How to Help Your Baby Sleep Better: Bedtime Routine and Consistency

Is bedtime at your house the most dreaded time of evening, or the most cherished? Having a consistent bedtime routine can improve your child’s sleep.

At our house, we divide and conquer. And I love it.

We use this time of evening as a time for connection, calming, and winding down after a long day. My husband helps. My older child will help my younger one. And the best part is, there are no battles. All of us always look forward to spending this time together and bedtime is one of our favorite times together

And I want this for you, too!

What makes bedtime so successful at my house are two things: consistency and routines. In this article I’m going to teach you some of my secrets so you can have it at your house too!

Don’t forget to grab my free infant or toddler/preschooler bedtime routines!

The Power of Routines with Young Children

There is a lot of research that supports the benefits of a bedtime routine for young children and babies. Heck, adults as well!

Want to see improvements in your child’s sleep in as little as three days? Start implementing a soothing bedtime routine and you could see your child falling asleep faster, getting more consolidated sleep, and an overall happier baby.

Results from another study, indicate that having a regular nightly bedtime routine is associated with improved sleep in young children, ages 1-5 years, and suggests that the more consistently a bedtime routine is instituted and the younger started, the better.

Not only does having a bedtime routine benefit your child’s sleep, but it can also be a time that your family looks forward to each evening as you all prepare for sleep.

Bedtime Routines for Children of All Ages

All bedtime routines should focus on being calming and providing connection, regardless of the child’s age. Bedtime routines will change over time and may change in length as your child grows and develops. No matter your child’s age, a bedtime routine should always include the following: 

  1. A dimly lit space
  2. Time or activities that help them transition from a busy day to a relaxed state for sleep
  3. A diaper change or one final trip to the potty
  4. A sleep sack or big kid bed tuck in
  5. A kiss goodnight

Bedtime Routine for Newborns

Did you know that a baby can begin to recognize a routine as early as 6-weeks-old?! You can start implementing bedtime and nap routines for your baby as soon as they’re born. Newborns are sleepy so don’t stress if you don’t complete the whole routine before every sleep. 

A newborn routine can be short, only a few minutes long. Keep the routine simple. You can include a song, book, massage or any combination of these calming activities. If your newborn is getting too tired, skip the pages of the book or a verse of the song to help place them down before they get over tired or overstimulated. As they become more aware of the world around them they’ll be able to handle more stimulation. Follow your baby’s lead. 

If your baby is clearly tired, show them one picture in the book and move on with the routine. Preventing over-tiredness is more important than reading them a whole book.

Before bed, your newborn will need a final feeding included in their routine. Do your best to keep them awake during this time, ensuring a full feeding and full tummy, though in some instances this just won’t be possible. It’s okay. The more you try, the better your baby will get.

Bedtime Routine for Babies or Infants

Start by grabbing my Infant Routine Guide here – print it out so you have it handy as you begin to implement this routine with your baby between 4-18 months.

After 4 months, your bedtime routine will look a little different and your little one won’t need that final feeding included in their bedtime routine at all. In fact, that feeding should be completed before you begin the bedtime routine. We do this for a few reasons:

  1. To break any feeding to sleep association
  2. To promote a full feed while baby is still fully awake
  3. They’re stomach is bigger now and they can go longer stretches between feedings
  4. It can help with digestion and mitigate discomfort from gas or reflux as your little one has time to move around and expel those things before you lay them down for the night

As your baby gets older they will be more alert during the bedtime routine. Pick a short routine (10-20 minutes) that you can start to consistently do with your child every night. Choose activities that you both enjoy.  If they have the stamina for two or three books, go for it! 

Be mindful that your baby is not getting overtired during their bedtime routine. You can always cut a story or song short (trust me, you don’t need to sing all six verses of their lullaby!). Or, just look at the pictures if reading a whole book will take too long and it’s evident your baby is tired. Again, follow their lead as you move through the routine. 

