Updated: Nov 12, 2020
If there is ONE THING you can do to help your child out at bedtime, it is to provide for them the same bedtime routine each night. This is something you can start doing from day one with your newborn. If it's something you are not yet doing, it is a quick and easy way to help your child prepare their brain and body for that loooooong stretch of nighttime sleep...you can implement a routine starting TONIGHT!
With my background in early childhood development, my experience working with young children for the past 15 years, my degree in early childhood education, my training and certification in sleep consulting, as well as my experience as a mother...I KNOW and have learned the importance of transitions for children of all ages. You simply cannot stop doing one thing and immediately start another without there being some sort of backlash or repercussion from the child, regardless of their age. Incorporating transitional routines throughout your day provides a sense of security and attachment, and this is especially true when it comes to bedtime. Children, in general, THRIVE with routine and when they know what to expect.
By following the same routine each night, you are essentially training your child's brain that after going through each of these steps, the next thing that happens is that long stretch of sleep I mentioned earlier in the post. I am AMAZED each and every time I go through my son's bedtime (and nap time) routine. We finish up playing, and I say, "It's time for na-nights." We do a bath every 2-3 nights, so that is usually at the beginning of the routine. We also do a sippy cup of milk, brush his teeth, and read a few books before heading upstairs. I like doing this part of his routine downstairs in the family room because it separates the association of milk and sleep (because we are doing these things in different areas of the house and because of the timing in the routine). Also, as he and his sibling get older, I want to read books all together, snuggled up on the couch as a family to end our day together. These are some of my favorite memories growing up, and I want my babies to have that too!
Otherwise, it goes like this: We walk upstairs, go into his room, and turn the light and fan on. I have his sound machine already programmed to be on during his bedtime and naps, so I don't have to worry about that. Then, I lift him up on the changing table, give him a fresh diaper and pajamas, and zip him into his sleep sack. Without fail, and I am not kidding you, every time he is on the changing table, he yawns and starts rubbing his arms against his face (one of his self-soothing techniques).
It's like he just *knows* that sleep is coming!
Next, we turn out the light and sit in the rocking chair for about a minute. I sing him one song and we say his prayers. Finally, he goes into his crib with his blankie. I tell him, "I love you. I'll see you when you wake up." I walk out, close the door gently behind me, and within seconds or minutes he is asleep.
A solid bedtime routine should take no more than 30 minutes, possibly 40-45 if a bath is involved. This time frame is long enough to cue the body that a full night's sleep is about to occur. For a nap routine, I recommend no more than 10-15 minutes, and this can be just the last few bits of your bedtime routine for the sake of consistency.
Another tip - if your child HATES bath time, or any other part of the routine...don't do it at that time of day! The bedtime routine should be fun and enjoyable, and hopefully, sleep inducing. If your little one gets upset during bath time, simply move that to a different part of your day.
If you need help or have questions about an appropriate routine for your child, reach out today - I'm happy to give some more tips or advice!