Tired parents feel like they might never sleep again and would give anything for just a few hours under a warm blanket. Sadly, babies don’t always appreciate sleep as much as adults do!
Most little ones need a bit of help getting to the Land of Nod. Many fight against sleep, kicking and screaming with all their might.
Read on to discover how a bedtime routine can soothe your small one to sleep and how to make it work for your family.
Routine is Your Best Friend
Before your baby is three months old, your have more important things to think about than getting into a routine. Life feels like a never-ending cycle of feeding, changing and sleeping that sometimes has no rhyme or reason at all.
During these first months, snatch whatever sleep you can get, and give yourself a pat on the back for making it this far.
Once you hit the three-month mark, you might be starting to get a sense of your baby’s sleeping needs. Now is a very good time to start with an organised bedtime ritual.
A consistent bedtime routine will help your baby establish healthy patterns for the months and years to come. It helps to regulate his body clock. He gets a sense of security, knowing what is coming next.
Melatonin and its Magic Powers
Once the lights are dim, and your baby realises that bedtime is coming, his body gives him a surge of that wonderful sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin.
Healthy babies, children and adults get a melatonin kick around 30 minutes before falling asleep. A reliable bedtime routine can help this process. By the time you set him down in his crib, he should hopefully be ready to tuck in.
Warm and Fuzzy Feelings
Above all, the bedtime routine can be a beautiful form of bonding, regardless of whether mum is breastfeeding or not. This precious time in the evening quickly becomes a treasured ceremony for everyone, especially working parents who don’t get to see their babies during the day.
Timing is Everything
When is the perfect time to put your baby to bed? Usually, it’s between 6 pm and 7:30 pm but it will depend on your own and your baby’s schedule.
This is because young children have a natural circadian rhythm that makes them wake up early in the morning. Having said that, typical baby bedtimes can vary wildly between cultures. In some countries, it’s not unusual for small children to go to bed at 11 pm. And they all turn out OK too.
The most important thing is that your baby gets enough sleep and that you are consistent and stick to the same bedtime.
Depending on your baby’s age, enough sleep is anywhere between 10 and 16 hours.
Watch for Signs of Tiredness
Although she can’t yet talk, your baby can still give you plenty of signs that she’s tired.
Watch out for the following cues in young babies: closing fists, jerky limbs, arching backwards or staring into space. Babies of all ages yawn, rub their eyes, pull their hair or ears, and may be irritable or fussy.
As every parent soon learns, there is a point of no return when babies become overtired. This tiredness can lead to clinginess, distress, temper tantrums, head banging, food throwing and hyperactivity.
It’s tough to convince an overtired baby to sleep. Overtiredness can make your baby hysterical, and the tantrums can be intense. Luckily, this usually motivates parents to act on the tired signals much earlier next time around.
What to Include in a Bedtime Routine
When it’s time to begin your bedtime routine, the number one rule is dim lighting. Darkness causes the body to produce melatonin. Artificial forms of light such as computer or TV screens will get in the way of this necessary process, so avoid using them.
Bedtime is the wrong time for vigorous activity. Save the tossing, tickling and chasing for the daylight hours.
Apart from the low light; what you include in your bedtime routine is not that important. The key is consistency. Doing the same things every evening will make your baby associate them with sleep.
Relaxing activities leading up to bedtime can include:
- a warm bath
- a massage
- a gentle chat
- nappy change
She’ll love the sound of your voice in any form. As you lay your baby down to sleep, you can throw in a “good night catch phrase”: words that you always say to end the bedtime routine. In a perfect world, she would associate this phrase with going to sleep, close her eyes, and nod off.
Little Comforts Help
If your baby has developed an attachment to a lovey (a favourite stuffed animal, blanket or dummy), make sure it is ready for the start of the bedtime routine.
It is quite common that toddlers will go and get their lovey themselves when they feel ready to sleep.
A cooler room temperature of 18-20 degrees Celsius or 63-68 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal for the baby bedroom. If your baby is too hot at night, this will reduce the effect of melatonin, that magic sleep hormone.
Adults usually associate white noise with stress, but babies love it. When things were nice and cosy in the womb, the sound down there reached the volume of a backyard lawnmower.
White noise lowers stress levels in babies. It also blocks out a whole range of sounds that your baby might think are strange or scary.
Best of all, white noise can help your baby get through “sleep arousal” phases without waking up. Sleep arousals happen when your baby comes out of deep sleep. Sleep cycles are much shorter in infants. You can read more about sleep cycles here.
Your baby will sleep for longer if they manage to come out of the sleep cycle and fall into a deep sleep again on their own.
Consistency is the Key
Once you’ve found a routine that works for everyone, be consistent. Babies love routine and they feel secure when they have a confident leader. Even if you’re not feeling very self-assured, “fake it ‘til you make it”. Your consistent leadership and a predictable bedtime routine will make your baby feel safe.
This Isn’t Going to Plan
If your bedtime routine is not going very well, give yourself a break. It takes time to get it right. Try experimenting with times: start a half hour earlier or later, shorten the routine, or leave out a step. You could also let the other parent step in and try.
Keeping a sleep journal can be a huge help if things are not going very well. Write down facts such as when you started the routine, what you did, how long it took, and how your baby reacted.
A diary is particularly useful for finding patterns and problems that you probably won’t remember the next morning in your bleary-eyed state.
Other Hurdles that Won’t Help
Consider any events or growth spurts in your baby’s life so far that might disrupt his sleep. Teething, sickness or emotional trauma in the household can make a peaceful baby turn into a bedraggled monster.
Then, there are developmental leaps. Dutch doctor and professor Frans Plooij developed the popular “Wonder Weeks” school of thought. He claims that certain infant developmental leaps take place at certain times in your baby’s development. These leaps overwhelm babies and make them act out of sorts.
Plooij’s research shows that sleep gets disrupted very noticeably around the 37th week of life (9-10 months). At this age, you can probably forget about sleeping soundly for a while. This is the time when babies start to group things into categories, test reactions and experiment with limits. When it comes to sleeping soundly, these sort of huge mental leaps can definitely throw a spanner in the works.
Some Babies Just Won’t Play Ball
Finally, here’s something that might make you feel a bit better. Every baby is different and some babies simply sleep better than others. There is a lot about your baby’s personality, temperament and rhythm that is innate and you won’t be able to change it.
When the going gets rough, take care of yourself as much as you can and know that this phase will soon pass.
What Worked for You?
Bedtime routines vary considerably. One baby’s bedtime bliss is another’s worst nightmare. Some routines are long and luxurious, other families keep it short and sharp.
Leave a comment and let us know what worked for your family.