When it’s time to sleep, you don’t just jump into bed with work clothes and all. Most people follow a routine, whether they are aware of it or not. They wash their face, brush their teeth, change into pyjamas, have a drink, and probably read a book in bed before finally drowsing off. Like you, babies could do with a consistent bedtime routine.
A sleeping routine is a series of actions or events that lead up to going to sleep. A predictable and consistent bedtime routine alerts your baby that it’s time to wind down and get ready for sleep. It also helps reduce bedtime struggles that most kids go through and build the foundation for sleep training. Most importantly, a bedtime routine helps your child sleep faster, longer and better.
When Should You Start a Baby Bedtime Routine?
The best time to start a baby's bedtime routine is between 6 and 8 weeks. Don’t pressure yourself to start one right after birth, no matter what people tell you. During the first few weeks, babies have no sense of day and night, and they sleep pretty much all the time.
At around 6-8 weeks, the baby’s brain has developed enough to learn patterns. This is also when they start being awake more and differentiating between day and night. The first purpose of a bedtime routine will be to reinforce the baby’s circadian rhythm so they can sleep more at night and stay awake more during the day.
The Makings of a Good Bedtime Routine
There is no one-size-fits-all kind of bedtime routine because every family is different. The secret to a good routine is making it short, simple, and accommodative.
Examples of activities you can do as part of the routine include;
- A soothing bath. After a long day of playing and activities, nothing relaxes the baby more than a warm bath. If you can, incorporate other sleep-inducing properties like lavender and chamomile into that bath.
- An oil massage. The natural progression after a bath is oiling the baby’s body to keep their skin soft and supple. Take this chance to massage them all over with the oil. Research shows that a gentle massage produces more melatonin, the hormone that makes people sleep.
- Pyjamas. There is no louder cue that it's bedtime than pyjamas. Choose clean and soft pyjamas for the baby and lay them in bed.
- Storytime. Dim the lights and sit close to your baby for storytime. You can choose to tell a story from your head or read a storybook for them. This should take around ten minutes so it can soothe the baby to sleep.
- White noise. Most babies find the white noise to be extremely soothing. Once you read the story, turn on the noise so it can give your child the final kick to sleep. The white noise will also soothe the child back to sleep if they wake during the night, especially if it’s the last thing they hear before sleep.
How to Build a Bedtime Routine
The best way to build a consistent bedtime routine is to keep it simple and time it right. Choose three or four low stimulation and comforting activities and start there. You should also;
1. Time It Right
Over the eight weeks plus your child has been with you, you have probably noticed some cues that lead up to falling asleep. Maybe they yawn a lot, scratch their eyes, or get cranky as all hell. Take a mental note of when that starts to happen because that is the time your baby should be in bed.
Ideally, you should start the bedtime routine 30 minutes to an hour before then so you are in bed at the right time. If they get cranky and sleepy at 8 o’clock, make sure the baby is fed by seven and start the routine right after. By the time you are done, your baby will drowse off without any resistance.
Timing is everything when it comes to sleep. If you do it too early, the child won’t be sleepy, and they will likely go to bed and start playing. Conversely, the child will be too cranky to handle if you do it too late.
Complete the bedtime routine in bed
Your baby should have a positive association with their bedroom. It should not be the place where they are banished off to sleep when everyone else is enjoying themselves elsewhere. If it’s possible, do the entire bedtime routine in their bedroom and associate it with fun activities. Things like storytime, oil massage, cuddle, and even last feeding are best done in bed.
Create the right atmosphere
Sleeping is as much about the atmosphere as it is about timing. The baby’s room should be calm and relaxing, especially before bed. Keep the lights dim, avoid loud music and any electronic gadgets that emit light, pull the shades down, and turn on some soothing music. You should also speak in a calm voice and avoid play at all costs.
2. Be consistent
The best routine is built on consistency and building habits. When the routine becomes part of the child’s everyday life, it becomes second nature. This breeds comfort and reduces the chance of resistance. Consistency also primes the brain to work on cue-if the baby sees the routine, the brain starts shutting down for sleep.
3. Adjust when necessary
A bedtime routine for your 7-week-old infant will be very different from that of a 6-month old. At 7 weeks, all they need is cuddles, breastfeeding, and some white noise. As the baby grows, you will need to incorporate more age-appropriate activities while getting rid of others. For example, bath time is more of playtime for 1 to 2-year-olds, so it will only stimulate them more. Keep adjusting the routine with time and give it 3-4 days to work.
As we have said repeatedly, the best sleep routines are simple and short. Don’t make it so elaborate that it starts to feel like a chore. If it’s possible, let the dad or anybody else do the routine once in a while, so it’s not associated with you alone. This way, they will still sleep peacefully even if you are not around.