Putting your baby to sleep is not always easy, and no one enjoys spending the hour before bed dealing with your baby fighting sleep and trying to get them to relax and sleep. The fact is, a good night’s sleep starts before you even put your baby in their crib. Establishing a baby bedtime routine can help improve your baby’s sleep – and give you a more relaxing night!
Babies learn through actions before they begin comprehending the meaning of words. Having a predictable newborn night routine helps babies learn, through actions, that it’s time to go to sleep. Your newborn bedtime routine doesn't need to be elaborate - in fact, it's better to make it as simple as possible so you can consistently repeat it anytime, anywhere.
In this guide, we’ll talk about the importance of a bedtime routine for baby and guide you through when to start bedtime routines. We’ll even share baby bedtime routine examples you can try yourself! But first, why is an infant bedtime routine so important?
From the experts
“Sleep associations are incredibly strong. The repetitive nature of a parent’s exact actions before bed is very powerful. It doesn’t matter that there’s no massage or books, what matters is that we created a reliable set of steps before bed that cue her brain and body that it’s time to sleep....you could stand on your head as the first step in your bedtime routine, as long as you do it every night.”- National Sleep Foundation
Why is a baby bedtime routine important?
The importance of a bedtime routine for a baby cannot be understated. Simply put, you and your child both get to sleep faster, and ideally, sleep through the night. Here’s why you should work towards a consistent newborn bedtime routine:
- A bedtime routine for a baby can help them sleep better. Babies are constantly learning and exploring. Even the smallest things or actions can stimulate your baby. Establishing a calming, soothing baby sleep routine will help them relax before it’s time to sleep. It’s important to keep your newborn night routine as consistent and predictable as possible, because your baby will be calmer if they know what’s coming next.
- A bedtime routine can help YOU relax too. While your baby will find this time relaxing and start going to sleep easier, you’ll be getting to spend special quiet time with your little one. This is a great time to bond and get away from other things going on in your household or life. To find more ways to help mom and dad sleep, read our blog.
- Bedtime Routines aid transitional periods. Baby bedtime routines also help put your baby to sleep during transitional periods and sleep regressions. Around 4 to 6 weeks, many babies experience an onset of colic attacks, or other disruptions to their normal sleep pattern, which can pose a challenge for you and your little one. Staying consistent with your bedtime routine will help them push through this transition.
When to start bedtime routine for baby: signs your child is ready for a newborn bedtime routine
This is one of the most common questions we get asked. But the truth is, there is no one size fits all answer for when to start a bedtime routine for baby. A good time to start implementing a consistent infant bedtime routine might be when:
Your baby is 5-6 weeks old
Newborns don’t follow much of a set routine or baby sleep schedule, and they’re not going to have a set baby bedtime either. From 0-6 weeks, your baby will be sleeping so often that worrying about getting them on a schedule is basically obsolete.
Before 6 weeks old, focus on getting them enough sleep and what activities appear to relax or soothe them; then you’ll know what things you should include in their newborn night routine when the time comes.
Your baby is showing signs of getting used to certain “sleep aids for infants.”
When you first bring your baby home, you do whatever you can just to make sure your baby is getting the care, love, and sleep they need. However, sometimes that means we resort to things we know we won’t be able to keep doing forever – like carrying your baby around while they sleep, letting them nurse until they fall asleep, using a pacifier, or sleeping in their swing. These are infant sleep aids, which can turn into sleep associations.
It’s fine if you’ve used these baby sleep aids, most parents do! But the sooner you can wean them off, the better because it won’t always be possible for you to rely on these baby sleep aids. Establishing a newborn bedtime routine can help lessen the need for baby sleep aids, and eventually, eliminate them altogether.
Bedtime routine for your baby heading for a 7 PM bedtime
Bath baby in a nice warm bath
After drying baby, massage her with some almond oil (or other natural oil)
Dress baby in their pajamas and sing a song or read a book
Start bedtime feed
Bedtime feed ends. Put the baby in their swaddle or sleep sack, give them a cuddle, and sing them a song. Put the baby in their bed, saying your sleep phrase and turning off the lights.
Baby goes to bed for the night.
If your baby is used to being held to sleep, getting them used to sleeping independently can be a challenge. Your baby's association with your touch is one of the strongest.
Our weighted sleepwear is lightly weighted to mimic your gentle touch, so your baby will still feel that comforting pressure between cuddles. We have two styles to choose from - our swaddles and our weighted sleep sack. We’ll help you choose between a sleep sack vs swaddle shortly.
