Establishing a bedtime routine for your child

What to Know

  • A bedtime routine is the series of events prior to your child initiating sleep
  • Learn how—and how early—you can initiate the cues for sleep routines
  • Implement a consistent, predictable, age appropriate bedtime routine to reduce stress for both children and parents

Sleep routines support good sleep for people of all ages and include everything from sleeping schedules to pre-bedtime rituals to the type and use of sleeping space. Establishing a bedtime routine for someone other than yourself –someone as precious as your baby! – might sound daunting, but it is simply the predictable series of events that occurs leading up to your child going to sleep at night. A bedtime routine is not to be mistaken with evening activities such as eating dinner or bathing, although a bath may be a part of some families’ routines. 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.

Mom reading baby a bedtime story

You can implement a bedtime routine as early as 7 weeks old (when your baby begins social smiling), as this period usually involves a natural shift toward an earlier bedtime. However, it is never too late to implement a bedtime routine or change your baby’s routine, so that it meets your family’s needs at that particular time.

What to Do

Create a comforting environment with low stimulation activities

A good bedtime routine includes comforting and low stimulation activities, which may involve swaddling, massage, singing, reading, storytelling, breastfeeding, or feeding with the bottle or sippy cup, depending on your baby’s age. Do these activities in your child’s sleeping space in order to support positive associations with that room or space. The room environment at the end of the bedtime routine should be the same throughout the entire night. This means you should keep the lights low (as light is very stimulating to the eye and can delay sleep) and steer clear of music that changes in pitch or tone (but consistent white noise can be helpful to drown out extraneous sounds). And don’t forget to include a safety scan of the crib and sleep space in your bedtime routine!

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. These sleep associations (the conditions present at the time of sleep initiation) are easily formed in children, so think about the order in which you execute your routine and be sure it’s working for both you and your baby. For example, if you want your child to learn to initiate sleep independently, then end your bedtime routine by placing your baby in her sleep space while she’s still awake.

Adjust the bedtime routine according to your baby’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, so be prepared to make appropriate updates to your routine as your child’s age and stage of development changes. For example, once your baby is confidently rolling, it will no longer be appropriate to swaddle her. Try changing your routine by singing to her while placing her in a sleep sack instead of the swaddle. Or a toddler might begin to vocalize extra requests at the end of the routine. Try clarifying the end of the routine with her by sharing a picture chart with the bedtime routine broken down concretely for her to see. Keep in mind that whenever you make an adjustment to the bedtime routine, it can take 3-4 nights for your baby to learn the new cues before she settles and becomes accustomed to her new routine.