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Why Your Child Needs to Have a Bedtime Routine

Updated: Jul 11, 2023

You wouldn’t come home from work and immediately hop in your bed to go to sleep, right? I mean, it wouldn’t exactly be relaxing to not clean up or wash the day away and get into some comfy clothes.


There’s a process involved from getting home in the evening, all the way until you crawl into your bed at night.


You probably come home, hang your purse, keys, and coat by the door, take your shoes off, and start preparing dinner. While dinner is in the oven you try to squeeze in a quick 20-minute workout – or, more accurately, play with your kids. Eat dinner. Play a bit more. Do bathtime with the kids. Once the kids are down for the night, you tidy the house and make sure the kitchen is clean. You might try to catch the evening news or watch a show. Then, you might take a shower or wash your face, brush your teeth, and get your pajamas on. You crawl in bed and scroll on your phone for a bit. Maybe you read a book for an hour or so. Finally, you turn your light off and roll onto your side, ready for sleep to come.


Whether you realize it or not, you probably have a bedtime routine too!


Your child needs one too.


The last few activities that we repeat each day signal our bodies that sleep is coming. And a solid bedtime routine can definitely help set your child up for success when it comes to having a great sleep.


Benefits of a calming bedtime routine:

  • Better sleep for baby

  • Relaxing for parents (if you do it right!)

  • Promotes development and wellbeing

  • Emotional and behavioral regulation

  • Promotes secure parent-child attachment

Did you know that according to Secrets of Baby Behavior, “by six to eight weeks, babies show clear signs that they can predict what will happen during feeding, social, and naptime routines.


They will move their legs and arms and coo excitedly when they anticipate food or fun and turn or arch away when they know something not so fun is about to happen (like a diaper change for those who don’t like them).”


This means that you can set your baby up for success by introducing a bedtime (and nap time!) routine right from the start. And if it’s not something you’ve done yet, starting now will only help your baby sleep better!


A developmentally appropriate bedtime is anywhere from 6-8/8:30, depending on your child’s age. That means, you can start their bedtime routine about 30 minutes prior to them getting into their crib or bed.


According to Jodi Mindell’s research (more here), a solid bedtime should consist of four components:

  • Nutrition

  • Hygiene

  • Communication

  • Physical Contact

So, let’s get into some sample calming bedtime routines based on your child’s age!


Newborn Bedtime Routine


Since a newborn baby is only awake for about an hour at a time before needing to sleep again, you may feel like all you’re doing is getting them up, feeding them, and starting their bedtime or nap time routine again! It goes fast, but before you know it, they’ll be able to handle a bit more awake time and they’ll be more alert and interactive.


Here’s a sample for you:

  • Bath or wipe down

  • Lotion and massage

  • Fresh pajamas on

  • Read a book

  • Full feeding and burp

  • Swaddle

  • White noise on and lights off

  • Snuggles and cuddles

  • Go to sleep

When your baby wakes during the night to feed, you can also do the last few steps of the routine again to help cue their body that it’s time to go back to sleep.


Infant Bedtime Routine


Now that your baby is beyond the newborn stage, you may want to consider moving their last feed of the day to the beginning of their bedtime routine – 1) this will help break any association they may have with feeding and sleep, and 2) they can go a little longer between feedings!


Here’s a sample for you:

  • Full feeding

  • Bath or wipe down

  • Brush teeth and gums

  • Lotion and massage

  • Fresh pajamas

  • Read 2-3 books

  • Sleep sack on

  • White noise on, lights off

  • Cuddles and a kiss

  • Go to sleep

Pro-tip: Do the same routine for nap time, just condensed – only read 1 book instead of 2 or 3.


Toddler Bedtime Routine


Your toddler likely has a lot more energy they need to exert before they fall asleep, so it’s important to keep this in mind. Following your dinner, we’d recommend some large motor play time, allowing your child to get out any last bursts of energy before officially starting a calming bedtime routine.


Then, it may look very similar to what you did when they were an infant:

  • Snack (a protein + a healthy fat can be a great combo to help your child sleep better!)

  • Bath or wipe down

  • Brush teeth and gums

  • Fresh pajamas

  • Read 2-3 books

  • Sleep sack on

  • White noise on, lights off

  • Song and hugs

  • Go to sleep

It may also be helpful to have a visual for your toddler, especially if starting a bedtime routine is newer. A poster, chart, or even a social story can be helpful in guiding them through a bedtime routine. If you find that your child struggles with moving through the bedtime routine, you can offer choices – at this age they need to feel somewhat in control and allowing them to make some choices at the end of the day can help things go a bit more smoothly.


For example, “Would you like to have yogurt or some toast for a snack?” or “Should we hop to the bathroom like a rabbit, or slither like a snake?” or, “Would you like to wear your princess pajamas or your kitty cat pajamas tonight?”


You can see that all of these routines have each of those recommended components – even if they’re not explicitly there – nutrition, hygiene, communication, and physical contact. For example, if you’re reading books to your baby, you’re likely interacting with them. As you change their pajamas, you’re likely talking to them and telling them what you’re doing, “I’m going to put some fresh, comfy pajamas on you now so you feel extra cozy when you go to sleep tonight.” And, of course, our hope is that when you’re reading together and moving through each portion of the routine that you are affectionate and connecting with your baby physically.

If you’re totally into this, make sure you check out our free module from our Sleep Consultant Academy, where we go into even more detail about bedtime routines and the science behind them!

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