Bedtime Routine for Toddlers and Preschoolers 

If you’ve got a child who’s between 18 months and, oh, let’s say, 5 years, bedtime can start to get a bit tricky as their creative little minds can start to think of ways to delay bedtime. Here are some things you should do to set them up for bedtime success:

  • Avoid screens (parents too!) in the evening hours
  • Include some play time (it may be high energy activities like dancing or running if your child needs it!) before changing the tone and calming down for the night
  • Post a visual of their bedtime routine (grab my bedtime routine download here!) and have them give some input as to what this might look like
  • Make sure they have a trip (or two!) to the potty
  • Stick to a bedtime routine that’s roughly 10-30 minutes long

Setting and Holding Boundaries During Your Toddler or Preschooler’s Bedtime Routine

As your baby gets to toddler and preschool age, they also get smarter. As they’re learning about the world around them, they’re going to test boundaries.

Although sticking to holding boundaries can be challenging at the end of the day, setting and holding boundaries, lovingly, builds trust and helps your child feel confident in knowing what is next. It will even reduce the temptation to test those boundaries in the future because your child is confident that they know what to do next.

Here are some tips to help prevent this testing from turning into bedtime stalls and protests:

  1. Be consistent. Tighten things up and be consistent with your routines., Pick the number of books (1-3) and stick with it. This will help reduce the “one more this” and “one more that” pleading which can delay sleep. 
  1. Give choices. Giving choices can also be powerful. For example, if your toddler is distraught that you’re only going to read them one book tonight, let them pick the one book. They’ll totally buy into it and you can move along with your routine.
  1. Stick to the plan. Be mindful that you don’t change things on your toddler or preschooler too much. Imagine how you might feel if you went into your room, knowing it was time for bed, and then you were told you had to do laundry or you couldn’t spend a few minutes reading your favorite book. Ugh! I would have a temper tantrum as well. You can’t read three books one night and only one the next without expecting some protest or even a meltdown. 
  1. Communicate changes. If you need to make changes, try to talk with them about it beforehand so they know what to expect.

Let’s say, for example, you have an evening event. Bedtime is normally 7:30, but you’ll be arriving home closer to 8:00. Because it’s planned, you can prepare your child, and say something like this: “Tonight, we’re going to be getting home later than bedtime. Instead of taking a bath, mommy is going to wipe you down with a washcloth, and daddy will help you get your pajamas on. We won’t have time for a book, but we can still sing our song.”

  1. Post the Rules and Routine. With preschoolers (even as early as 2.5 years) posting and reading sleep rules as part of the bedtime routine can be helpful. You can even begin with verbal cues for children as young as 2, saying things like, “Lay in bed quietly, hug your body, help your body sleep,” to start planting that seed that there are expectations around sleep. The more you can convey this message when they’re younger, the easier it will be as they get older.

One final tool that can help with your toddler or preschooler’s bedtime routine is an okay-to-wake clock like the Hatch. Teach your child what the different colors mean (you can pick and program it yourself) and it is a visual cue that it’s time to go to sleep (red), you should be sleeping (off), and it’s time to wake up (green).

Routines for Naps

Wondering if you should have a sleep routine for naps, too? Absolutely! Try having a consistent routine that you do for naps to help your child settle for sleep. A nap sleep routine can be an abbreviated version of the bedtime routine – a diaper change, sleep sack on, and in bed. It shouldn’t take you more than five minutes.

Why Consistency Matters to a Child

Changing your child’s bedtime routine on them is going to throw them off. Routines, over time, become a consistent expectation in your child’s life. And, over time, this consistency builds trust, which in turn strengthens your child’s relationship with you and sleep. As your child grows and develops, this consistency you’ve provided will allow them to become more independent and help them take ownership of their bedtime and their sleep skills and be excited about it!

Consistent bedtime routines can help empower your child when it comes to sleep. Working to establish and maintain those routines will be worth it, I promise.

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Pediatric Sleep consultant, Kristi Roberts

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