’t rely on mom, dad, nursing, or being completely rocked to sleep in order to fall asleep and stay asleep on their own. This is how you get your evening back.
And, if your baby learns to drift off to sleep in the evening, he or she will be much more likely to fall back to sleep on their own in the middle of the night – because they have the skills to do so.
Consistency is key when it comes to a bedtime routine for your baby.
You must follow the same order of events, keep the stimulation as low as possible and create the most peaceful, and soothing environment that you can – every night. This means that both parents, any caregivers, or grandparents must follow the same routine as well in order for your bedtime routine to be successful.
Keep at it and your baby will learn the cues that it is time to go to sleep. Singing “Twinkle, Twinkle” has always been part of my daughter’s bedtime routine, and even at 6-years-old, singing it still makes her sleepy!
When your routine gets off track – maybe you started late or missed a step, older siblings overstimulated the baby or you took a phone call in the middle of bath time – whatever it may be, sometimes the best thing to do when you notice your baby won’t fall asleep on their own is to start your routine over.
Yes, start completely over.
Instead of struggling to put your baby to sleep, letting them cry, or getting frustrated, start all over with bath time and go through the entire routine again. We’ve had to do this several times with our youngest but going through the routine a second time often does the trick!
In the long run, this will get your baby used to the routine and will make it easier over time.
And If Your Baby Still Won’t Sleep
Sometimes we try our best and baby still won’t sleep consistently. You’ve created a serene environment, bought all the best-smelling baby soap, and have been consistent over time – and your baby still isn’t sleeping.
Related Post: When Baby Just Won’t Sleep – Hire a Baby Sleep Coach
For more in-depth help I want to recommend the Sleep Sense Program by Dana Obleman. Dana’s been a full-time sleep consultant since 2003 and offers a step-by-step formula to help parents solve their child’s sleep problems – and can get your child sleeping straight through the night!
Dana will make recommendations based on your baby’s age, personality, and sleeping habits, so the best way to get started is by telling her a little about your son or daughter through a six-question quiz. After you complete it you’ll get a free sleep assessment specific to your baby. Get **The Sleep Sense Program** Here
Favorite Sleep Resources
- The Happy Sleeper: The Science-Backed Guide to Helping Your Baby Get a Good Night’s Sleep-Newborn to School Age
- Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, 5th Edition: A New Step-by-Step Guide for a Good Night’s Sleep
- The Sleep Sense Program by Dana Obleman, Professional Baby Sleep Coach
- The Sleep Lady’s Gentle Sleep Solutions for Children 6 months – 6 years
- Taking Cara Babies
- The Baby Sleep Site