Lauren Yelvington is a Certified Family Sleep Institute Pediatric Sleep Consultant and contributor of the new children’s bedtime book, Can You Yawn Like a Fawn? Her insights on creating a bedtime routine for optimizing children’s (and our own) restorative sleep are downright soothing. We’re getting sleepy already.
I read all of the pregnancy books when I was expecting my first child. I was fascinated by my pregnancy and with the tiny human I was growing inside of me. I learned all about her weekly developments and her approximate size (as creatively compared to fruits and vegetables).
What I did not do was read the books that taught practical things…you know, like how to care for my baby once she arrived.
The topic I felt most lost about was how to help my little girl develop healthy sleep habits. Those long nights of soothing and nursing my baby to sleep worked for the first couple of months but were extraordinarily tiring as she grew and lacked independent sleep skills.
Intrigued by pediatric sleep, I studied to become a child sleep consultant. I needed to better understand my own child and felt motivated to help others who must also be struggling. I knew healthy sleep habits were within my reach—and they are within yours, too, mama!
So, how do we build healthy sleep habits? Along with appropriate sleep schedules, a sleep environment conducive to sleep, and the absence of sleep associations, we must also build a sleep routine that will help our little ones drift off to sleep confidently and independently.
Here are 4 simple strategies you can start today to implement a healthy sleep routine for your little one.
Set the stage early.
About an hour before you expect to put your little one to bed, set the stage by dimming lights, turning off electronics, using quiet voices, and engaging in low key activities.
These steps will serve as a signal to your little one that it is time to start relaxing for the evening.
Bonus: A relaxing atmosphere before bedtime will increase baby’s melatonin(a natural sleep hormone), which will give your tot that sweet sleepy feeling.
Timing is everything.
Beginning your sleep routine at the right time will set the stage for success. Try to ensure that your child has not become overtired as you prepare them for bed. An overtired child has more difficulty settling down for sleep and may experience more restless sleep.
Your child’s bedtime may slightly change from night to night based on the quality of their daytime naps, when your child woke from their last nap, and the activity of the day.
With healthy naps in place, infants who nap up to five times per day may sleep comfortably at night with 2-2.5 hours between the last nap of the day and bedtime. In contrast, an older child who had one nap may comfortably handle about 4-4.5 hours between their nap and bedtime.
Make it a non-negotiable affair.
As you move into your bedtime routine, be prepared to stick to your guns and resist negotiating with your little one.
Negotiations about the number of books and songs or allowing your child to extend the routine with requests for snacks, potty breaks, or extra rocking will lengthen your routine and interfere with getting to bed on time.
Keep it simple, sleepy.
Bedtime routines do not need to be elaborate and need only consist of a few simple steps.
Healthy sleep routines for infants can be as simple as entering the bedroom, changing baby’s diaper and clothes, reading a short bedtime book, dimming the lights, closing the curtains, turning on a white noise machine, feeding (if necessary), and placing baby on his back in the crib.
For older babies and toddlers, you may want to include a bath, a bedtime book of baby’s choosing, or a relaxing song.
Bedtime routines are best when limited and structured so they are predictable and soothing.
End your routine confident that your child is ready for sleep. Your child will sense your confidence and be comforted in their ability to sleep independently.
As you are establishing your healthy bedtime routine, reflect on its effectiveness. Be sure that the elements you choose to include in your routine are conducive to helping your child achieve a sense of peace and prepare for sleep.
A custom combination of dim lighting, quiet voices, sleepy actions, loving words, calming stories, and songs will have your little one ready for a night of healthy, restorative sleep.