Sleep tight: tips for better bedtime routines
OHbaby! infant and toddler expert Dorothy Waide offers her advice on smoothing down the sheets for a sweet end to every day.
Baby’s pre-bedtime routine
A baby’s evening routine starts when they wake from their last nap cycle of the day. The length of their wake cycle will be consistent with the rest of their daytime wake cycles – if it’s longer than this in the evening, your baby may get overtired, and therefore harder to get to sleep at night. Being overtired can also encourage babies to wake overnight more often.
The chart below is a guideline only. Please remember all babies are different.
|0–6 weeks||45 minutes to 1 hour|
|6–12 weeks||1 to 1½ hours|
|4 months||2 hours|
|5 months||2½ hours|
|6 months plus||3 hours|
|10 months plus to toddlers||3 hours or longer, depending on their nap time.|
If your baby is sleeping through the night, then don’t change what you’re doing. If your baby is awake overnight, and isn’t a newborn, then I’d recommend you look at your daytime routine. It’s their daytime routine that makes their night-time routine work.
For babies who are just having milk feeds, their evening routine will look like this after waking from their last nap of the day: wake, feed, bath, feed, swaddle/sleeping bag, bed for the night. Often in the last wake cycle of the day, babies will cluster feed. If your baby is cluster feeding, I suggest you check your diet, as many mums forget to look after themselves food-wise, especially in the afternoons. I suggest having a protein shake and taking additional omega-3s in the afternoon to boost your food intake and milk supply.
Often people recommend offering formula at the end of the day to encourage a baby to sleep longer, however this doesn’t always work, and in my experience, if your baby can’t self-settle and resettle, then adding a formula feed won’t have the effect you are looking for.
For babies and toddlers on solids, their evening routine will be wake, solids plus milk, bath, feed, clean teeth, sleeping bag, bed for the night. Story time is also a lovely inclusion in an evening routine, slowing us down for a calm moment or two of connection, as well as developing a love of literature in our children!
If you’re having issues with your child going to sleep at bedtime or waking overnight, then in my experience, it can also be worth looking at your child’s diet. I suggest removing fruit, processed sugars, yoghurt and cheese from their diet after lunchtime. Toddlers only need two fruit servings a day and often have had this by lunchtime.
Toddler’s pre-bedtime routine
The end of the day tends to be very rushed as we try and get everything done. Adding this rush to the mix of overtired babies, toddlers and parents inevitably contributes to both going -to-bed problems and overnight waking. Talk to your partner and have a plan firmly in place to ensure you have as relaxed an evening routine as possible. Following the same routine at bedtime each night helps a child to understand what is expected of them and this will avoid too many fallouts.
The activities you do with your child after dinner can also have an impact on the bedtime routine, so avoid television and also books that do not have a calming influence. I avoid television after dinner altogether, however if your children do watch some in the evening, look and listen to the program through their eyes and ears. Some books can be quite scary, so again, choose an appropriate book for this time of day.
Over the years of watching parents with their bedtime routines, I’ve found that having a special place to read with your child, rather than you hopping into bed with them, lends itself to a quick and easy exit from the room when it’s time for lights out. A chair or sofa in their room, or just curling up on their floor to read a story, works well, or a cuddle or story time on your bed is a good alternative.
In addition to a story, some children react well to having their favourite doll or cuddly toy tucked up and put to bed as well. Whatever you choose to do, keep it short and sweet and don’t allow the process or activity to get dragged out.
Once you have put your child in bed, have a special sign-off. This can be made more meaningful by doing something slightly different with each child. This small detail makes the child feel that they have a special time with Mummy and/or Daddy before going to bed, and it acts as a final signal that it’s time to go to sleep. This ritual should also be short and sweet, like a quick kiss on the nose or – my favourite – a quick song that I have made up: “Hush little child, time to sleep. Hush little child, I love you”. I sing this as I am switching off the light and leaving the room. Goodnight, sleep tight!
Dorothy Waide started her career training as a Karitane Mothercraft nurse in New Zealand in the 1970s and is now NZ’s leading sleep expert. Dorothy is the author of You Simply Can’t Spoil a Newborn, and is currently working on her next book, 12 Weeks to Toddlerhood. Find her at babyhelp.co.nz.
AS FEATURED IN ISSUE 42 OF OHbaby! MAGAZINE. CHECK OUT OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE BELOW