All parents with a young baby have experienced nights when their little one simply can’t fall asleep or wakes up crying in the night for no apparent reason. While there are a number of potential reasons for this, many experts have emphasized how a good nighttime routine and sleeping habit is one of the best solutions to keeping sleep problems at bay.
Ultimately, the quality of your child’s sleep starts long before you even put them in their crib. The most important thing to remember is that if you don’t create the right environment to help your baby gradually settle down and relax before bedtime, it will be difficult for them to develop a consistent sleep pattern.
So, to help your baby (and you!) sleep soundly through the night, we’ve gathered all the advice and information you need to start crafting the perfect evening routine that works.
How to Help Your Help Baby Sleep With a Better Bedtime Routine
The reason why bedtime routines are so effective and have helped thousands of parents and babies across the world fall (and stay) asleep is because they create a consistent and reliable pattern that signals to the brain when it is time to rest and go to sleep.
The actual activities used to create this pattern play a significant role in bedtime routines, which we’ll cover more about later, but they’re not nearly as important as simply having a routine in the first place. The most important thing is keeping evening routines regular and consistent, so that your baby — who is learning a million different things every day — adjusts to a set pattern that tells their bodies it is time to slow things down for the day.
If you’re panicking over how much time you can actually dedicate to your child’s routine, don’t fret! Research has shown that even simple and short bedtime routines work just fine and are sometimes more effective than longer rituals that might even over-stimulate your child’s imagination before they nod off.
For more science behind the importance and benefits of a consistent bedtime routine, and some practical tips, take a look at our blog: The Science Behind Creating a Nap and Bedtime Routine.
Set up a Consistent Bedtime When It Counts
There’s no need to worry about setting a bedtime routine for your baby before they’re 6 weeks old. Before this point, most newborns sleep so often and for such a long time that it is neither possible nor necessary to introduce any structure or specific timings around their sleep schedule.
During this period, focus on creating an environment where your baby can sleep as long and as often as it wants and carefully observe what soothes and relaxes them. These observations will prove useful later on when creating a structured evening routine.
After the initial 6 weeks of having your baby at home, a sleeping routine can be effectively introduced and adopted by your little one. You will naturally pick up on a number of signals that suggest your child prefers certain sleeping aids, such as having their pacifier or a specific blanket on-hand.
This is a sign that it’s the perfect time to start introducing a routine as soon as possible, to lay the foundations for great sleep in the future and get them sleeping well without the needs of their aids — which they won’t be able to rely on forever.
Never try to force your baby into an unnatural bedtime routine. Instead, simply observe their natural sleep tendencies and build a schedule around them.
Always remember that your baby’s sleep tendencies are unique to them. Before planning an evening routine, get a sense of when your baby naturally falls asleep for the longest stretch of the night and implement the routine in advance of this time. For example, if you notice your little one usually drops off around 10 pm, aim to start soothing and relaxing them into their routine around 9:30 or 9:45 pm.
How to Help Your Baby Sleep: Evening Routine Best Practices
After you’ve decided to initiate a regular bedtime routine for your baby, it is time to pick the specific activities to include each and every evening so that your baby will drop-off quickly and sleep soundly throughout the night. Below is a list of best practices to choose from, based on the experiences of millions of parents from around the world.
1. Change Your Baby’s Environment
At least an hour before your baby’s bedtime, begin changing the environment that your baby is in so that it is more sleep conducive. This will be the best trigger to communicate to your little one that it is indeed time to start winding down in preparation for bed.
Start by dimming the lights; turning down or removing all noise sources around the house, and turning off all electronic devices around your baby. Also, close all the curtains to reduce light levels and eliminate any possible stimulants or distractions from the immediate environment around your baby.
Our most important tip here is don’t allow your baby to go anywhere near the TV or other screens during the evening. According to Harvard Medical School, screen light in the evening can suppress melatonin and disrupt circadian rhythms for about twice as long as any other light source!
Another reason to pay special attention to your little one’s sleep environment right before and during sleep is to eliminate the chances of their moro reflex (baby startling reflex) kicking in. If you don’t know already, this is a natural reaction that all baby’s experience when they are subjected to certain stimulants or changes in their environment, causing an abrupt movement that can easily wake them up at night.
Ultimately, the calmer, quieter and more soothing you make the environment of your baby before and during their sleep, the better. And if you are interested in more tips for preventing the moro reflex and startling, take a look at our article below:
2. Give Your Baby a Relaxing Bath
A relaxing bath is an excellent way to help your baby settle down in the evening. For most newborns, bathing 2 or 3 times a week is enough, but if your little one really enjoys baths, or even more importantly, feels relaxed and soothed after bathtime, then it’s a good idea to implement daily baths into their bedtime routine.
Here are a couple of tips for safe and relaxing bath experiences for your baby:
- Make sure the room is warm (not just the water) and that there are no drafts
- Add warm water to a clean sink or basin
- An ideal water temperature is around 37-38°C (100 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Always have all the necessary items close to hand before you start their bath
- Never leave your baby in a bath unattended
- Use a moist, clean washcloth and start with your baby’s face
- Apply a little bit of soap and clean your baby from the neck down
- Wash the baby's head last with shampoo on a washcloth (don’t allow water to run down your baby’s face and get in their eyes)
For more safety tips during bath time, check out our blog: Bath Time Safety Tips for Little Ones
Remember that a proper baby hygiene routine does not end with a bath. Another item that can also contribute to a good bedtime routine is skin care. As your baby’s skin is soft and delicate, it requires special care and attention — and one of the best times to treat your baby’s skin with cream or moisturising oil is just after their bath.
