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 baby 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.
- A Quick and Easy Toddler Bedtime Routine That Works Like a Charm
- An Easy Morning and Bedtime Routine Chart That Keeps Kids on Task
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.
- 7 pm we start a bath.
- 7:15 pm lotion and jammies and soft music playing.
- 7:20 pm a bottle or sippy of milk, along with cuddles and kisses and quiet time.
- 7:30 pm we lay our son down for bed.
This is our ritual that works well for our family. Your ritual could be different and work equally is well.
- Best 1 Year Old Sleep Schedules From Real Mamas
- 5 Sample Daily Toddler Schedules From Moms Who Used Them
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.
After 6 weeks though, we started a bedtime routine and a more structured schedule and many more things, which I discuss in my Top 10 Newborn Sleep Tips post and throughout my Baby + Sleep Series.
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 your free baby sleep checklist!
Chances are…you won’t remember the tips from this post. This printable simplifies it! Plus, when you grab this printable, you’ll get instant access to my free 3-day baby sleep eCourse.
Download your free printable
- Download the checklist. You’ll get the printable straight to your inbox, plus get my Free 3-Day Baby Sleep eCourse!
- 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!
Want more on baby sleep?
- Top 10 Baby Sleep Tips That Will Help You Get More Sleep
- 8 Infant Sleep Facts Every Parent Should Know
- Best Baby Sleep Tips for Longer Naps
- 5 Month Old Sample Routine for Busy Moms
- 1 Year Old Sleep Schedules From Parents
Find your printable pack here.
I've created a free email series just for you! If you are struggling with finding a routine, rhythm or schedule, this email series will help you find one that will work for YOUR family. Yes, really. I've seen my sample routines work time and time again for parents. I know it can work for you too.
This free email series will help you:
- Free sample routines for your child
- Best morning routine tips and tricks your kids will actually follow
- All-time favorite parenting hacks for getting more cooperation at bedtime
- Step-by-step guide for using a printable daily schedule with kids
We established our bed time routines early but had different succeses. Our son – no issues. Our daughter? No matter how hard I tried she’d stay awake till Frank came home from his second shift at 11pm.
Oh my goodness, 11 pm that would be killer for me. But I would do it if it needed to be done. So thankful Jameson is agreeable to my scheduling ways 🙂
It is worth the effort. My little ones, who are now 5, are great at bedtime routines.This helps me have a little tiny bit of time at night to relax. It took me a lot of time and effort in the beginning, but I am so glad I did. Well worth the effort, especially with the great research that shows how healthy it is for our kiddos. Thanks, Lauren. Well done.
It is totally worth the effort, at least in my opinion. I love a little bit of time each night with my husband. It’s a great time for us to invest in our marriage, which is what strong parenting and family life is built on. And I love learning about research. I’m going to try and include it more. Thanks for stopping by, Elizabeth. Have a great day.
We desperately need one. Both of my girls are in our bed after a couple of hours and I feel like we need a week to establish a bedtime routine AND one of us consistently putting them back in bed.
I totally understand that, April. Having a good bedtime routine is tough to implement sometimes, but it really is so worth it. Have a great day!
This is a fantastic topic and may I say, far more important than many parents realize (if they only have younger children right now). Being a father of 12 (11+1 due any time now), let me add a couple things to your brilliant article.
#1 Focus on the ritual, NOT the time.
There is a tendency to develop a “rushed” feeling as the child gets older. Be careful of this. There might be questions, life challenges, illness, emotional needs, temperament changes/shifts in a child and more–all of which will break down our established timing. Let that go and trust in your ritual of loving the child and putting them to bed. If you’ve been on a family trip for example (the biggest one for us many a time), unless it’s coming home in the middle of the night, don’t forgo the ritual.
Trust me–the children will remember, BUT so will we. One exception becomes another and another….
#2 The Bedtime is Equally Important for YOU.
Until the older kids became teenagers, the established bedtime for us was 7 o’clock. Still is–but we now have to deal with teen needs (a WHOLE different category with it’s own joyful pains). What you may not think about (yet) is bedtime is for mom and dad, so they can have time alone to recharge their batteries, You NEED that. Oh, you might feel the super-parent strength right now, but your own child will eventually become the Kryptonite…and your downfall.
It’s not a bad thing, it just is. You require time to be a grownup, that’s all–and that is best done without the children and in the presence/association of other grownups (not always, but often).
Just my buck fifty Lauren.
This is a favorite topic of mine, so thank you for posting!
Thanks for all these amazing tips Jaime. You are awesome for writing such a helpful and thoughtful comment. I know many will read what you wrote and learn so much. First, I totally agree that a bedtime for adults is so important. And taking time to be an adult and invest in your marriage is really the keystone for building and maintain a strong family. At least that is where my mindset currently resides. Second, great advice to focus on the ritual and not the time. I think it’s important not to rush, but also not to allow a child to intentionally drag out bedtime as a means of avoiding it. The ritual is really important and I think kids really thrive on it. I often write about consistency and how important it is. Do you agree that consistency is everything in parenting?
We are trying to get on a routine, but it so hard. It really depends on how the day goes. Sometimes he is good at 8pm either nights its closer to 9. Hoping once we get a better structured day then we can really have a good night routine!
Hey Jessica! It is definitely hard to get a good routine sometimes. I totally understand and relate to that. Some days time escapes me and my son just has another plan.
I am really struggling to establish a good bedtime. I have a 6 year old and a 20 month old. The 20 month old insists on staying up until around midnight. We just moved and I know that she hasn’t adjusted yet, but I don’t know what to do. Even before the move she would go to sleep around 10am. I can get the 6 year old to go to bed with no problem, it’s just my youngest that I’m having issues with. What should I do?
Well, there are probably several factors. Without knowing too much about your situation, a typical 20 month old needs about 14 hours of sleep with 1 nap per day in the afternoon. So I would look at the overall sleep picture. At this point, your 20 month old should need a nap about 4-5 hours after waking in the morning and a bedtime about 4-5 hours after waking from an afternoon nap. In our home, we now lay our son down for a nap and bedtime with a few quiet books and allow him to fall asleep on his own when he is ready.