Bedtime: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know

Bedtime – depending on your situation, this word either sounds like music to your ears or sends a shiver down your spine! Most of us know from experience just how tough bedtime can be. Far from a calm, gentle wind-down before sleep, for some families, bedtime is alternately a battle of wills, a scream-fest, a marathon hours-long affair, or an eternal game of whack-a-mole in which you’re constantly fetching glasses of water and making trips to the potty.

So how do we get from nightmare bedtime to a peaceful bedtime? As they say, knowledge is power – and a solid understanding of the when, where, and how of bedtime will really help make bedtime a relaxing, happy affair for everyone in your home!

When Should Bedtime Happen?

When exactly you should put your baby or toddler to bed depends on a lot of unique factors, like age and daytime nap schedule, to name a few. In general, though, you can stick to this rule: for babies, stick to an early bedtime. Why? Because babies tend to wake early, AND because later bedtimes lead to overtiredness, which leads to less overall sleep (weird, yes, but true).

Toddlers, however, may actually need a later bedtime. Why? Because toddlers can handle more wake time than babies, and if your toddler is taking two naps, or if your toddler is down to one nap, but the nap extends into the late afternoon, then you may be looking at a later bedtime (say, 8 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. instead of 7 p.m.)

You can see bedtime by age suggestions on our bedtime by age chart (it includes a downloadable, printable PDF!)

Or, for sample schedule templates, view our sample sleep and feeding schedules by age. Even better – take a look at our custom schedule-maker! Simply enter your child’s age and usual wake-time, and you’ll get a sample nap schedule, complete with suggested bedtime.

What Does A Good Bedtime Routine Look Like?

A key element to a peaceful, sleep-inducing bedtime is a solid bedtime routine. But what does a great bedtime routine look like? Great question! For starters, watch the length of your routine. It should be on the short side, especially for young babies – a routine that’s longer than 5 or 10 minutes may very well stretch past a young baby’s wake time window, and may push bedtime too late, to the point where they become overtired. Older babies and toddlers can handle longer routines, but still, your routine shouldn’t take more than maybe 10 or 15 minutes.

As for what’s in the routine itself – that’s totally up to you! There’s no script. In general, jammies, a bedtime story, and a lullaby work great for all ages. For toddlers, you’ll want to include teeth-brushing and a potty visit. You’ll also want to include a feeding as part of the bedtime routine, for babies – just make sure you’re not feeding your baby to sleep, as that may create negative sleep associations. (Note – feeding a newborn to sleep can be a great way to get longer, deeper sleep, but once your baby is a few months old, you’ll want to work on falling asleep independently.

A bath may or may not work in your routine – some children find a bath calming, while others get really excited at bath time! So use your judgment on this – if your child gets wound up at bath time, try moving the bath to an earlier point in the day.

Finally, no matter what you include in your routine, try to make sure that the routine itself has a definitive end. Maybe say the same phrase each time before turning off the light, or maybe play the same lullaby song before you leave. You just need something that will signal to your child that the routine is done and that it’s time to fall asleep. If you do this consistently, and for long enough, the end of your routine will eventually become like an “off” switch for your kiddo, and will really help you avoid the long, drawn-out bedtime ordeal!

For more bedtime routine help, you can read our bedtime routine article, as well as our tips on 5 common bedtime routine mistakes to avoid. You may also want to check out our article on whether or not a rigid bedtime routine is right for your situation.

How Does Your Baby Fall Asleep At Bedtime?

Believe it or not, HOW your baby or toddler falls asleep at bedtime has a lot to do with your bedtime successes of failures. Long story short, once your baby is past the newborn stage, the goal is for your baby or toddler to learn to fall asleep independently, without assistance from you. (Don’t worry about this in the newborn stage, though – when you have a newborn at home, you do what you have to do to get some sleep!) Now, “independently” doesn’t mean “in a room by himself/herself” – you can co-sleep or room-share and still work towards independent sleep. Independent sleep means that you are not actively doing something (rocking, nursing, holding, etc.) in an effort to make your baby or toddler fall asleep.

Why does this matter? Because if your child gets used to being rocked/fed/held to sleep, then that’s going to become a habit. And that means that when your child wakes at night (which is 100% normal, and something all of us do at various points during the night), she’s going to need you to help her fall back to sleep.

Sleep associations like rocking/feeding/holding to sleep can also make for what seems like an eternal bedtime routine! You may find yourself rocking/feeding/holding for an hour, only to gently set your child in her sleep space and have her wail. So frustrating!

