Creating and following a consistent bedtime or naptime routine helps babies go down more easily and sleep more soundly. This routine consists of performing the same series of activities before bed or naptime to signal the baby that it’s time to sleep.
Following a bedtime routine helps babies sleep easier and better, and decreases the chances of crying out in the middle of the night for babies older than 7 months.
Some parents start their baby’s bedtime routine as early as 6 to 8 weeks old as this is the time a baby starts to have relatively predictable patterns of eating and sleeping.
The most important thing is to stick to a consistent routine. Soon the baby will associate these activities with sleep.
The following tips could help shape a successful bedtime routine:
- Playing active games during the day and quiet games in the evening to keep the baby from getting too excited right before bedtime.
- Repeating activities in the same order, night after night.
- Choosing calm and peaceful activities, especially toward the end of the routine.
- Saving baby’s favorite activity for last, and in his/her crib or bassinet.
- Making consistent night time conditions in the room where the baby sleeps (e.g. sounds, lights and temperature).
- Putting the baby to bed drowsy, but awake: This will help him associate bed with the process of falling asleep and get used to falling asleep on his/her own and not in his mothers’ arms. In addition, baby learning to put himself/herself to sleep at the beginning of the night, should help him/her know how to go back to sleep when waking up in the middle of the night.
- Adapting the bedtime routine if needed: it is important to reconsider the routine from time to time and adapt it to the growing baby’s changing needs. Such as: bath time before bed may turn into an active activity instead of a calming one when the baby learns to splash water, in this case bath time should be removed from the routine. Or if baby is consistently falling asleep while having his before-bed snack, then the timing of this snack should be switched to earlier in the bedtime routine.
Routine’s activities may include:
- Starting with a bath, regardless of the dirt factor. Warm water is naturally relaxing, calming and soothing.
- Giving the baby a massage after bath gives him/her further relaxation. Studies also suggest that a massage before bed increases melatonin – a sleep-inducing hormone- in infants. In addition to the possibility of moisturizing the baby with calming lotions while massaging him.
- Most infants need to wake up during the night to eat until at least 4 months old. For older babies, try to increase the size of his bedtime feeding. As long as the baby is getting enough calories during the day, this may help him/her sleep through the night.
- Singing or play soft music, reading a quiet bedtime story. It is important that mothers keep their voice soft and soothing instead of excited and lively. In addition, cuddling the baby while singing quiet songs and lullabies could help him go to sleep.
- Giving the baby one last hug and kiss before putting him/her down.
Baby nap routine could start to shape after baby is past the “endless sleeping” stage at around the fourth or the fifth month.
Some babies might take three or four one-hour naps a day; while others enjoy a two-hour nap every morning and afternoon. Quality naps during the day make better and longer sleep at night.
Naptime routine could actually be an abbreviation of the night time routine. Such as: skipping the bath and massage and giving the baby instead, a quick diaper change and cloth change if needed. In addition to feeding the baby a pre-nap snack, reading a story or singing a quiet song or lullaby to him/her.
Other helping elements to a long sleeping soundly naps include:
- Choosing a cozy location for nap, like the baby’s crib.
- Ensuring that the environment is sleep-inducing by checking the room temperature, noise and lights.
- Increasing baby’s awake time between naps (at the age of 4 or 5 months) by changing the baby’s position frequently
- Engaging the baby in activities while respecting the baby’s limits when he/she had enough of the activity or is for a nap.
You will soon find what works well for your baby and then repeating these routines will help your baby to settle in to a good sleep pattern which is good for both you and your baby. Expect that there will be set backs and problems. Don’t panic and just keep going with the routine and things will settle down again.