In an ideal world, your baby will sleep through the night with little or no disturbances. But if you aren’t one of those one in a million parents with a miracle sleeper, you may need some help. Cue the bedtime routine – the surest way to guarantee a good night’s sleep for you all
As an adult, you may think routine = boring. Now step into your baby’s world – he loves predictability. From feed times to play times and yes, sleep time, your baby thrives on a routine. And a bedtime routine is a simple one to get in place. It will calm and soothe him, preparing him for (hopefully) a long and peaceful night’s sleep and gives him some special one-on-one time with his favourite person – you.
A routine of sorts can be established as early as six weeks and at around three months old, your baby’s sleep could really benefit from a routine. Working from your baby’s cues, you can see what he likes and what works for him, helping you to get his perfect bedtime routine down to a tee, paving the way for sleep training further down the line.
Start your baby’s bedtime routine off with a bath – indicating the end of the day’s activities.
‘After washing your baby, change him into his night clothes,’ says Child Sleep Work’s founder, Maryanne Taylor. ‘Unless you’re an advocate of sleeping naked, all the time, chances are this habit is still ingrained.’
Get the room ready
After his bath, bring your baby into the room that he will be sleeping in.
‘Dim the lights to create a quiet and calm atmosphere,’ says Maryanne. ‘Dim lights encourage the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, helping your baby feel drowsy and drift off more easily.’
Soothe and calm
You’ll probably have found your own special way to soothe your baby once he’s in his room.
‘If your baby loves your singing voice, let him be your very own X Factor judge and – softly – sing him your favourite tunes. If even the tiniest can pick up on just how tone-deaf you are, why not try a baby massage orplay a lullaby through your phone or a cot mobile or try some white noise.’
Once your baby is settled in his room, it’s time for his pre-bed feed.
‘Try to avoid your baby falling asleep while feeding,’ advises Maryanne. ‘Feed him until he’s full and he’s eyelids start drooping, then put him down.’
Lastly, introduce a bedtime story to your baby – a small padded baby book is ideal. This is something that you can build on as your baby gets older. Don’t be shy to act out the parts, but do keep your voice low and soft, so it’s calming as your baby dozes.’
Baby sleep routines: find the right one for you
1) Routine: No crying/No tears
Principles: Babies shouldn’t be left to cry in bed for more than a few minutes, because crying creates a negative sleep association.
How to do it: Use whatever soothing method works best for you, such as nursing or rocking.
Benefits: It’s a baby-centric approach that minimises upset to parents and baby.
Pitfalls: Constantly having to respond to your baby the second he cries can be exhausting.
Read: The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley.
2) Routine: Gina Ford
Principles: By creating routines that match a baby’s natural rhythms, Gina claims to prevent the hunger, overtiredness and colic that can lead to excessive crying.
How to do it: Follow the nine different routines, as outlined in the book, from birth to 12 months. The routines include minute-by-minute guidance on nap times, feeds and bedtime rituals.
Benefits: You should have a baby who sleeps through by eight to 10 weeks.
Pitfalls: The routines are very strict and your ability to leave the house is limited.
Read: The New Contented Little Baby Book by Gina Ford.
3) Routine: Controlled crying
Principles: Dr Richard Ferber proposed the ‘controlled crying’ sleep training method back in the 80s to teach a baby to fall asleep on his own, but it isn’t advised for babies under six months.
How to do it: Put your baby in his cot awake and leave the room. Return after a few minutes to comfort him with words or touch, but without looking at him or picking him up. Leave the room and wait longer between visits to comfort him.
Benefits: It’s fast – you could see improvements within a week.
Pitfalls: Some research suggests crying for long periods could cause emotional distress, although other studies disagree. It can be heartbreaking for you, too.
Read: Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Dr Richard Ferber.
4) Routine: EASY
Principles: Devised by Tracy Hogg, EASY stands for an Eat, Activity, Sleep, your structured routine.
How to do it: It’s a recurring three-hour routine that involves food, play, then a nap. While he sleeps, you rest or get things done.
Benefits: Tracy emphasises the importance of a proper schedule – something nearly every sleep expert swears by.
Pitfalls: If your baby simply refuses to sleep when you want, it can be tricky to implement.
Read: Secrets Of The Baby Whisperer by Tracy Hogg.
Why is a bedtime routine so important?
In a study conducted at University College London, which polled 10,000 children aged three, five and seven, children with irregular bedtimes were found to suffer from behavioural problems such as emotional difficulties, hyperactivity and problems with peers as their natural body rhythms are disrupted and can cause sleep deprivation, which can affect the way the brain matures.
So, putting your child to bed at the same time every night could be the key to keeping his good behaviour up.
‘Not having fixed bedtimes, accompanied by a constant sense of flux, induces a state of body and mind akin to jet lag and this matters for healthy development and daily functioning,’ says Prof Yvonne Kelly, from UCL’s department of epidemiology and public health.
‘It follows that disruptions to sleep, especially if they occur at key times in development, could have important lifelong impacts on health.’
But before you panic about being lax with your little one’s bedtime, you can relax. The researchers suggest that the effects are reversible – so now’s the time to get that bedtime established once and for all! And putting a bedtime routine in place can be the trick to helping your child settle.