How to Create a Baby Bedtime Routine for Better Sleep
How to Create a Baby Bedtime Routine for Better Sleep
September 16, 2020

How to Create a Baby Bedtime Routine for Better Sleep

How to Create a Baby Bedtime Routine for Better Sleep.
When it comes to getting better sleep for you and baby, consistency is key.How to Create a Baby Bedtime Routine for Better Sleep

When your baby is a newborn, the idea of having any kind of bedtime routine can seem like a crazy idea. Weren’t they just partying in the womb at 3 a.m. two weeks ago? But if there’s one thing babies love almost as much as eating and snuggles, it’s consistency.

Everyone’s brains and bodies need some kind of wind down before bed. Not to mention, while healthy sleep patterns are vital for your baby’s physical and mental development, they are just as important for you. Sleep deprivation isn’t entirely avoidable, but anything that can improve your sleep will make new parenting, work and daily life in general much easier. In the long run, a good routine can mean better sleep—not just for your baby, but for your whole family.

So when to start? Around four months old can be a great time to start a bedtime routine (that’s when your baby’s development lines up with more sleep), but little ones as young as even six or eight weeks can benefit from simple clues that help tell them it’s time for sleep. And keep in mind: as your baby gets older, you can create more elaborate bedtime routines, but in the beginning, it’s totally fine to keep it easy.

How to Start a Bedtime Routine

Time is not a concept babies are born with. Newborns don’t know that nights are for sleeping and days are for waking, so it’s perfectly normal for them to sleep in short bursts and wake every two to three hours to eat. Around six to eight weeks, they begin to develop their circadian rhythms and usually start sleeping for longer stretches of time at night. By the four month mark, most babies are physically and neurologically capable of going throughout the night without a feed (of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will!).

Around this age, pick a time, say between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., to begin regularly putting baby down to bed for the night. One thing that makes it easier to stick with a regular nighttime routine is sticking with a regular daytime routine. So try to keep naps and feedings at regular times, and try using similar cues and patterns when putting your baby down for naps as you do for bedtime (and if your baby is with a caregiver during the day or at daycare, see if they can do the same. Most structured daycares will tend toward routine anyway).

Create a Cozy Sleep Environment

Start by keeping your baby’s room cool and dark. Consider blackout curtains if baby’s sleeping room has too much natural light (you can get them almost anywhere these days, even in cute nursery-friendly styles). And while your instincts probably tell you to keep your baby warm at night, cooler is better when it comes to sleep.

Use a firm mattress. Whether your baby sleeps in their own room or in yours, they should always be put down in a bare crib or bassinet with no pillows, blankets or stuffed animals. Some newer bassinets like the Snoo also offer sleep-friendly tech that soothes your baby, which may encourage longer stretches of sleep (they’re pricey, even with the monthly rental option).

Add white noise. Many babies are easily woken by noises around the house. A white noise machine or app can help your baby sleep more soundly, and turning one on at sleep time can signal it’s time for rest.

Clear the air. Dry air can make it harder for your baby to clear mucus out of their airways, which can lead to interrupted sleep. So consider a humidifier to improve their air quality.

Swaddle up. Swaddling prevents newborns from startling themselves awake while providing a cozy womb-like cocoon to sleep in. If your baby has already started rolling over by themselves, opt for a swaddle that lets them sleep arms out, like the Halo SleepSack (same snuggles, but safer for babies who can roll on their own).

Set Signals for Bed

Some parents like to give their baby a bath with calming soaps, do a baby massage with lotion or read books and sing soothing lullabies to relax. Any or all of these are great, but honestly, when you’re tired and trying to create a new routine, all that can seem like a lot to take on. So it’s totally fine to keep your routine quick and easy. The key is choosing something you’ll stick with.

Simple cues, like dimming lights around the house, changing your baby’s diaper, dressing them in their jammies, swaddle or sleep sack or turning on a white noise machine in baby’s room can signal that it’s time for sleep.

Some parents like to have regular “goodnight” words or phrases they say to their baby at bedtime. It can be a sweet family tradition to start and provide a helpful bedtime cue if you’re ever traveling or putting your baby to bed in an unfamiliar location where other creature comforts might not be available.

Operation: Drowsy But Awake

It’s tempting to put your baby to bed after they’ve already nodded off while nursing or being soothed. But the purpose of a bedtime routine isn’t just to get them to bed tonight, it’s to help your baby learn important skills they’ll need to fall asleep on their own later.

So aim to put your baby down when they’re drowsy, but still awake. What does that look like? It just means your baby is calm, but not sleeping yet. Do you ever fall asleep on the couch watching TV because you’re just so relaxed and cozy? That’s the vibe your baby’s going for. One way to transition to drowsy but awake is to try putting some time between feeding and bedtime (once your baby reaches four months). That way you aren’t always relying on nursing or a bottle to get your baby to fall asleep.

And if they’re fussing a bunch? Try shifting bedtime a little earlier. Babies often give subtle clues when they’re tired (before they reach meltdown stage), so if your little one is extra cranky when it comes time to put them down for bed, you may be in overtired territory. Try moving bedtime up in 15 minute increments every few days until you hit the sweet spot. (And the same goes if you suspect your bedtime might be too early.)

Be Patient

All babies, like all parents, are different, and yours might not take kindly to not being fed or rocked to sleep right away. And that’s fine. Give it some time and keep trying. And know that developmental sleep regressions, colds, teething, vacations and other life interruptions can throw schedules out of whack.

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