Bedtime for Baby: How to Establish a Baby Sleep Routine

April 20, 2020

Bedtime for Baby: How to Establish a Baby Sleep Routine

Sleepless nights are a part of many new parents' lives, but it doesn't have to be that way. Creating a baby sleep routine can make life easier for everyone so you and your little one can get some shut-eye.

No matter how difficult it may seem, there are some things you can do to help create a better routine for your baby now so that they develop good sleeping habits later.

When to Establish a Sleep Routine for your Baby

You don’t have to worry about establishing a sleep routine for a newborn. They nap so much, any attempt to organize their sleep patterns will be in vain.

But soon, it will be time to establish a routine. There are usually two signs that help you know when to establish a sleep routine for your baby:

  1. Your baby is getting used to sleeping aids. Most parents do whatever they can to make sure their baby is cared for at all times. That might mean carrying your baby, nursing them, or swinging them until they fall asleep. While these are fine to do, they can turn into negative sleep associations because the baby’s sleep relies on something you do. So, the sooner you can wean them off of these sleeping aids, the better.
  2. Your baby is five to six weeks old. Like we mentioned earlier, that first month home will be full of unpredictable sleep patterns. But during that time, you can learn what activities appear to soothe your baby and use them when making a sleep routine.

How to Establish a Baby Sleep Routine

Every parent and every child's schedule is different, so your sleep routine may not be exactly the same as others. Overall, you want your baby's sleep routine to ensure that they are well-rested and don't feel overtired or exhausted.

You also want to ensure that your little one's sleep schedule works around yours. For example, if you need to be awake by a specific time each day, try to work on scheduling sleep times so that your baby sleeps through the night until you're ready to wake them.

To make this process easier on you, here are five tips on how to establish a baby sleep routine:

  1. Choose the Correct Bedtime

There’s no exact time range that’s perfect for every baby. Look for signs of sleepiness as the evening progresses. Once you’ve noticed a pattern, for example, your baby gets tired about an hour after dinner, make that their consistent bedtime.

Take into account when your baby takes naps. If you schedule bedtime too soon after they’ve finished a nap, they’ll be much fussier in their crib. 

As a general rule, a newborn baby’s bedtime should be one to two hours after their last nap has finished. For older babies, between 10 and 18 months old, there should be a three to four-hour gap between their last nap and bedtime.

In your baby’s first year, you’ll have to regularly adjust their sleep schedule as they get older because they’ll slowly require less and less sleep. Here’s how much sleep your baby needs in 24 hours according to their age:

  • 1-3 months old: 14-17 hours (8-12 hours overnight)
  • 4-6 months old: 12-16 hours (5-6 hours overnight)
  • 7-11 months old: 12-16 hours (10-12 hours overnight)

With these times in mind, you’ll have to change their nap schedules as they require less and less sleep during the day. Here’s a guide to help you know how much your baby should be sleeping before their nightly bedtime:

  • 1-3 months old: four naps a day
  • 4-8 months old: three naps a day
  • 9-18 months old: two naps a day
  1. Establish a Bedtime Ritual

Creating a calming bedtime ritual can help your little one feel relaxed and ready to snooze for the night. This could be anything from reading them a bedtime story to rocking them in your arms or singing them a soft lullaby. Do all of this in your baby’s bedroom. That way, they can learn to associate these activities with going to sleep.

While your baby is less than a year old, it’s perfectly fine to bottle feed them right before bed. Oftentimes they’ll need that extra nutrition to keep their bellies full through the night. Babies latch on easier to silicone baby bottles because of silicone’s natural feel. And as they age, you can get different nipple types so your baby can get more formula and nutrition more quickly.

Experiment with different bedtime rituals to see what works best. And if your spouse or partner is in the home, take turns who puts the baby to bed every night. That way your child won’t insist on only “mommy” or “daddy” telling them a bedtime story.

  1. Create A Soothing Environment

To encourage your baby to fall asleep, you'll need to make sure that their room is comfortable and soothing. But don’t be tempted to throw plush pillows and stuffed animals into their crib the second they come home from the hospital. These seemingly harmless comfort items can actually pose the risk of asphyxiation. So hold off on these items until your baby is at least 18 months old.

