In many of my posts on Baby and Sleep, I talk about establishing a good bedtime routine, and today I’d like to explore that topic little further.
Research shows that establishing a good bedtime routine has a huge impact. Moreover if you do it every day, it makes a big difference in the quality and duration of sleep in our little ones. That’s encouraging enough to motivate me to complete a consistent bedtime routine each night for my son.
And the proof is in the pudding: A consistent bedtime routine and a consistent bedtime (yes, we put our son to bed at almost exactly the same time every night) has made bedtime a calm and enjoyable time in our home. Let’s explore further what research actually teaches us about how to establish a good bedtime routine.
What do we know from research?
After studying 405 babies and toddlers, one study concluded that having a nightly bedtime ritual that included a bath, lotion, massage, and quiet time together afterward resulted in better sleep. The children, who enjoyed consistent bedtime routines in this study, fell asleep faster, experienced more consolidated sleep, and were less wakeful during the night. Why does this work? It’s possible that each component of these rituals worked together to engage the senses to help create memories, which cue the child for sleep night after night. (Source: Journal of Sleep)
Bottom line: A nightly bedtime ritual, performed consistently the same way each night can improve sleep.
Another study performed found that consistent bedtimes (putting your child to bed at the approximately same time every night) had a huge impact on learning and development in the long term. After studying 11,000 children from ages 3-7, researchers found that girls who did not have consistent bedtimes, scored lower in reading, math, and special skills across the board by the time they reached age 7. Interestingly, boys with inconsistent bedtimes did not seem to have a significant impact on test scores. (Source: Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health)
Bottom line: A consistent bedtime routine can help fuel your child’s learning and development in the long run.
How to establish a good bedtime routine:
Next, let’s explore several components of a good bedtime routine and how to start implementing it as a whole. Overall, this is really simple to do. If you are a type A personality like me, many of you may already have a plan churning.
1. Choose your bedtime.
It’s important to consider a bedtime that will meet the needs of your child and also serve your family well. Most small children do best with a bedtime that is between 6-8 pm.
For our family, 6 pm is way too early and it just isn’t something that would work well for our family. 8 pm is too late for us, as my husband and I strive to have a minimum of 2 hours together before going to bed at around 10 pm.
We originally used a 7 pm bedtime; however, my son is an 11 to 11.5 hour sleeper, and we did not want him waking at 6 am. We eventually opted for a 7:30 pm bedtime, and it is still his bedtime today.
2. Choose your ritual.
Think about what type of routine is practical enough to implement, yet calming enough to encourage sleep. I think aiming for a bedtime routine of about 30 minutes is very realistic. In our home, we start a bath at about 7 pm. Lotion and jammies and soft music playing starts at about 7:15. A bottle or sippy of milk starts at about 7:20, along with cuddles and kisses and quiet time. We lay our son down for bed right around 7:30 pm each night. This is our ritual that works well for our family. Your ritual could be different and work equally is well.
3. Be very consistent.
As parents, it’s very enticing to allow real life to intrude on your bedtime routine. This is one area of our schedule that I am rarely willing to compromise. Even if naps are bad, bedtime and nighttime sleep is the most restorative and the most important.
Prioritizing your bedtime routine for your child will make a world of difference in the long run. When you are consistent, bedtime becomes an easy daily routine as opposed to a nightly battle.
It’s not to say that you should never deviate. Of course, we are not robots. Aim for protecting your child’s bedtime routine 85-90% of the time, plus or minus 15 minutes. It is well worth the better sleep in the long run.
4. When should you start?
Some pediatricians recommend starting a bedtime ritual or routine as soon as you get home with your new baby. However in the first month, starting a bedtime routine can be a bit overwhelming, in addition to impractical. While it is probably wise to start as soon as you feel ready, I felt very overwhelmed with motherhood initially. I wasn’t ready immediately.
Additionally, a baby feeds quite frequently during the first month, and he may even have a later bedtime as a newborn. Our son went to bed for the night at about 9 pm until he was about 6 weeks old. While I’m not sure if that was the correct decision or not, it was the way it happened.
Bottom line: Start as soon as you feel ready. After about 4-8 weeks your baby will be capable of forming memories about routines. This means your baby will be able to anticipate what comes next in a sequence. If you are consistent, your baby will learn that sleep for the night comes next following a bedtime routine!
Print this free sleep printable!
This post comes with a free printable average sleep needs by age chart. It’s time to take the mystery out of baby sleep. This printable simplifies it! Here’s a preview:
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- Download the checklist. You’ll get the printable, plus get my Free 3-Day Baby Sleep eCourse! Just click here to download and subscribe
- Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock would be ideal.
- Place it on your refrigerator. Use it as a quick reference and don’t forget a thing!
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