I am often asked by parents for my ultimate bedtime routine, the one which will guarantee parents a good night’s sleep. Clearly I cannot ever categorically promise a good night’s sleep – if I could I would be writing this sitting on a beach in the Caribbean, rather than sitting outside my daughter’s gymnastics class in cloudy Andover!!
However, there are plenty of thing that I can suggest for your baby and toddler’s bedtime routine, which will create the ultimate environment, and contribute to them, and you, having a better night’s sleep.
I also thought it would be interesting to explain a little of the science behind the suggestions, as we often know “what” we have to do, but rarely know “why” we do it.
The first thing to consider when thinking about night time sleep is actually daytime sleep! Too much sleep will cause your baby or toddler to find it very difficult to settle at bedtime and may also cause early waking in the morning. Too little sleep will also cause difficulties at bedtime and possibly increase night wakings too.
If a baby is overtired, their cortisol (stress hormone) levels will be raised, increasing their activity levels, almost putting them into “over drive” and making it very difficult for them to fall asleep. An over tired baby can also be so sleepy at bedtime, often falling asleep at the breast or with their bottle and not being fully aware of their surroundings, that when they come into their light sleep later on in the night, they are disorientated and find it difficult to get back to sleep without the same sleep cues ie a breast feed or bottle feed.
Below is a chart with details of how much daytime and night time sleep a baby and child needs. As with adults, all babies and children are individuals, and their sleep needs will vary. The information on the chart is a guide.
If your baby – up to 9 months – has not had a good afternoon sleep, it would be beneficial to take them out for a walk in their pram at 3pm, encouraging them to have a nap. Thisshould be no longer than 45 minutes and your baby should be awake by 4pm at the latest.
The following routine is based on a bedtime of 7pm and of a baby who is eating solids.
5pm – Tea time: Offer a savoury main course and a small fruit/yogurt/milk based pudding.
6pm – There should be no televisions on after 6pm. This is because the light that is emitted from televisions (as well as smart phones, ipads, tablets etc) inhibits the body’s production of melatonin – the sleep hormone.
6.25pm – Give your baby their bedtime breast feed or bottle downstairs, in a calm environment, along with a snack. Suggestions for snacks: bananas, warm milk, oat based cereal (not sugary), cherries, wholemeal bread, peanut butter (check for allergies). An ideal snack might be Readybrek made with warm milk and mashed banana.
By offering the bedtime breast feed or bottle downstairs, you are breaking sleep associations with sucking and falling asleep on either the breast or bottle. It is a good idea to offer a snack of cereal as this enables your baby or toddler to “catch up” on their food if they perhaps haven’t eaten quite so well during the day. Their snack suggestions contain food rich in Tryptophan – this is an amino acid that your body uses to make melatonin – the sleep hormone.
6.35pm – Take your little one upstairs for their bath. If possible, go upstairs a little earlier and create a dimly lit environment in all the rooms you will be using – bathroom, bedroom etc. If it is in the summer, ensure the blinds are closed in the bathroom and bedroom, or in the winter, use dimmer switches etc. Dim lighting sends signals to the brain that it is night time and encourages melatonin to be produced. Try to keep bathtime as calm as possible! Bathtime should be a relaxing part of their day, rather than a fun, noisy, splash-around time. It does not need to be terribly long winded, more functional than fun! After the bath, you can give your baby a short relaxing massage, then nappy, vest (if necessary) and babygrow on. Sit on a chair in your little ones room and look at books / read stories for a few minutes.
7pm – Bedtime – Put your baby into their sleeping bag and into their beds. If you use a light weight blanket to keep them snuggly, tuck this in to prevent it from moving. It is very important that you baby is awake and aware of their surroundings. Say “night night – …. – see you in the morning” and walk out of the room. Your baby may take between 10 and 15 minutes to settle. The key is to listen to their crying, and after a possible initial protest (!) they should be crying down and mumbling/moaning, rather than accelerating.