Why having a bedtime routine is so important
As much as some dislike the words ‘routine’ and ‘structure’ for fear of their days sounding rigid and inflexible, it really is very important for babies and young children to have some sort of structure to their day. Children thrive on having a routine and your days do not need to become inflexible. You can learn to incorporate your needs and goals for the day to blend with what your little one needs to help him feel safe and secure too. For a while after your baby arrives, do not assume life should be the same as before or that it will snap back to the life you had before straight away. I always think of the first year as setting up your base, or your foundation. This helps build trust with your baby and helps your baby feel secure and safe in their world.
We as adults have many little routines which make up our entire days. Babies are creatures of habit and so are we as adults. If you think about your day, I am sure you will find you have your own specific little routines. When going to work, what time do you/would you wake up and get ready? More or less the same time each day? What time does your partner wake up, what is his morning routine like, is it similar each day? Do you shower when you wake up or before you go to bed? On average, what time do you usually eat lunch? Similar time each day? How about after work, or before baby was born, would you go to the gym, go home and cook, relax with your partner? How do you end your evening? Check your emails, have a shower, lock up the house, go to bed? Do you see that, once you think about your own day, we all have our own little routines, a structure to our days, a sequence of events that happen over and over pretty much day after day. What are your plans for tomorrow? What are you up to next weekend? I can guess, even if it’s a vague idea, you have an idea. Having a routine will make your life and baby’s life a lot easier and happier without having to play a constant guessing game and wondering what to do next.
Babies feel reassured when they know what’s coming next. Otherwise, if they are not sure when their needs will be met and what comes next, it can be, and often is, unsettling for them. Imagine a 12 hour day where you had no idea what to expect or know what was coming next.
Imagine how a baby must feel if every day is different, if everything in their little day happens at a different time, if there is no consistency. It’s almost as though they don’t have much to anchor to. This is very likely to make them feel unsettled and uncertain. Your baby will not be as happy as he can be and, in turn, nor will you. Knowing what comes next is important. I can take a good guess that when you go away on holiday, your personal goods find their own little ‘spot’, a little ‘home’ where they stay until you pack them up again. Why do we do that? Because it creates certainty. Certainty is one of the top needs which adults meet in their lives and it’s no different for babies. Babies need to feel secure and certain too.
By creating a bedtime routine, you give baby a cue that lets baby know that sleep is near. It helps baby unwind from the day, change gears, relax and calm, and prepare for sleep time. Your bedtime routine should start at around the same time every night, therefore helping to really set their little body clocks and work towards helping them know what to expect next.
An example of a bath-time consists of a lovely warm, calm, relaxing bath, followed by perhaps a massage, dressing into PJs, perhaps a little lullaby or a few pages of a story, a filling feed and finally being put down for bed. The room should be prepared for sleep before you run the bath so that by the time you get out of the bath, the scene is set and you have created the perfect sleep environment for your little one. The lights should be dim and the curtains closed, keeping the atmosphere as cosy and calm as you can, helping your little one transition from day to night, from awake to asleep.
In my opinion, I find the best time for a little one to go down to sleep is around 7pm or a little earlier, as you risk the chance of your little one becoming overtired if he is going to bed later than 7pm which could gravely affect his nights. The daytime sleep and night-time sleep work hand-in-hand. By putting baby down to sleep even just 30 minutes later, you could have a difficult time on your hands. An overtired baby can be difficult to settle and the whole night could be affected by even just a slightly later bedtime.
Your little one’s 24 hour day should be divided into 2: 12 hours of daytime and 12 hours of night-time. The beginning of days are sleepy and baby may wake in the early morning to feed and will be happy to sleep past 7am, but as your little one starts to become more awake and alert and his sleep becomes more solidified, it can be unrealistic to expect your baby – if going to bed at 7pm – to sleep in for much later than 7am. If you are putting your baby down at 8pm and your baby is waking at 6am, your little one is losing out on 2 hours of sleep every day. Multiply that by 7 and your little one is losing 14 hours of sleep a week! 14 hours less than what he should be getting. That’s a massive difference to a growing, developing baby.
A bedtime also symbolises the end of the day, for you and for your baby. It means time for you to have some time with your partner, have dinner, and enjoy your evening. You also set a healthy boundary so that, as your little one begins to grow older, he will understand that its ok for mummy and daddy to have time to themselves while he goes to sleep. He sees that as the norm and, moving forwards as your little one grown older into a toddler, he won’t expect that he should be able to stay up as late as you and go to bed when you do. Always start as you mean to go on.