What does a good bedtime routine look like and why is it so important?

Let’s start with Bedtime. 

The source of much stress and many tears (yours and theirs!) or a relaxing, wind-down period both you and your child look forward to? You may be answering the former and you won’t be on your own here. However, scenario two is completely achievable.   

Family life can be hectic. The idea of implementing another routine can feel overwhelming.  Especially if you are feeling exhausted.  But what if I told you that following a few simple steps before putting your little ones to bed could actually result in more sleep for everyone?  

Having a bedtime routine tells your little one what to expect each evening and will create a sense of security for them.  They will begin to recognise the things you do to end each day as a sign that it is time to wind-down. The routine you set up should, and can, fit in with your family lifestyle – it doesn’t have to be onerous.  You could include a warm bath or baby massage, share a book or soothing songs.  Even some carefully-chosen television can work.  Whatever you choose, make it enjoyable for all involved.  As long as you stick to the same steps each evening, you will begin to notice a difference rather quickly.  

Other things to think about are when and where.

The good news is that you have biology on your side.  Your little one will naturally begin to produce melatonin, the sleep hormone, near bedtime.  Ensuring that you begin their bedtime routine around 30 minutes before bedtime will avoid over tiredness.  Checking the length of time between last nap of the day and bedtime against the recommended age-appropriate wake-window is also a good idea.

During the bedtime wind-down, try to reduce stimulation as much as possible.  This can be tricky if you have multiple children.  If bath-time is more of a fun and exhilarating activity, do this before beginning your routine.  

Alter the lighting and volume in your home where possible.  Lamps or night lights come in handy here.  Using a soft voice during this time and setting any TV to a low volume is a good way to set the tone for relaxation.  When sharing a story or songs, choose the same place in your home each night.  This will help make everything about your routine familiar and reassuring.

For younger babies, it is a good idea to ensure they have a full tummy before bed.  However, you want to avoid the risk of baby falling asleep during the feed.  Firstly, they may not finish all of their milk. Secondly, feeding to sleep can cause problems with night wakings and self-settling.  Give milk before beginning the bedtime routine.  

What does bedtime look like in my house?

We begin our bedtime routine post-bathtime.  My 15 month old finds his bath too exciting to be a relaxing element so, after a good splash around, we get him into cosy pjs and head downstairs for evening milk and some calming baby TV.  Fifteen minutes before bedtime, we head upstairs to share a story by nightlight.  After lots of cuddles and repetition of our sleep phrase (sleepy time now), it’s lights out and he goes into his cot.  During the day, we follow the same pattern before each nap minus the milk and TV.

The most important thing to take away from this is that a bedtime routine should be an enjoyable end to the day for your family.  It should add a simple structure which communicates to your little ones that is it time for bed.  It doesn’t need to be a lengthy process.  There is no single ‘best’ way.  Find what works for your family.