Bedtime and Nap Routines

When we opened up voting on our Facebook page for our next big blog, we were a bit (pleasantly) surprised to see Pre Sleep Routines emerge as the winner! Pre Sleep Routines are a hugely important element of successful sleep improvements and training but we find in consults, it’s often a topic parents want to spend little time talking about. So, nicely done Facebook voters – you picked a great blog subject!

What is a Pre Sleep Routine and Why Do It?

In a nutshell, it’s a predictable series of steps with the purpose of (1) cuing your baby that it’s going to be time for sleep and (2) giving your baby some wind down time to transition into the soothing tools he’ll need to fall asleep (namely slowing breathing and body movements, and perhaps some other self soothing techniques like sucking thumb or pacifier, holding a lovey (older babies), etc). Pre Sleep Routines should be done before naps and before bedtime as well.

A recent study of over 10,000 children around-the-world found that children who have a regular bedtime routine have an earlier bedtime, fall asleep faster, and parents report that they sleep better compared with children who don’t have a routine (Mindell and Colleagues, 2015). Babies and toddlers do well with routines and predictability. Bedtime routines in particular will help your baby or toddler understand what you would like to have happen next… sleep! We aren’t suggesting you be inflexible or rigid each night or that you can’t have “off” nights from time to time, but as a general rule and ESPECIALLY if you are going to be starting some some sleep training, regularity and a predictable bedtime routine is key.

Age to Begin:

Start early! Around the onset of social smiling and reduction in nighttime BMs, comes an earlier drift in bedtime and a more predictable long stretch of sleep in the beginning of the night. This change often begins between the 7th and 9th week (from due date) and is the time to start your baby’s bedtime routine. As your baby’s bedtime drifts earlier and becomes more predictable during the first three months of life, you can use your pre sleep cues to help drive this change.

Naps at this young age are likely still too unpredictable for a regular pre sleep routine, so you’ll start with bedtime first and do the best you can with some pre sleep cues during the day. As each nap develops with more predictability (see our age by stage sleep expectations chart) you can add more structured pre sleep routines before each daytime sleep episode.

Evening Routine vs Bedtime Routine

People often mistake their evening routine for their bedtime routine and then get bogged down by its length. Predictability IS a good idea with babies and especially toddlers so having a general flow to your evening may be helpful. Maybe your child eats dinner, has a bath and some quiet play or activities before a last feeding, brushing teeth and songs or stories. We would consider the dinner, bath and quiet play to be your evening routine, rather than bedtime routine. Evening routines may vary a bit. If your baby has a diaper blow out or your toddler splashes in a mud puddle or gets filthy in the garden like our kids do, bath time might come early on any given night! During the evening routine you may Skype with a grandparent, have an impromptu visit from a neighbor, or a school activity for an older child. In other words – the evening routine, although regular, may vary a little night to night and that’s okay! The pre sleep routine, on the other hand, is more sacred. It usually lasts about 15 – 30 minutes at night, and 5-15 minutes during the day. We prefer you prioritize this time and ignore the doorbell, phone, etc as much as possible.