Written By Mandy Treeby Chief Baby Sleep Consultant
When it comes to sleep, bedtime is your secret weapon. It helps establish a routine for your baby, develops your baby’s circadian rhythm, and improves overall sleep quality, which is critical for overall health and development.
IN THIS ARTICLE:
- Why Does My Baby Need a Routine?
- What Makes a Good Bedtime Routine?
- When Should My Baby Go to Bed?
- How Can I Help My Baby Sleep Better at Night?
- How Much Should My Baby Sleep?
- How Bedtime Routines Help Parents
You may have a few questions about bedtimes and your baby, including, “How does a bedtime help my baby grow?” “How do I set my baby’s bedtime?” and “Why does my baby need a bedtime?”
Here we answer those questions and many more about how bedtimes can help your baby, and you!
For more guidance and expert advice on your baby’s sleep, and how to establish a sleep nourishing bedtime routine, check out the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ app. This revolutionary baby sleep app not only features 1-click sleep tracking and expert sleep support, but it also takes you step by step through sleep fundamentals, including a solid bedtime routine!
Why Does My Baby Need a Routine?
Bedtime routines play a crucial role in helping your baby know it’s time to wind down and go to sleep. This is for three reasons.
- Bedtime routines calm and soothe your baby, helping calm their little minds before bed.
- Bedtime routines are consistent – this repetitiveness teaches your baby that it’s time for sleep, laying the foundations for a steady habit that will serve them well for years to come.
- The consistency and predictability of bedtime routines provide security. If a baby or child knows what to expect, they feel safe. Whether your routine includes a bath, a song, or cuddles, it helps calm your baby and prepare them mentally for the sleep ahead.
Without a routine or if a routine is missed, your baby may feel uncertain or insecure – feelings that can keep them up at night. Literally. You can help your baby feel secure, and sleep better, by including a consistent bedtime in your pre-bedtime routine.
Should I Have a Bedtime Routine for Naptime?
Yes – naptimes can and should also have a calming, consistent routine, though it should be far shorter than your bedtime routine. Also, if you see your baby’s sleepy cues ahead of naptime and they’re very drowsy, you can skip the routine.
What Makes a Good Bedtime Routine?
You want to keep your bedtime routine simple and short, so that it can be replicated by any caregiver and so you can jump through the steps quickly if your baby is extra tired. I recommend the following steps to take place in their sleep space, in low light:
- Fresh diaper
- Snuggles and a story / song
- Goodnight kisses and place your baby down drowsy but awake
Note feeding is not part of the routine – that should be done before the bedtime routine, sitting up in a light room to avoid creating a feeding association.
Do Bedtimes Help Babies Sleep at Night?
In short yes, but it is important to remember that bedtimes always have to be flexible. Which means that versus following the clock, and always aiming for a 7.30pm bedtime, consider how their naps have gone and adjust bedtime accordingly. A skipped nap or a couple of short naps might be better served with an earlier bedtime (say 6.30pm).
It is also really important not to let bedtime get too late, whereby your baby may appear to get a ‘second wind’ when in fact they are ultimately overtired. Keeping bedtime before 8pm and trying to follow sleepy cues to guide you is the best way to hit the bedtime sweetspot.
Why Do Bedtimes Help Babies Sleep?
Bedtimes work with your baby’s natural circadian rhythm – their internal clock that tells them when it’s time to sleep.
By maintaining a bedtime in line with their sleepy cues, you’re aligning your baby’s internal clock with the actual clock, establishing a healthy habit and hitting the bedtime ‘sweet spot’. Ultimately this is what will help your baby fall asleep faster, and stay asleep longer.
When Should My Baby Go to Bed?
It’s important that your baby goes to bed early, ideal bedtime is around 7pm. Babies have a drowsy window – a period of time at night when they naturally get tired. Usually it’s between 6pm and 7pm, but every child’s different. Whenever your baby gets tired, aim to set a bedtime in there. The key is to work with your baby’s clock. The same cues should be used for nap time, too.
If your baby seems to be fighting bedtime, or wide awake during this time – it could be that they are overtired or the time between their last nap and bedtime was too short.
For help with the right sleep schedule, your baby’s bed and wake times, download the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ app to get a personalized sleep plan for your baby.
Note on Newborns: Since newborns’ sleep is generally organized around their need to feed, they don’t have a specific bedtime and are often up later than 8pm. This is completely ok. At this stage, you want to focus on making sure your baby gets all the food they need to grow big and strong. Bedtimes become more important as their circadian rhythm matures at around 4-months. That said, you can establish a strong bedtime routine from birth.
Why Can’t My Baby Just Sleep In?
Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Unfortunately for those of us who want extra zzzs, babies’ are naturally early risers and their internal body clock usually wakes them between 6am-7am. In other words, they don’t “sleep in”. If they do “sleep in,” their rhythms can be thrown off for the next day, leading to overtiredness.
