How to Develop a Bedtime Routine
Bedtime routines are a predictable sequence of events that you consistently follow in the same order every night. They ease the transition from waking to sleeping, which helps children feel more secure, comfortable, and calm as they prepare for bed. Consistent routines also lead to a better night's sleep.
Parents should implement a bedtime routine early—preferably during the first year of life. Around four months might be the ideal time, since your baby is getting most of her sleep at night (with three daytime naps), and is beginning to establish a more set day-night cycle, says Jyoti Krishna, M.D., a pediatric sleep specialist at the Cleveland Clinic Sleep Disorders Center.
"Babies and children crave consistency, so create some kind of schedule with regular nap times and a set bedtime," Dr. Krishna says. "It's also important to put a baby to bed when she is drowsy, not when she is fully asleep. Babies need to learn to soothe themselves to sleep so they're not always relying on you to do it."
Here are some tips for establishing a healthy and effective bedtime routine for your child.
Choose bedtime activities wisely.
You want to start activities that signal to your child that sleep is approaching, Dr. Krishna says. Many parents rely on the three Bs: bath, books, and bottle/breast. Some parents find that their babies sleep better after a light massage or when soft music is playing in the background. Through trial and error, you'll figure out what works for you and your child.
Create a calming environment .
Like most adults, children need a calm, quiet space for sleep. Make sure that your baby has a firm mattress in his crib, and that the room is a comfortable temperature. "The room doesn't have to be pitch-black at night—if your child is more secure with a nightlight on, make sure he has one," says Shari Mezrah, a sleep specialist and author of The Baby Sleeps Tonight.
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Have a happy tummy.
Naturally, when your baby is full, they will sleep longer and better, Mezrah says. When you're trying to get a baby to sleep, it's best to breastfeed or give her a bottle before you put her down.
You can give older kids a light snack that includes both protein and carbohydrates—for example, a small piece of cheese and one-half slice of whole-wheat bread. The carbohydrates make them sleepy, and the protein will help keep their blood sugar on an even level until breakfast. Brush your child's teeth after they eat.
Some babies and most toddlers have a hard time winding down for bedtime, so start switching gears about 30 minutes beforehand, Mezrah says. This means turning off the TV and limiting any kind of physical activity to focus on more relaxing pursuits, like reading or listening to some calming music.
Be consistent with bedtime.
It's simple: If you're constantly changing your child's sleep times, you'll have a harder time getting them to nap and sleep through the night. Aside from special occasions (holidays, birthdays, vacations), be sure your child stays on schedule and you stick with your daily routine. Creating healthy sleep habits now will help you—and your child—in the long run!