So this is really the last step in creating the best, most sleep-inducing bedtime possible – work on helping your child go to sleep without your help. Do that, and you’ll be creating a strong foundation of healthy sleep habits that will lead to sleeping through the night…and who couldn’t use a little more of that in their lives? 😉

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10 thoughts on “Bedtime: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know”

  1. Hi
    My baby is 2months (today turned 2:), but as i understand we have bad habbits. We have a bedtime routine but he falls asleep in my hands breastfeeding him or if i sleep next to him and breast feed. During day he sleeps only in my arms, falls asleep by my breast or after doing something (rocking,etc). Should i do something or wait unfil he is older?
    During night he sleeps well. Fall asleep 8pm, eats 10pm-11pm and wake ap 5-6am, then usually feed,change nappy goes for nap at 6-7am and till 8(or 9am or 10am depending on what time fell asleep).

    • Hi @Zane, thank you for stopping by the Baby Sleep Site and congrats on your 2 month old son. 🙂 It sounds like he’s doing great! There are certainly things you could do to help him learn to fall asleep independently, but it is normal that he is needing you for help right now. If you haven’t yet, you may be interested in our free ebook with information for new parents and newborn sleep. Here is the link to sign up to receive the guide: I hope this helps! If you need more help as your son gets older, let us know!

      • Hi
        Thank you for reply!It all changed when he was 2months 2weeks old. He is not sleeping like that. He is waking up a lot during night. He wants to chew and bite something. Like sleeps for couple hours and then wakes up every hour. Its very exhausting. Could he be teething?

      • Hi Zane,
        Thanks for writing again, though I’m sorry to hear your son’s sleep has gotten worse 🙁 It can be very normal for a 2 month-old to need to eat a couple of times overnight, even if he didn’t when he was younger, so you may want to consider adding a feeding if you haven’t already. It is very uncommon to see teething this early – usually it’s closer to 6 months-old. We have an article with tips for 2 months-old that I hope will help you here:
        Good luck! Please let us know how it goes.

      • Hi
        Thanks for your comment. But what could be the reason why he is now eating during night and sleeping worse?
        He is almost 3months now. After week he will be 3months. Should i look up 3months tips?

      • Hi Zane,
        Sorry about that! We have an article on 3 month-olds for you here:
        Many babies do need more calories per day as they grow and develop, so it’s pretty common to need to add a feeding, or sometimes 2, depending on the baby. If you’re having a lot of trouble with sleep and have spoken to your pediatrician to rule out any medical problems, then you may want to consider one of our sleep consultations. A trained sleep consultant could look at your baby’s feeding and sleeping schedule and make adjustments to help him consolidate night sleep and get back on track. If you’re interested, you can read more here:
        Good luck!

  2. I have been following the baby sleep site advice for 3 months. My son now 6 months has transitioned to a much better sleeper because of everything I learn. I tried everything and we had ALL the problems. From Cat naps, sleep associations and now teething problems. After establishing night time sleep and having that routine we have solved ALL of the “problems”. Getting started we bathed our son every night. then Jammie’s, short story last last feed and then a quick cuddle And kiss goodnight. Lights off and close the door. My son has been sleeping in his own room for 3 months. Now that he knows our bed time routine we “fake bath him” we take him to the same place in the bathroom lay a big fluffy towel out and wipe down all the important parts. It’s a lot of work having a routine but well worth it when you watch your child get the sleep he needs. The bonus! So do you.

    • @ Crystal – awwwww, thanks so much for the kind words! Love the idea of the ‘fake bath’ – whatever works, right? 😉

      Thanks again for commenting, Crystal – much appreciated!

  3. Thank you for the great articles! My baby is 14 weeks old and I’m trying to sleep coach her so she’ll be okay for the 4 mo sleep regression and after. Our bedtime routine consists of walking around quietly to say “goodnight” for a minute, 1-3 books and then I hold her upright to settle her. Usually at some point during the books or soon after, she will start fussing and whimpering. So I comfort her holding her because that’s what works. Sometimes she doesn’t fuss and will talk quietly to herself (or me) and then drift off to sleep. I try very hard to put her in her crib soon after she falls asleep slowly. Sometimes she wakes up and I shush her to help her fall back asleep. If I try to put her down drowsy but awake, her eyes flash open and she’s awake and either won’t fall asleep or will start to cry if I don’t pick her up. If she’s fallen asleep already, she will cry if I don’t pick her up and then immediately fall asleep when she’s being held. How do I break her of needing to be held without CIO? I I’m afraid if I leave her after she’s woken herself up, she won’t be able to fall asleep and then become overtired, making it harder to fall asleep, same if I let her cry. Normally I start the routine about 75 mins after she’s been awake. Even if I start the routine 45-60 minutes after, she still falls asleep at about the same time. Thanks for any tips!!

    • @ Desiree – great question! First off, I wouldn’t work too hard at sleep coaching right now – your gal is still pretty little 😉 Instead, I’d work on helping her fall asleep while you hold her still in your arms – that’s a step in the right direction. From there, you’d work on gently weaning her to falling asleep on the crib surface – but again, that doesn’t have to be perfect yet. You can just try working on falling asleep alone in the crib at bedtime, or maybe for one nap.

      Hope this helps, Desiree! Thanks for commenting. 🙂

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