Zen Sleepwear™: Lightly weighted
Your schedule is about to change, such as going back to work
If you have a newborn at home, routine might feel like a thing of the past. Bringing your baby home probably ended any semblance of routine you once had in your life. Before you know it, mom-brain sets in from lack of sleep and constantly feeling overwhelmed.
Implementing a bedtime routine at the right age can help you get some organization back in your life. Once your baby reaches that 6-week mark, they can start to absorb a routine- and you can start feeling a little more on track! When your maternity leave is over and you have to go back to work, or if you have other children at home
"Timing is critical. Tuning into your baby's natural biological rhythms—by reading their drowsy signs—ensures that when they're placed in their crib, melatonin (the powerful sleep hormone) is elevated in their system, and their brain and body will be primed to drift off with little fuss. If you wait too long, however, your infant can become overtired. Not only will they have lower melatonin levels, but their brain begins to release wakefulness hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. This makes it difficult for your baby to fall asleep and stay asleep and can lead to early wake-ups. So don't miss these cues: When your little one is still, quiet, disinterested in their surroundings, and staring off into space, melatonin is peaking in their system and it's time to go to bed." – Jenni June, a sleep consultant in Los Angeles
How do I establish a baby bedtime routine?
After about 6 weeks, your baby will fall into a more regular eating, playing, and newborn sleep schedule. Since you’ve been noting what helps to soothe and relax your baby, you’ll know how to get your routine started.
Learn your baby’s sleepiness cues and begin starting your routine then. It will take time to establish it, just remember to stay consistent! Here are some tips on setting up your newborn bedtime routine:
Step 1: Observe and Identify Sleep Patterns
Before you establish a bedtime routine, spend some time observing your newborn's natural sleep patterns. Newborns have unpredictable sleep cycles, but by the 6-8 week mark, you might start to see some regularity.
Note signs of drowsiness like yawning, eye-rubbing, or fussiness, and jot down the times when these cues appear. This information will help you decide when to start the bedtime routine.
Step 2: Choose a Consistent Start Time
Based on your observations, select a consistent time to begin the bedtime routine every night. While it's challenging to be precise, even a 15-30 minute window can help set your baby's internal clock.
Step 3: Simplify, Simplify, Simplify
While it’s tempting to include multiple activities to ensure your baby is well and truly ready for bed, simplicity is key. Choose 3-4 calming activities, keeping in mind that they should be comforting for your baby and feasible for you to perform consistently.
Step 4: Choose a Specific Order for Activities
Once you've decided on the activities that make up your routine, perform them in the same order every night. This sequence will become increasingly familiar to your baby, reinforcing the cue that bedtime is approaching.
Step 5: Make it a Team Effort
Involve all caregivers in the bedtime routine to ensure consistency. Whether it's you, your partner, or a grandparent putting the baby to bed, make sure everyone is on the same page about what the routine involves and the specific order in which activities should be performed.
Step 6: Create a Sleep-Inducing Environment
The atmosphere plays a significant role in signaling to your baby that it's time to wind down. Dim the lights, reduce noise levels, and keep the room at a comfortable temperature. Some parents find soft, ambient noise or lullabies beneficial, but this will depend on your baby's individual preferences.
Step 7: Introduce a Sleep Cue
Incorporate a final sleep cue at the end of the routine—something as simple as a whispered "goodnight" or a gentle pat on the back. This cue will act as the final signal for your baby that it's time to sleep, helping them make the association more quickly over time.
Step 8: Remain Flexible but Consistent
Your baby's needs will change as they grow. Remain flexible in your approach but maintain the structure and consistency of the routine. If a particular activity isn't working, substitute it but keep the rest of the newborn night routine intact.
Step 9: Regular Reassessment
As your baby achieves new developmental milestones, be prepared to adapt the newborn night routine. Reassess every couple of months or after significant changes, like teething or crawling.
Step 10: Prioritize Safety
In all these steps, remember to always prioritize your baby's safety during bedtime. Keep their sleep space clutter-free and adhere to guidelines for safe sleep.
Sample Newborn Bedtime Routine Example: Here’s what your newborn night routine should look like…
How long before bed you start your baby bedtime routine will depend on your child. But the ideal pre-bedtime newborn night routine will last anywhere from 1 hour to 15 minutes. This will depend on your baby’s temperament, and even what kind of day they’ve had.
If the hours before bed were filled with visitors or lots of playtime, it may take a little longer to get them calm than it would have if the day was spent relaxing and snuggling with mom.
The timeline below gives an outline of what your baby bedtime routine should look like:
- 45 minutes to 1 hour before sleep: Give baby a bath, clean diaper, lotion, etc.
