How to create a soothing bedtime routine for your baby

Published
Updated
Hanna Pauser
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Kajsa Palmkvist Kaijser
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Baby in a striped body being put to bed in a bed side crib

Dealing with long and difficult bedtimes can be incredibly frustrating. Implementing a bedtime routine has been shown in studies to help children fall asleep more easily, reduce the number of night wakings, and improve the child's mood during the day.

What is a bedtime routine?

A bedtime routine is a series of steps that you do together with your child before bedtime. This routine should ideally include roughly the same steps in the same order each day. It's usually a mix of both calming and cozy activities and practical preparations before bed. A bedtime routine often consist of about 4-8 steps and can take between 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on whether or not a bath is included. It's beneficial if the bedtime routine occurs around the same time each evening to reinforce the child's internal clock (the circadian rhythm), which can also ease the process of falling asleep and enhance sleep quality throughout the nightΒΉ.

How can a bedtime routine help your child fall asleep?

Most babies and toddlers find it easier to relax and adapt better when things are predictable and consistent. By performing certain activities in a specific order each evening, it becomes a way of mentally preparing your child for sleeping. It also creates an association between the routine and sleep, which can help your child wind down and fall asleep easierΒ².

What can a bedtime routine include?

Bath

While a baby doesn't need a bath daily, bathing can have a soothing effect and help your child settle down more easily. During a bath, the body temperature slightly increases, then decreases afterward. Since body temperature drops in a similar manner when we fall asleep, bathing before bedtime can make your baby feel sleepy. It's perfectly fine for children to play and splash during bath time - the winding down can begin afterward. A bath often extends the bedtime routine, so you might need to start a bit earlier.

Play calm music

Playing calm and cozy music in the background as you start your night preparations can have a soothing effect. It can also create an association for your child, where the music is linked to winding down.

Put on pajamas and a fresh diaper

The practical steps needed before bedtime can also be part of your routine, ensuring you're ready when it's time to sleep.

Read a Book

For younger children, reading an interactive book can help capture their interest. Even for very young babies, from about 2 months, you can try reading picture books. Even some young babies are captivated by the rhythm of the voice and contrasting images. It doesn't have to be the same book each day - a selection of familiar books or new calm ones are fine.

Sing a Song

Do you have any soothing lullabies that you like and want to share with your child? You don't need to be "good" at singing as long as you enjoy it - your child can enjoy it too. If you don't want to sing (or if your child doesn't like it), playing pre-recorded lullabies can also be calming.

Distinguish Between Daytime & Nighttime

As you approach bedtime, it's good to clearly differentiate between daytime and nighttime. During nighttime, you can lower both the room's light and the volume of voices, and try to minimize play and stimulating activities as much as possible.

Dim the Lights and Use a Red or Pink Night Light

Studies show that blue light in the evening, even in small amounts, can disrupt sleep and delay the time we feel tired at night. Red light does not have the same effect and can thus be used as a night light during bedtime without disrupting the child's circadian rhythm. You can also turn on the same light if the child wakes up during the night.

Feed/NurseBrush Teeth

If your child has teeth, tooth brushing is usually included in the bedtime routine. Brushing a baby's or toddlers teeth can be challenging. However, finding ways that works and being consistent even early on can help your child become accustomed to this routine.

Play white noise or calming sounds

When it's time to sleep, white noise can help your child fall asleep more easily. In a study where babies fell asleep with white noise, 80% fell asleep within 5 minutes, compared to 25% of those who didn't listen to white noise.

When can You start a bedtime routine?

You can introduce a bedtime routine from the moment your child is born, with appropriate adjustments, of course. It's worth noting that newborns often have a very immature circadian rhythm, so the goal is mainly to lay a foundation for the future.

How long should a bedtime routine be?

There are no specific recommendations for the exact length of a bedtime routine. Often, it can be from about 30 minutes up to 2 hours if you include a bath. Find what works for your family and adjust as needed as your child grows.

Should there be a bedtime routine during the day?

If your child needs more support winding down for their naps you can introduce certain steps as a routine to help them wind down. If not, it might be best to keep the bedtime routine distinctive for nighttime sleep to help your child distinguish between night and day.

Visual schedule for bedtime routine

For slightly older children starting a bedtime routine, or if your child starts showing resistance to keeping a routine, using a visual schedule may help. The schedule can include pictures of each activity that you can point to and follow together, step by step.

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2. Harvard Health Publishing. Blue light has a dark side. Harvard Medical School, 2012., https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side

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