Why Your Child’s Bedtime Routine Should Change Over Time

There is no ONE parenting manual that gives you a day-by-day breakdown of everything you need to do and say, accounting for every single interaction you have with your child…

Man, wouldn’t that make things easier, though?!

But when would we sleep?! We’d spend our nights studying this script for the next day, and if you’re in the thick of it with littles, you’re likely parenting around the clock anyway.

And this doesn’t even cover if you have more than one child! Ha!

So since parenting is primarily a game of trial and error and simply trying to make our best judgments, I’d like to make your life a little easier in the sleep department.

…did you know that to help your child sleep better over time, there are minor adjustments you can make to their bedtime routine to set them up for sleep success at night?

That’s exactly what we’re going to get into today.

Why You Need to be Using a Bedtime Routine for Your Child (and Yourself!)

First of all, if you’re not already utilizing the powerful sleep tool that is a bedtime routine, you need to be. Even with a newborn baby!

Newborns can begin to recognize a string of events as early as six weeks old, and there’s some magic to repeating the same few steps before sleep…Every. Single. Time. 

Having a bedtime routine for your child - and yourself - will help prepare their body for sleep. Think of it like a cueing system; They know that after that and this and the next thing happens, they go to sleep. It really is magical and can make a big difference in how your child sleeps at night.

Having routines throughout your child’s day and night is important for providing predictability and, consequently, feelings of safety and security…the very basis of providing a secure attachment with your child.

There is also a ton of research out there promoting the importance and benefits of having a bedtime routine, so we don’t need to dive too deep into that here (although if you want to, I’d love to chat more!)

How to Complete Your Child’s Bedtime Routine Successfully to Help Them Sleep Better

I mentioned above how it’s crucial to repeat the same steps of the bedtime routine every single time. They must be done in the same order each night. Over time your child learns what to expect, and they can even take ownership of the process and lead you through the bedtime routine. In fact, I chuckle every time my oldest tells me, “Okay, mom, it’s time to go to bed now.”

Is this my real life?? Yes, it is!

So, your key takeaway here is consistency. Be consistent. Do the same routine every night.

And now you might be thinking, okay, Erin, but what about this: my newborn and my big kid have different routines. My oldest hasn’t taken a bottle in years.

I’m so glad you asked!

Why We Make Changes to the Bedtime Routine as Your Child Grows and Develops

Your baby won’t be a baby forever (I know, I know, no mom wants to be reminded of that - same!), and that means that as they grow and develop, their needs will change.

This also means the things we do during the bedtime routine may change.

Sample Newborn Baby Bedtime Routine

As a newborn, your baby needs to be eating around the clock. Ideally, you try to set your baby up for sleep success with a healthy sleep foundation from the beginning, and they are able to stretch out and drop night feeds on their own as they and their stomach grow bigger.

Since we’d like them to get their longest stretch of sleep at the beginning of the night, we want to ensure we put them into their bassinet or crib with a full tummy.

Here’s a quick sample of a newborn bedtime routine for you:

  • Calming bath time
  • Lotion and massage
  • Diaper and pajamas on
  • Read (or show) one book
  • Full feeding (do your best to keep your baby awake)
  • Burp
  • Swaddle and turn the white noise on
  • Cuddles, kisses, songs, prayers, and lights off (make this what you want!)
  • Into a bassinet or crib

Your newborn’s bedtime will likely be later, like 9-11:00 p.m. for the first month or so, and you’ll gradually move it earlier. By three months or so, they should fall asleep in a more normal bedtime range, like 7-8:00 p.m.

Sample 4-12/18-Month-Old Bedtime Routine

Now that your little one is beyond the newborn stage, you can make a few small tweaks to their routine to help them sleep better.

Here’s a quick sample for you:

  • Full feeding (keep baby awake!)
  • Burp
  • Brush teeth
  • Calming bath time
  • Lotion and massage
  • Read a book or two (as your baby gets older, they’ll likely be able to handle a little more awake time here, so add books as needed!)
  • Sleep sack on
  • White noise on
  • Cuddles, kisses, songs, prayers, and lights off (make this what you want!)
  • Into the crib

So you can see we’ve made a few small adjustments by moving that last feeding of the day to the very beginning of the routine, brushing teeth or gums, and possibly adding an additional book.

We want to move the feeding away from sleep over time so that if your baby has a feeding and sleep association, we’re separating that. If your baby wakes at night, they likely won’t need a feed if they truly aren’t hungry. If your baby is used to falling asleep on their own without the feed at bedtime, they’ll likely be able to put themselves back to sleep if they wake at night, working towards total nighttime consolidation.

Sample Toddler and Early Childhood Bedtime Routine

All right, here is where it gets fun!

You may notice that your child is on the go and has a lot more energy to burn.

Before you start the soothing bedtime routine, you’ll want to provide your child with some large motor play time to burn off those last bits of energy from the day. I’d recommend sending them outside or downstairs to the basement to run around as soon as dinner is done. If you’ve got a tot, maybe it’s just letting them crawl up and down the stairs for a bit (with your spotting and supervision, of course!) for a good workout.

Then, their bedtime routine will look like this:

  • Bedtime snacks high in protein (peanut butter toast, yogurt, granola, cheese, and crackers, etc.)
  • Brush teeth
  • Bath or shower
  • Pajamas on
  • Read two or three books (set your limit and stick to it!)
  • Sleep sack on if still in a crib
  • White noise on
  • Cuddles, kisses, songs, prayers, and lights off (make this what you want!)
  • Into the crib or bed

You might also want to utilize an okay-to-wake clock that signals to your child when it’s time to start the bedtime routine and when it’s time to get in bed.

The Bedtime Routine is a Foundational Piece to Your Child’s Sleep Puzzle

When working with families, we use a holistic approach to helping your child sleep better. The bedtime routine is one of those pieces that we really analyze and will make a lot of changes to in order to clean things up!

There are other pieces to the sleep puzzle as well, so even if you have a solid routine in place, your child may still struggle with sleep because there are improvements you can make in other areas that affect sleep.

Need More Help with Your Child’s Sleep?

If you’re not sure what else you can do to help your child sleep, check out our website! We have tons of resources on our blog and podcast and would love to help you meet your sleep goals.

 

Erin Meinel Headshot

Erin Meinel

Aside from sleep, Erin loves her coffee hot, her TV shows drama-filled, and her shopping trips long. If you're looking for a sleep bestie and someone to talk about the latest Bachelorette episode, she’s your girl!

Erin founded Lake Country Sleep in 2019 after the birth of her first son and experiencing the sleep deprivation that comes with being a first-time parent and having a newborn. She’s worked with hundreds of families to help them meet their sleep goals. 

At Lake Country Sleep, they take a holistic-approach to solving your child’s sleep struggles. They pair evidence-based strategies that promote a secure attachment with your knowledge of your unique babe. Their goal is for everyone in your household to be more well-rested. And that starts with a sleeping child.

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