The bedtime routine is often something parents look forward to because hey, it’s the end of the day and they know once baby is on bed it’s time for Netflix or sleep yourself… or perhaps you just dread it…because the bedtime battles start and they can go on for ages…
In today’s blog I am going to talk you through what bedtime routine ideally should look like, how long it should be and how you can handle those bedtime battles!
So, First Off, Why Do We Have A Bedtime Routine?
Well it is a time to wind down, indicate that sleep is coming and give your child an indication that we separate an exciting day with calm evenings and the inevitable – sleep! It is a chance to wind down, calm down and hopefully “zen”! A wonderful time to bond and connect with your child especially for those who have been at day care all day and need some 1 on 1 time with parents to fill up their love tank!
What Does Bedtime Routine Look Like?
Let’s start with a bath. Some children like a shower and that too can work well. Newborn babies may enjoy a shower with a parent just as much as a bath and enjoy that skin to skin contact.
There are good reasons as to why I suggest to have a bath in the evening rather than the morning and you can find those reasons out HERE!
Bath time ideally needs to be around the same time every night or at least within the same half hour every night as not to confuse the circadian rhythm.
After bath time head to your child’s bedroom (or the room they sleep in) to dry them off, apply any creams/massage rituals and pop on their pyjamas. It is best to do this in a low lit room, even a red light is great.
If your baby has a feed at this time now is the time to do it. Before the story! This is especially important if you are wanting to move away from feeding to sleep. Why?
Because you will have a little story after the feed or a sing song and you baby will ideally be kept awake for this interactive time and then go into their bed somewhat awake therefore breaking the pattern of feed to sleep.
Story time only needs to be 5-10 minutes. This will obviously depend on your child’s age and their attention span. A 7 month old will have a much less attention span than the 2 year old and also will not be as vocal about what story and talking about the pictures!
Into pyjamas and sleep sack. If your child does not use a sleep sack anymore ensure the duvet is appropriate size and tog. Under 4 months (pre rolling over stage) a swaddle is a great sleep cue and helps your newborn relax into sleep. Pop it on after the story.
How Long Should Bedtime Routine Be?
From the start of bath until lights out, 30 minutes max. Why? Any longer and it becomes a game, drawn out and everyone is tired by this point. Science also takes over and the body is naturally ready for the onset of sleep approximately 45 minutes after that warm bath so lights out 30 minutes after bath started and sleep with in 10-20 minutes is ideal.
The bedtime has to be a consistent time (within 30 minutes at most) each night and things you do during this routine every night and your child will come to know what is next and you may even start to see they ask for that bath or point to their bed! I have seen it happen even with the toddlers who refuse to go to bed at the beginning of our sleep journey together!
Studies have shown that babies and children who have a consistent bedtime routine actually fall asleep faster and calmer to those who don’t have a set in stone routine.
Bedtime routine needs to be easy and also portable so when you go away for a night or a holiday you can do the same thing there as you do at home.
What Age Should I Start A Bedtime Routine?
Some babies can really benefit from starting a bedtime routine from around 6-12 weeks. While bedtime may change each night during this 4th trimester having a bath, massage, a little sing song and feed each night will help your baby to relax and unwind.
Often bathing helps calm a fussy baby especially if you are in the thick of “the witching hour”! Babies who suffer reflux will benefit from a shower with parent as this way they will be kept upright. Don’t be too worried about the feed before story. At this age sleep needs to be supported so if you need to feed to sleep and it is working for you and your baby then continue to do so! If it’s not broken no need to fix it! Equally a little sing song will be just beautiful as a story may be a little too much for your newborn to comprehend!
A bath is not needed at this age (newborn) every night as their skin is so delicate and well, they are just not dirty from muddy puddles just yet! Perhaps 2-3 times a week is ample. Do spend 5 minutes in the bathroom however, wipe down your baby’s face and check the folds under their neck for any milk deposits as you do not want a rash or infection occurring.
The Toddler’s Bedtime Routine
Get those silly’s out before bedtime routine! This may look like jumping around the living room or in the sunnier warmer season the garden! Toddlers are full of beans and you may be experiences bedtime battles and acrobats in pyjamas so let’s get those “silly’s” out before bath time and exert all that energy! Pop on some music and have a giggle. Always let your toddler know BEFORE silly time commences that it will be bath time. You may like to use a timer to indicate its bath time now.
Toddlers are visual and like to be in control. Think on this for a moment, they are told what to do when to do it and how to do every second of the day so it no wonder come bedtime they push back and the “bedtime battles” start.
“Last orders” is a great opportunity to give your toddler some autonomy over bedtime. This can be 2 minutes of time where you can ask them what they need before they go to sleep. It may be another cup of water, 27 more kisses, your partner’s smelly socks or your hair band to put on their toes! This is a chance for them to ask and for you to comply! (Within reason of course!) This gives them a sense of control and that they are being listened to. You may also like to offer a chance to go to the loo again!
Use visuals throughout the bedtime routine. My (free) BEDTIME ROUTINE CARDS HERE (print them out and use them tonight!) and they will help guide you and your toddler through the process and also gets them involved and interactive thought it. (They come with full instructions on my suggestions how to use them)
Bedtime routine at this age is also great to have 1 on 1 time with a parent and have a chat about their day, don’t expect a full blown account from them until they are at least 25.. but talk about what made you feel happy today and encourage them to tell you! It’s about language development here and communication.
If you use white or pink noise or even brown noise pop it on just after that story and have it running all night long. How loud should it be…some say as loud as a power shower. Check out the app called Decibel X. It will tell you if your white noise is too loud or too quiet. Obviously it will also depend on where in the room the machine is in relation to your child.
I am often asked when should we stop the white noise? Well if it is working why stop it? There is no reason to stop using it. Many toddlers I have worked with still have white noise and that is okay. Even adults use white noise to help them sleep at night.
What to Avoid During the Bedtime Routine?
Definitely screen time. We know “blue” light is no good for the onset of sleep. Stop all screen time at least 60-90 minutes prior to lights out. No sugary drinks or foods at least 90 minutes prior to bedtime for many children.
If bedtime is a bit of a circus in your home stick to one person doing the bedtime routine and avoid flip flopping between yourself and your partner coming and going into the bedroom. Set the boundaries of what you will and won’t do and stick to them. Especially for those button pushing toddlers!
Avoid being distracted by your phone or computer. Focus on your child. Avoid dragging out bedtime.
Consistency and repetition when it comes to bedtime routine. All caregivers need to be doing the same thing when it comes to bedtime as not to confuse your child and also it helps your baby learn what is coming next, feel safe and secure and it is reassuring for them. These are all wonderful feelings to have just before going to sleep!
Now don’t forget…. my bedtime routine cards? GRAB THEM HERE FOR FREE!
Your Paediatric Sleep Consultant