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How to Tweak Your Child’s Bedtime Routine to Help with Sleep

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

I didn’t know a lot when I became a parent. I thought I did, but, oh, was I wrong!

One thing I didn’t know as a new parent was that your child’s bedtime routine should change over time.

Yes, I mean, you shouldn’t continue to give them their final feeding of the day right before you lay them in the crib after a certain point in time, at least, you shouldn’t if they’re having issues with their sleep.

It’s appropriate when their tummies are still so little that they need to eat every few hours, but eventually, this will start to hinder sleep more than help it!

Let’s get into all the nuances that are involved in your child’s bedtime routine as they grow and change. Consider this your source from the newborn days and into the early childhood years.

What is the best bedtime routine for a newborn baby?

You can - and should - start implementing a sleep routine with your baby as early as day one!

For the first few weeks, this routine is more for you and your sanity.

Babies have the capability of recognizing routines, or what - after a certain string of events happens - comes next as early as six weeks old.

Here’s what I recommend for your child’s bedtime routine for the first 3-4 months of life:

  1. Bath (not necessary every night)

  2. Lotion

  3. Fresh diaper and pajamas on

  4. Full feeding, do your best to keep baby awake

  5. Burp

  6. Swaddle

  7. White noise on and lights off

  8. Kisses/cuddles/prayers/song

  9. Into bed

You’ll see that you incorporate a full feeding (and burping) only a few minutes before you lay them in their bassinet or crib.

We DO want to include one final, full feeding at this stage because a newborn baby’s stomach is still so little! They need to eat every few hours, and possibly one, two, or even three times at night during those first few weeks of life. Offering this final, full feeding to end the day sets them up for a *hopefully* longer stretch of sleep initially, that extends over time as your baby’s stomach grows.

But, there comes a time when you’ll want to consider moving this feeding to a different spot in the bedtime routine…

What is the best bedtime routine for a 4-12-month-old baby?

Once your child hits four months of age, you’ll want to move their final feeding of the day more towards the beginning of their bedtime routine. Your baby now has the capability to go much longer between feeds so it doesn’t need to be the last thing you do in the routine anymore.

This also promotes independent sleep, because your baby hopefully isn’t falling asleep at this point in the routine. Separating feeding from sleep with the other steps in the routine sets your baby up for sleep success because it gives them the opportunity to fall asleep in a way other than feeding.

Depending on their size and development, your baby may even be able to sleep all night without a feeding. This will vary from baby to baby, and you should discuss this with your child’s pediatrician.

Here’s the recommended routine we have for babies 4-12 months old:

  1. Full feeding, do your best to keep baby awake

  2. Bath (not necessary every night)

  3. Lotion

  4. Fresh diaper, pajamas, and sleep sack on

  5. Read book(s)

  6. White noise on and lights off

  7. Kisses/cuddles/prayers/song

  8. Into bed

Bedtime routines for the toddler years and early childhood

Once your baby isn’t a baby anymore (trust me, I know, they’ll always be your baby!!!) it’s time to change things up again.

Your child is now mobile and has a lot more energy to expel at the end of the day before you can expect them to sleep well.

Here’s what I recommend for a solid bedtime routine for your toddler or preschooler:

  1. Large motor playtime between dinner bedtime routine

  2. High protein snack (cheese, toast with nut butter, yogurt)

  3. Bath (not necessary every night)

  4. Lotion

  5. Fresh diaper or pull-up, pajamas on (+sleep sack if in a crib)

  6. Brush teeth

  7. Read book(s)

  8. 2-3 minute meditation

  9. White noise on and lights off

  10. Kisses/cuddles/prayers/song

  11. Into bed

Set your little one up for sleep success no matter their age! The bedtime routine is always the first place to start.

And if you know you’re going to want more help, or heck, even help with implementing these small changes, that’s what we are here for! We’d love to work with you and help you meet your sleep goals. Contact us to learn more about working together.

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