Putting your baby to bed later will not result in a later wake up, in fact it most typically causes and even earlier wake up!
Do Bedtimes Help Self-Soothing?
While bedtimes specifically won’t help with self-soothing, putting your baby down at the right time gives them the best chance to fall asleep independently as their body is most ready for sleep. The act of falling asleep is a learned skill and babies are typically ready to learn how to do this from around 3-4 months of age.
Children who stay up past a recommended time can become overtired and have more trouble falling asleep at night than those who have a consistent bedtime. They may also wake more during the night and struggle to ‘self-soothe’ to fall back to sleep.
How Can I Help My Baby Sleep Better at Night?
- Day and Night: Teaching your baby the difference between day and night can strengthen their circadian rhythms,
which in turn strengthens their sleep cycles. To help your baby sleep better at night, be sure to expose them to
natural light while they are awake during the day, while keeping all sleeps (naps and overnight) in complete
Tip: If you go for a walk with your baby, be sure to apply SPF to their sensitive skin – and your own, too!
- Watch Sleepy Cues: Yawning, eye rubbing, and fussiness are all signs your baby is fading. When you see sleepy cues, it’s time to start your nap or bedtime routine.
- Bedtime Routines: Not to sound like a broken record, but consistent, soothing bedtime routines really do calm your baby and cue them it’s time to sleep.
- Sleepy But Awake: Since the act of falling asleep is a learned skill, your baby needs the space and time to practice. It’s therefore important you put your baby in their crib before they fall asleep – when they’re drowsy but awake. This will teach them to fall asleep solo, rather than in your arms, which can become a sleep crutch.
- Play “Wait and See”: This may surprise you, but babies make a lot of noise when they’re asleep: they snort, cough, whimper, cry… All sorts of sounds. That said, help your baby sleep through the night by not checking on every little noise. Going in may wake them up more. Instead wait a moment to see if they soothe themselves – odds are they will, especially if you’re sleep training.
- Cuddly Toys If Older than One: Remember that babies like security and familiarity, so a favorite blanket or stuffed animal can help them sleep better at night – but only if they’re older than 12 months. Babies younger than 12 months should sleep in a bare, firm crib because blankets, toys, and even pillows pose a suffocation hazard.
Do Bedtimes Help Prevent Obesity?
This is interesting: babies with consistent early bedtimes were less likely to be obese, while those who go to bed later are more likely to be obese. In fact, for every sleep hour a baby gains from an early, consistent bedtime starting around 7pm, they’re 26% less likely to be obese.
How Much Should My Baby Sleep?
Your baby’s unique, but the following table shows the typical healthy averages for babies ranging from newborn to 2 years. This chart also includes “acceptable sleep” time, which may be below or above the average sleep for your baby.
To easily keep track of your baby’s sleep, download the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ app. Its 1-click sleep tracking tool tallies your baby’s wake and sleep times and automatically adjusts their bedtimes as they grow, while daily insight reports help you measure progress as your baby’s sleep improves!
Maintaining a consistent, age-appropriate bedtime is essential for your baby’s development. It’s also an incredibly fulfilling bonding experience - a quiet time you, your baby, and your entire family will look forward to bedtime every night!
How Bedtime Routines Help Parents:
Bedtime routines help your baby fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer, providing them with more overall sleep. This means you get more sleep, too! That means you’ll be a better-rested, more attentive, and safer parent – a win-win for everyone.
When Should I Start My Baby’s Bedtime Routine?
Bedtime routines can be started your baby’s first night home. Keep in mind, though, that your newborn doesn’t have a sleep schedule or pattern right now, so the bedtime routine will not help them sleep faster or longer. Starting the routine now, however, will make using it easier down the road.
How should I set my baby's bedtime routine?
Keep your baby’s bedtime routine short and simple. What is important is you follow the same steps in the same order every night consistently, placing your baby down drowsy but awake.
When should you start a bedtime routine with a baby?
You can start a bedtime routine with your baby as soon as you bring them home. The earlier you start the better, it will help your baby know what to expect and cue sleep.
Should I wake baby to do their bedtime routine?
No. If your baby has fallen asleep before your bedtime routine, let them continue sleeping. However, keep it in mind for next time and try to catch their sleepy cues so you can complete their bedtime routine and put them down drowsy but awake.
Should I hold my baby until they fall asleep?
As a newborn that’s fine, however as they get older it’s not ideal. If you hold them until they fall asleep, they’ll depend on that each time they sleep. So if they wake in the night, they’ll look for you to hold them inorder to fall back to sleep. Instead, put your baby in their crib when they’re sleepy but awake.
“Influence of sleep-onset time on the development of 18-month-old infants: Japan Children's cohort study,” The Journal of Brain and Development.
“Time for bed: associations with cognitive performance in 7-year-old children: a longitudinal population-based study,” Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
“Study finds link between sleep habits and weight gain in newborns,” National Institutes of Health.
How We Wrote This Article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.