The 3 Most Important Things…
In real estate, the 3 most important things are “location location location.” In baby sleep, the 3 most important things are “consistent routine, consistent routine, consistent routine.”
Do it over and over again:
Daily repetition is one of the keys to help your baby have an easy time falling asleep. You can help your baby have a comfortable transition into sleep.
A consistent routine day after day at bedtime is the foundation of healthy baby-toddler-kid sleep.
It’s the keystone that allows for the success of all the other tips and techniques you try.
It helps babies feel comfortable and safe. Not only is a nighttime routine comforting to babies – it will increase the likelihood that they’ll fall asleep more easily and stay asleep longer.
You can help set your baby’s body clock by establishing a consistent bedtime by the time your baby is four weeks old.
It’s important to keep the bedtime consistent because it is the repetition that will set their body clock.
Make a plan:
Babies usually go to sleep more easily and stay asleep longer when you give them the gift of consistent “going to sleep” rituals.
Familiar bedtime rituals give your baby cues that set them up for sleep.
Using the same sequence of things gives your baby a sense that sleep is to follow. This routine could include:
- Getting ready at the same time each night for bed
- A warm bath
- Putting your baby into pajamas
- Darkening their room
- Repeating the same actions with them right before putting them down to sleep – night after night.
As your baby’s brain is developing – they are storing patterns.
When you repeat the bedtime routine, in the same way, each night – your baby learns the steps that lead them to drift off to sleep – and they begin to expect it and embrace it.
These associations can help the baby connect to the physiological state needed to fall asleep.
You may not see results right away – but rest assured that all the effort you’ve put into establishing a routine during the first couple of months will begin to pay off by the time they are 2 months old.
Do it slowly in the dark:
Give yourself plenty of time for your routine, so you don’t have to rush through the sequence of activities.
The target is to be calm, quiet and slow.
You’re getting them ready to sleep – not entertaining them.
Do as much of your routine in their darkened or dimmed room as possible. This way they will associate their bedroom, the darkness, their crib, the rocker, etc. with happy, safe feelings.
Following this routine, at the same time, each night is very important.
Do it your way:
My routine looked like this (you can make up your own personalized routine)…
At night I’d get our baby into pajamas.
I’d hold them, and I’d walk around the room (I have one boy and one girl several years apart).
With my son, I’d so softly and slowly say “Goodnight” to four things in the room.
- I’d say, “Goodnight flower” (a picture that hung on the wall)
- “goodnight fairies” (a silk fairy mobile on which I’d give a little blow to make it rotate gently)
- “goodnight horse” (a framed picture of a horse and I’d make a tiny horse sound)
- “goodnight goose” (a wooden goose mobile whose wings would gently sway up and down while I made a little goose honk, honk, honk sound that faded off into the distance).
Obviously inspired by the book Goodnight Moon.
Then I’d walk around their room in a small circle, holding them and slowly swaying back and forth, singing the same few songs to them each night while oh so gently patting / burping them in time to my singing.
When the last song was over, I’d very gently put them down in their crib. Usually, they were nearly asleep by this point.
Once in a while, they were still more awake when I laid them down, and they would begin to make noises. I’d simply say “shhhhhhhhhh” as I gave them one last gentle but firm touch and then I slowly walked out and closed their door. Bingo! More times than not – they drifted off to sleep immediately.
If they started crying before I left the room, I’d sit in a rocker in their room and quietly sing a couple more songs. This usually calmed them and allowed them to drift closer to sleep.
If you break it – it stops working for a while:
I found that if I broke the routine (an irregular bedtime or I wasn’t consistent with the steps) then it threw off their sleep for the next few days and it could take a week to get them back into the smooth and easy routine.
Some friends would think we were crazy when we’d get invited somewhere close to our baby’s bedtime, and we’d decline because it interfered with our baby’s sleep routine.
Friends who hadn’t experienced the ramifications of breaking the sleep routine just for one night – didn’t understand.
It can be hard to give up flexibility in your daily schedule for your child – but it is totally worth it for them and for you.
Bedtime becomes a scheduled part of your life when they are young and the more you do not deviate from it – the happier and healthier you and your child will be for it.
Don’t forget about the mornings:
Be aware that to make this all work, you’ll need to establish a morning routine also.
Get up about the same time every day and greet your baby in a consistent way with the same few things in the same sequence.
Here’s my morning routine…
- I’d come in slowly and gently saying, “Waaaake up… waaaake up… good morning.”
- Then I’d rub their back for a few moments.
- And then – oh so very slowly – I’d open the light blocking drapes (which kept the room dark so I could control the day and night somewhat).
- And then I’d say good morning to a few things outside the window. “Good morning trees… good morning flowers… good morning birds.”
- When my children woke up on their own close to their normal wake up time – I’d pretend that I was the one coming into the room to wake them up.
- If they woke up extra early and I felt they needed more sleep, then I’d tell them it is the wee hours and gently say, “Shhhhhhh… go to sleep, it’s not wake up time.” If they fell back to sleep great, and if not after a short while I’d go back in as if it was wake up time. It taught them that there is a certain time to wake up – and Mom and Dad will let them know if it’s “wake up time” or not.
Bending will keep you from breaking:
I set up a structure and did my best to stick to it.
However, I’d bend the structure as needed if I saw that on a given day it was not working as usual. Maybe it was because they were up throughout the night which can throw off the whole structure. I’d bend the routine ( maybe holding them longer or singing extra songs) and then stick to the routine the next time until I saw it needed to be bent again.
Be aware that the more times you bend it, the less consistent it becomes and therefore, the less effective. So bend it only when necessary.
- Keep in mind; you’re not trying to force your baby to sleep.
- You are setting up good conditions for sleep and teaching your baby when it is time to sleep.
- You are creating a routine for your baby.
- You may need to adapt your own routine to make it work better for your baby.
- Moderation is again the key.
- You must be rigid enough to create a structure for your baby and flexible enough to bend gently – fine-tuning your life to your baby’s needs.
During the day, establish consistent nap times.
As a starting point, choose times of the day when you are the most tired and lie down with your baby at these nap times each day. You’ll be getting some needed rest, and your baby will be more likely to sleep longer stretches at night because they learn a consistent pattern.
Two steps forward – One step back:
Sometimes vacations (when you’re away from home) – especially time zone changes can wreak havoc on sleep patterns.
Stick to the routine – but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t work as well as normal.
Also, illnesses, phases of development, and breaks in your normally consistent routine can cause a good sleeper to start waking up more frequently.
I’ve read that it’s natural for a one-year-old to have a sleep setback at about 13 months.
Give them extra soothing through these times while sticking as closely as you can to what you found works.
It may take some time to get the routine working again.
Don’t abandon it.
Just keep trying, and they’ll eventually settle back into their sleeping and waking routines.