- 30 to 45 minutes before sleep: give a quick baby massage for sleep, put jammies on and swaddle. Turn on ambient noise, make the room dim/dark.
- 15 to 30 minutes before sleep: Nursing/feeding, other calming activities of your choice
- 10 to 15 minutes before sleep: Move to baby’s bedroom if you haven’t already. Burp (if needed), and gently rock or snuggle.
- 5 minutes before sleep: Your baby should be very drowsy. Put them down in their crib before they fall asleep.
- Sleep time: As your baby falls asleep, try leaving the room. This can be tough, but the Zen Weighted Swaddle may be able to help. Its gently weighted Cuddle Pad™ mimics your touch – reassuring pressure calms like your palm on a baby's chest.
Common Challenges in Setting Up a Newborn Night Routine
Establishing a newborn night routine can seem like a daunting task, especially for first-time parents. While it's a crucial step in helping your baby develop healthy sleep habits, it's not without its challenges. Below are some common obstacles you may encounter and suggestions on how to overcome them.
Resistance from the Baby
The Challenge: Your newborn may initially resist the bedtime routine, causing stress and uncertainty.
The Solution: It’s essential to remain consistent. Babies need time to adjust to new routines. If you stay consistent, your baby will eventually understand the cues that signify bedtime.
Multiple Caregivers with Different Styles
The Challenge: If more than one person is putting the baby to bed, inconsistencies can arise.
The Solution: Communication is key. Make sure everyone involved in the child's care is on the same page regarding the bedtime routine. Consider creating a written outline of the steps to ensure uniformity.
The Challenge: Too much activity or stimulation before bedtime can make it difficult for the baby to wind down.
The Solution: Keep pre-bedtime activities low-key. Opt for calming activities like reading a short book, giving a gentle massage, or singing lullabies.
Lack of Time
The Challenge: Sometimes, life gets in the way, making it difficult to strictly adhere to the bedtime routine.
The Solution: While consistency is important, it's also okay to have a more abbreviated version of your routine for those busy nights. A shorter routine is better than no routine.
The Challenge: If you have other children, they might inadvertently disrupt the baby's bedtime routine.
The Solution: Try to sync the routines of all your children to the extent possible or engage the older siblings in helping with the baby's bedtime to keep them occupied and part of the process.
Teething or Illness
The Challenge: Physical discomfort can throw a wrench into any routine.
The Solution: Temporary discomfort like teething or mild illnesses are understandable exceptions to the rule. Comfort your child as needed, but try to return to the routine as soon as things are back to normal.
Unpredictable Sleep Patterns
The Challenge: Newborns don't initially have set sleep patterns, making it challenging to implement a strict routine.
The Solution: Be patient and flexible. Newborn sleep patterns are erratic at best. As they grow, their sleep will consolidate, making it easier to establish a routine.
The Challenge: Let's face it, as a new parent, you're probably sleep-deprived and running low on energy.
The Solution: It can be tempting to take shortcuts, but try to stick to the routine as much as possible. Over time, the routine will likely improve your child’s sleep, and in turn, yours.
Remember, establishing a bedtime routine for a baby is a gradual process. It won’t happen overnight, but with persistence, you and your newborn will get there. Patience and consistency are your best friends in this journey. And with that said, it’s time we wrapped up this guide to setting up an infant bedtime routine.
Wrapping Up Our Guide to Setting Up a Newborn Bedtime Routine
We hope this guide empowers you in setting up a bedtime routine for your baby. While you may be struggling with sporadic sleep schedules right now, you can apply these baby bedtime routine tips to gain a sense of order and balance in your life.
You can learn more in our blog about baby sleep training, how to get newborn to sleep at night, how to help a teething baby sleep, what to do if your newborn won't sleep unless held, baby separation anxiety,
As we mentioned throughout, sleepwear plays a key role in helping your child adapt to their newborn bedtime routine. If you’re still not convinced, though, read our guides to the benefits of sleep sacks or why swaddle a newborn.
You can also learn about the types of of swaddles for newborns, swaddling techniques, what age to stop swaddling, and what makes our product the best transition swaddle. Otherwise, why not invest in better sleep today?
We have an option for every sleep style and stage – from our newborn swaddle, transitional swaddle, reversible sleep sack, winter sleep sack or footie pajamas, you’ll be amazed at how it helps you keep your child warm and cozy while soothing them to sleep.
So, what are you waiting for? Start your newborn bedtime routine on the right foot with Nested Bean today!