You’ve probably heard that bedtime routines are an important piece of your baby’s nighttime sleep. Wondering why they’re important, when to start, and what to include? Let’s talk about it.
Why is a bedtime routine important for babies? anchor
Babies thrive on predictability and routine. Their little worlds are full of action and stimulation, but providing a consistent routine offers safety and security.
A bedtime routine provides a transition between awake time and sleep time, cueing a baby’s brain that sleep is coming. Research shows us that babies and children who have a consistent bedtime routine:
are able to fall asleep more quickly.
have fewer night wakings.
are more consistent sleepers.
A bedtime routine that includes special connection time between you and your baby also provides loving reassurance around sleep and can encourage a secure attachment.
Expert tip: Did you know that a calm and stress-free bedtime routine is also important for you as parents? Setting up a peaceful bedtime routine with your baby (and eventually your child) will set you up for a peaceful night of self-care, relaxation, or connecting with your partner.
When should I start a bedtime routine with my baby? anchor
You can start a bedtime routine whenever you're ready. It’s never too early (or too late!) to start implementing a consistent bedtime routine with your baby or toddler.
What are some examples of a baby bedtime routine? anchor
Bedtime routines truly can be simple. Your bedtime routine does NOT have to be long or complicated. The most important thing about a bedtime routine is that you do the same things in the same order each night. That doesn't mean you have to read the exact same book or sing the same lullaby, but you can! It also doesn’t mean you have to give a bath EVERY night, but you can!
Let me show you a few examples:
Bedtime routines in actionanchor
Check this out:
Is it best to give a baby a bath at night?anchor
I love a bath as part of the bedtime routine! Science actually supports that a bath before bed can help promote sleep! Here’s why: During a warm bath, blood comes to the surface of the skin. This is called vasodilation. When we get out of the tub, blood vessels are still open, so our body temperature drops a bit. This slight drop in core body temp promotes sleep for us and our babies! A bath at the end of the day (followed by a bedtime routine) helps cue a baby's brain that bedtime is near. This can be an excellent way to prepare babies for night sleep.
But does that mean I need to give a bath EVERY night? You can, but you don’t have to. Some families enjoy bath time every night, and for other families, this just doesn’t work best. It’s up to you! Taking the bath out of the sequence won’t ruin your bedtime routine. It’s the consistency after the bath that helps!
When should bedtime be?anchor
Most babies (older than 4 months) come to a natural lull between 7:00-8:00 pm. This time is typically when little ones fall asleep the easiest and stay asleep the longest. Now, some babies may need earlier, and some newborns may do better with later bedtimes, but 7:00-8:00 pm is often that sweet spot.
We also want to make sure that your baby has a good wake window before bed. An overtired baby at bedtime can cause huge bedtime battles. Likewise, not being tired enough can make falling asleep difficult. If you need help finding the right wake windows for your baby, this can help.
So how do you achieve that “sweet spot” bedtime and still maintain your baby’s necessary wake window? Use this to help!
Bedtime doesn't have to be at exactly the same time each night. A bedtime "range" of about 30-60 minutes is ideal. For example: 7:00-8:00 pm or 7:15-7:45 pm. (This allows for flexibility based on when the last nap ended!)
Keep in mind: The goal is your baby goes into their crib at the very end of their wake window. So if your bedtime routine takes 15-20 minutes, then you will start the bedtime routine 15-20 minutes before the end of their wake window.
Need help with setting up your whole day so that you’ll hit that sweet spot bedtime? Did you know that I have sleep schedules for every age from birth through 4 years? You can find sample schedules, age appropriate activities, and so much more in my sleep schedules blogs!
Should my baby ever have an early bedtime?anchor
There are situations when an early bedtime (as early as 6:00 pm) is going to be helpful, or even necessary.
Here are some examples of when your little one’s last wake window may bring you to a bedtime between 6:00-7:00 pm:
Expert tip: I hear so often from parents “If I put my baby to bed earlier, they are just going to wake up earlier!” But this actually isn’t the case…I know it doesn’t make logical sense, but biologically it’s true! Did you know that the first half of the night is actually the most restorative sleep your little one will have? Babies (and even adults) spend the most time in deep/restorative sleep in the first half of the night, then it becomes less restorative as we get closer to morning. This is why using an earlier bedtime is so powerful. It ensures we are getting as much of that restorative sleep as possible!
Is a later bedtime ever ok for a baby? anchor
Yes, of course! Just like with early bedtimes, there are situations where bedtime will need to fall later than 8:00 pm. Let’s take a look at some:
Expert Tip: If a bedtime after 8:00 pm is working well for you and your family, please know that this is okay! If you ever begin to struggle, you can always shift that bedtime earlier.
My baby cries during the bedtime routine every night. What can I do? anchor
As babies recognize routines, experience separation anxiety, or go through sleep regressions they may cry when you enter the nursery or when you start your bedtime routine. I know this is so hard. Your baby is learning all about routines and what comes next. They also know that bedtime means separating from you. All of these things can increase the tears temporarily.
So what do we do?
Assess your baby’s wake windows. This helps ensure that your baby is not overtired heading into bedtime, which can lead to extra tears.
Change it up a little. It’s okay to stray from consistency when the bedtime routine feels challenging. Maybe this means you get baby dressed in a different room than you usually do, you try a lullaby instead of a book, or if one parent always handles bedtime let the other parent take a turn.
Spend fun time in their room during the day. Play on the floor, read books together, and have a little dance party in the middle of a wake window. This increases positive feelings about their room.
Find ways to increase your confidence and peace of mind surrounding bedtime. Sometimes our anxiety around bedtime can make our babies feel less at ease. Consider a baby sleep class to boost your own confidence around your baby’s sleep.
Our bedtime routine seems perfect, but my baby still needs me to rock them to sleep. When do babies learn to fall asleep on their own?anchor
Falling asleep independently is truly a skill. Some babies seem to naturally fall asleep on their own from the very beginning with little support, while others need help learning this skill.
For babies 4 months and younger, this is a skill we can practice. In my newborn class, I’ll walk you step-by-step through the strategies you need to work on falling asleep independently, set your days and nights up for success, read your baby’s cues, work towards longer stretches of night sleep in the crib or bassinet, and love the newborn stage.
For babies 5 months and older, your baby’s ability to fall asleep on their own is a skill that you can help them learn through formal sleep training. The 5-24 Month Collection will give you a step-by-step plan to 10-12 hour nights in the crib while remaining emotionally connected. It will cover bedtime, falling asleep independently, night wakings, night weaning, early morning wakings, and naps through the first two years of life.
Baby's Bedtime Routine FAQanchor
Every baby can benefit from a consistent bedtime routine. If you’re ready, go ahead and start one! Remember, it doesn’t need to be long or complicated. A short and sweet bedtime routine can be beneficial in these early months so that it’s easier to be consistent from day to day.
Yes! A full feeding before bed is an important part of getting in those much-needed daytime calories. At the same time, there’s no reason to over-stuff your baby before bed. Do your best to break up eating and sleeping by doing at least one activity in between the two. (This could be as simple as putting your baby into their sleep sack after the feeding.)
I recommend offering a feeding at the beginning of the bedtime routine. A full feeding before bed is an important part of getting in those much-needed daytime calories. However, we want your baby fully awake during this bedtime feeding.
If your baby is a sleepy eater, I have tips to keep your baby awake during feedings. Offering the feeding earlier in the bedtime routine and having at least one step between the feeding and going into the crib or bassinet for sleep can help.