One of the three key pieces of healthy sleep is having concrete bedtime and naptime routines in place. (The other two pieces are self-soothing skills and an age-appropriate schedule.) When you have predictable routines in place, each part of the routine lets Baby know that sleep is coming, which helps Baby wind down and ultimately fall asleep.
I’ve always preached the importance of bedtime routines, but it isn’t until you try to do something different that you realize how much of an effect routines (bedtime or otherwise) have on children.
Take my two-year-old, for example. Her usual schedule is roughly 7am wake, 12pm lunch, 1pm nap, 7pm sleep. However, on Sundays, we have church at 1pm, so we have to make adjustments to her schedule to accommodate that. She LOVES church, so we usually mention that it’s church day throughout the morning, and we tell her that after her nap, we’ll go to church. Her usual Sunday schedule is roughly 7am wake, 11:30am nap, 1pm lunch at church, 6:30pm sleep. Sundays can be rough because she has to go so long between her nap and bedtime, but she gets that Sundays are different, and she does pretty well with that.
But one Sunday, we put her down for her nap at 11:30am like usual, only she didn’t fall asleep until 12:38pm. There was no way I was waking her after only a 20-minute nap, so I opted to stay home with her until she woke up, feed her lunch at home, and then get to church in time for the second meeting (the part of church she loves).
Well, things didn’t quite go as planned because Miss Ada is used to her Sunday routine. After she woke, I tried to put her in her high chair to eat lunch, but she held onto me so tight and wouldn’t let me put her down. She kept saying “Church?” and “Daddy?” — She thought Dad had gone to church without us and we just weren’t going, which she was not okay with. When we finally made it to church and went to nursery first thing (instead of second thing), she was quite clingy again. Nursery is her favorite part, but she was SO thrown off by the deviation from the usual schedule that her behavior was so peculiar! She didn’t know what to expect, which in turn made her behavior quite unpredictable.
Babies and small children truly thrive when they know what to expect. It is when routines are haphazard and variable that Baby will do more to test the parental boundaries — and that’s because she doesn’t understand what the boundaries are.
For instance, if you sometimes read two books at bedtime, and other times you allow six books, Baby has no way of knowing whether tonight is a two-book night or a six-book night. If you read two books and then tell her it’s time for bed, she may kick and scream because she’s found that sometimes when she does that, she gets the extra books. However, if you always read her two books at bedtime, she may still ask for more books (every night, even!), but she’ll know you mean it when you say “we’re all done with books now,” so she’s much less likely to throw the tantrum.
Your routine doesn’t have to be long or complicated, it just has to be consistent. If you’re looking for ideas for your bedtime routine, here are several:
dance or play (toward the beginning of the routine — slow things down as the routine progresses)
milk feeding (toward the beginning of the routine)
game(s) (like peekaboo)
review the events of the day
say goodnight to Baby’s stuffed animals or other objects in the room
diaper change/go to the bathroom
dim the lights/use a special nightlight for the end of the routine (but I recommend complete darkness for actual sleep)
sound machine on
Choose a routine that you can be consistent with, and also choose things that you enjoy. If it’s going to drive you nuts to have to say goodnight to each of Baby’s stuffed animals every night, don’t start that up in the first place! Routines can change over time, but you can also keep things pretty consistent if you set things up in a way you like from the get-go.
So what are you waiting for? Implement and stick to a bedtime routine to help get Baby sleeping better.
Do you have a bedtime routine in place for your child(ren)? What does it look like?