How Do I Create a Bedtime Routine for my Infant and Toddler?

AndieM.Ed., RD, LDN, CLC, RYT-200

Read time: 4 minutes

What should I know about creating a bedtime routine for my infant and toddler?

  • A bedtime routine is the series of events that lead up to your child going to sleep
  • Learn how you can develop your child’s sleep routine
  • An age-appropriate bedtime routine helps reduce stress for both children and parents

A bedtime routine supports good sleep for people of all ages, but especially children. Establishing a sleep routine for your little one might sound overwhelming, but think of it simply as a predictable series of events that lead up to your child going to sleep at night.1

Every family’s bedtime routine will look a little different, but it should include a clear beginning, a clear ending, and make sense for your family.

What are the benefits of having a bedtime routine for your child?

Infants and children thrive on routine. Having a predictable bedtime routine will help your little one wind down and let them know that bedtime is coming.1,5

Research shows that having a consistent bedtime routine for children is associated with an earlier bedtime, being able to fall asleep faster, staying asleep for longer, and waking up fewer times at night.2,3 This helps lead to better sleep overall. And better sleep has been linked with improved language development, learning, and emotional and behavioral regulation.4

In fact, children who have a bedtime routine starting in infancy and continuing through childhood and beyond tend to have the least amount of sleep and behavioral problems.2,4

Read more: How Can I help my newborn (0-12 weeks) Sleep Well at Night?

Learn more: How Can I Help my Toddler Sleep Well at Night? 

What age can I start using a bedtime routine for my baby?

You can implement a bedtime routine as early as 4 weeks old, starting a gentle routine when your little one indicates they are tired.4 At this age the time they go to bed may vary a bit from day to day, but their routine can stay the same.

Around the 2-month mark, babies start to consolidate their night time sleep, stay asleep for longer, and begin going to bed earlier, making developing a bedtime routine a bit easier.6

Know that it’s never too late to implement a bedtime routine. Once you begin a consistent bedtime routine, it’s possible to see improvements in your child’s sleep in as quickly as just a few days!7 You may notice your little one falls asleep quicker, wakes up less often, and may even have improved moods just from putting together a dependable, relaxing routine.7

Read more: What are Typical Sleep Patterns for 4 to 12 Month Old Babies?

Learn about: Sleep Patterns: What’s Typical for a Toddler?

How to build a bedtime routine for your infant and toddler

Choose 2 to 4 calm activities

A good bedtime routine includes comforting, low stimulation activities and is no longer than 30 to 40 minutes.3

Ideas of activities for a bedtime routine

  • Bath or shower
  • Brushing teeth (or gums for a baby)*
  • Massage
  • Singing
  • Reading / storytelling
  • Cuddle
  • Breastfeeding or feeding with the bottle or sippy cup3,8,9

If breastfeeding or providing a bottle is the final step in your child’s bedtime routine, try to put your little one to bed sleepy but not asleep.1,3 And never leave a bottle or cup with your little one while they sleep. 10,11

*Note that once teeth erupt in your little one’s mouth, they can be susceptible to tooth decay (cavities) if put to bed with milk in their mouth. Make sure your baby finishes the feed before they fall asleep (so that they swallow down the last of the milk).11,13 Alternatively, your bedtime routine may need to have “brush teeth” after “breastfeeding / bottle feeding”.13

Read more: How do I Teach my Baby to Sleep in their Crib?

Complete the bedtime routine in a calm, quiet, and safe atmosphere

Do the last couple activities in your child’s sleeping space to support a positive association with that room or area. Keep the lights low to help promote relaxation.

Avoid loud music, bright lights, and active play.5,8 All these may make your little one too excited to sleep.

And don’t forget to include a safety scan of the crib and sleep space in your bedtime routine.1,5

Read more: Setting Up a Safe Sleep Environment

Be consistent

You’re probably already consistently doing one or two things each night before your child goes to bed, such as a diaper change and putting on pajamas.

Make sure you can do this routine with your child anywhere, not just at home. This way when you travel your child will have this comforting bedtime routine to help them settle down even in an unfamiliar place.

To make this new routine a habit, make sure to do it as many nights per week as possible (if not all of them).2,5

Read more: Sleep Challenges: Travel, Seasonal, and Holidays

Adjust the bedtime routine depending on your child’s age and development

The bedtime routine for a 7-week-old will be different than for a 6-month-old, and different still for a 2-year-old. Be prepared to make appropriate updates to your routine as your child’s age and stage of development.

For example, once your baby is confidently rolling, it will no longer be safe to swaddle your baby.12 Try changing your routine by singing to baby while placing your little one in a sleep sack instead of the swaddle.

Keep in mind that whenever you make an adjustment to the bedtime routine, it can take 3 to 4 nights for your baby to learn the new cues before your little one becomes accustomed to their new routine.7

Learn more: What are Sleep Regressions?

Example infant and toddler bedtime routines

As you develop your child’s bedtime routine, think about the order of events. Try going from most- to least-active activity to help form a slow, relaxing wind-down period.

Your routine may look different for an infant than it does for a toddler. Set up your little one’s bedtime routine to meet their needs at their current age and let the bedtime routine slowly adjust as needed.

Example infant bedtime routine: Bath, diaper and pajamas, gentle massage, feed; then put baby to bed drowsy but awake.

Example toddler bedtime routine: Bath, brush teeth, book, cuddle; then leave the room before your toddler is asleep.

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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

Sleep Patterns: What’s Typical of a Newborn

How to Keep Your Baby Awake During Feedings

How to Manage Your Baby’s Early Morning Wake-ups

Setting Up a Safe Sleep Environment