If your baby’s skin is dry and/or gets irritated by a diaper or a onesie, then applying a lotion right after the bath can be a calming and enjoyable experience for both parent and child, leading to better sleep.
3. Massage Your Little One
The research behind massaging your baby shows that by spending just a couple of minutes each evening giving your little one a nice, relaxing massage can increase your baby’s levels of melatonin, which will help to get her circadian rhythms on track. This will result in more predictable sleep patterns, longer and more sound sleep and a shorter time needed to soothe your baby in the evening.
A couple of quick recommendations for a great, relaxing massage that will put your baby to sleep:
- Keep in mind that sometimes the time is just not right for a massage (particularly right after feeding).
- Place your baby on a soft, warm towel on the bed or floor.
- Warm both of your hands before the massage and remove all jewelry that could scratch their skin.
- Feel free to use a cream or lotion.
- Gently rub your hands on your baby’s skin, stroking from the head to toes and from the heart to their hands.
- Rub your baby’s tummy in a circular motion.
- Carefully watch your baby's reaction to the massage and if they are being fussy, stop immediately and give them a cuddle instead — some babies just don’t like to be massaged.
For more reasons to implement a regular, relaxing massage as part of an evening routine, check out our: 4 Benefits of a Baby Massage .
4. Dress Your Baby Appropriately
After a soothing bath, a diligent skin care routine, and a relaxing massage, it is time to dress your baby for sleep. This is an extremely important step in every bedtime routine, which unfortunately many parents don’t pay enough attention to.
For newborns and babies up to a couple of months old, a swaddle is a perfect solution. It helps to create a womb-like, safe, and cozy environment for your little one by restricting your baby’s movements. It also reduces startling and helps reduce moro reflex reactions, contributing to a long and sound night’s sleep.
The problem begins however when your little one either outgrows the swaddle or just doesn't like being wrapped tightly and becomes fussy when swaddled. This indicates your baby is now ready for a swaddle transition.
No bedtime routine is ever complete without proper sleep clothing for your baby.
Sleepsacks and baby sleeping bags can act as a great way of transitioning your little one out of the swaddle. These items act primarily to keep the baby’s legs and body cozy while leaving plenty of room for hand movements. While this is a popular choice for many parents supporting their children through the swaddle transition phase, the solution does let a certain amount of temperature escape through the opening.
Alternatively, Zipadee-Zip sleeping products might be an ideal compromise between the tight enclosure of the swaddle and the freedom of the baby sleeping sack. As well as being charming and adorable pieces of clothing in their own right, they also offer a great deal of freedom of movement and a cozy, warm and enclosed sleeping environment.
The slight resistance of the star-shaped outfit and the pointed sleeves allows a baby to move around freely while still providing a confined, cozy sensation babies enjoy so much in the swaddle position. If you’re interested in seeing what these look like, check out our full online collection by clicking below.
5. Put Your Baby Down to Sleep When They’re Still Drowsy
The few minutes just before your baby falls asleep are crucial. How you use these precious moments is the cornerstone of sleep training and the entire bedtime routine. The last thing you want to do is spend 40 minutes adjusting the room light and temperature, bathing your baby, massaging them, and finally putting on their appropriate sleeping clothes, just to startle your baby at the last hurdle when you’re putting them in the crib.
Your little one should always go into their crib calm, but not too sleepy. Research shows that it takes the average person 15-20 minutes to fall asleep, and this is usually only a little shorter for a baby. So you want to make sure your baby is well-fed, dry after their bath, warm and a little drowsy, but not to the point where their eyes are dropping and they are falling asleep in your arms.
The rest is up to your baby and allowing them to find their own way to soothe themselves to sleep in the final moments is an important part of setting them up with a great sleeping routine for life.
6. Introduce a Dream Feed
Dream feeding means rousing your baby ever so slightly in the night so that you can feed them — helping them to satisfy any hunger they might have developed by offering them a small feed, before you let them drop back off to sleep.
The best time to introduce a dream feed is between 10 pm and midnight, which can significantly reduce the likeliness of your baby waking up in the middle of the night, allowing them to stay asleep for longer. According to many parents and experts with experience in dream feeding, it is the best way to prevent babies from getting hungry at night and waking up.
How to Help a Baby Sleep — Final Tips
This wraps up our recommendations for an ideal bedtime routine that will help your little one sleep long and undisturbed at night.
Just to recap, here are our recommended activities to include each evening before sleep:
- A consistent bedtime routine
- Transition to the right environment (eliminate external stimulants)
- A relaxing bath and skin care routine
- A soothing massage
- Proper clothing for sleep
- Put your baby into the crib while still drowsy (not asleep)
- Introduce a dream feed
Keep those points in mind and you and your baby will be well on your way to a life of many relaxing evenings and peaceful nights. But no matter what activities you choose, just remember to stay flexible: all babies are different and while you may want to introduce a routine and stick to it religiously, you need to carefully watch your baby’s reactions and adjust their evening habits to fit their specific needs and preferences. Good luck!