When it’s time to get a blanket for swaddling, choose soft blankets that aren’t plush. The thick fabric could cause your baby to overheat and be uncomfortable. Check to make sure your baby isn't too hot or cold as they sleep and adjust the room temperature as needed. Cooler temperatures make for more restful sleep.

Don’t worry about leaving on a light, because dark rooms actually help your baby sleep more comfortably. Dark rooms encourage the brain to secrete melatonin, making for faster and more restful sleep. With this in mind, it’s also important to keep the room dark for the majority of the day; it’s hard for a baby to stay asleep when the summer sun peaks through the window. So consider investing in blackout blinds and curtains to keep the light from disturbing your young one’s slumber.

As you work to give your baby a soothing place to slumber, they should begin to develop a connection between their room and sleep. Remember, you may need to adjust bedtimes and adapt a bit before you find the perfect rhythm.

And when you're out and about, you can encourage nap times with accessories like soft, cushioned stroller liners. These mini mattresses will make taking a walk feel like a mobile bed for your baby. You can also keep their head supported, and easily cushioned when they conk out, with a cute baby neck pillow.

  1. Keep the Baby’s Settings Consistent

As your baby sleeps at night, they’ll typically rouse themselves awake every 40 or 50 minutes. But if they wake up and their surroundings have changed, they’ll start crying. So, you want to ensure that their surroundings are the same when they wake up as when they went to bed.

To do that, put your baby down to rest when they are drowsy, not when they’re completely asleep. Don’t let them fall asleep in your lap -- when they wake up in a dark room, they’ll be disoriented and start crying out to alert you. 

Once you start to see your baby’s eyes getting heavy, take them to their crib or bed, turn off the lights, and close the door. Then they’ll be able to get familiar with their surroundings before falling asleep.

  1. Be Patient

Newborns won't be accustomed to a sleep schedule right away, and that's perfectly fine until they're able to adjust. Be prepared to wait at least a few weeks before starting any kind of sleep routine with your infant.

It could take up to a few months before you're able to create a truly effective baby sleep routine. In the meantime, pay close attention to what seems to make them feel comforted and what tends to make your baby get tired.

Come up with a nightly ritual both you and your baby will look forward to. This bonding time can strengthen your bond, and it will give your little one reassurance so they feel more relaxed.

Most babies can begin a structured sleep schedule between the ages of three and six months. This schedule should include bedtime, nap times, and wake-up times that all occur at the same time every day. Consistency and patience are both instrumental in developing a healthy sleep schedule that works.

Your baby may still cry in protest of going to bed, even after you’ve tried everything to comfort them, but don’t worry. This is perfectly normal. Don’t feel the need to comfort your baby every time it cries either; more often than not, it’s ok to let a baby cry itself to sleep.

More Helpful Tips For Parents

Coming up with a baby sleep routine can feel challenging, but there are some things you can do to be proactive. While it may feel a bit frustrating at first, it usually just takes time before your baby adapts to their sleep schedule.

  • Keep a close eye on your baby's sleep habits to help you get a better idea of when they tend to get tired and ready for bed. Track the hours they stay asleep so you can gauge the best time to begin your bedtime routine.
  • Ideally, start rocking or singing lullabies a few minutes before your baby typically falls into a deep sleep. This gives you and your child some time to adjust and helps encourage sleeping in a more natural way.
  • You might discover that a few extra tools can help your baby fall asleep, such as a small fan or white noise machine. The key to a healthy sleep routine is creating a habit that encourages your little ones to fall asleep on their own.
  • Come up with things you do each day and night that indicate it's time for sleeping. You can also use these things for your baby's nap times such as cuddles, feeding, and bath time. Eventually, your child will associate the behavior with sleep and everyone will get the rest they need.

Sleep Schedules Made Easy

With some patience and a bit of practice, you can develop a baby sleep routine that works for everyone. Remember that infants may take more time to adjust and that they'll eventually develop a healthy sleeping pattern with your help.

Use soothing accessories like stroller liners, noise machines, and a rocking chair to create a feeling of comfort that associates with sleep.

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