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? 😉
Banish Bedtime Drama, With The Baby Sleep Site®
Bedtime stalling, never-ending bedtime, bedtime tears (from mom AND baby!)…whatever your bedtime dilemma, we can help. Our team of expertly-trained, compassionate sleep consultants has dealt with just about every sleep issue under the sun, so they are well-equipped to help you! Start the consultation process today, and your consultant will craft a sleep plan that’s 100% personalized to your unique sleep situation, and that fits with your parenting philosophy and goals.
Browse our list of consultation package options here.
Once you make your choice and purchase, you will immediately receive an e-mail with your Helpdesk login information. You’ll be able to login and start your Family Sleep History form right away – it’s that simple!
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Bedtime tips? We love hearing from you – share below!
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For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3 Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep. Using the same unique approach and practical tools for success, this e-book helps you and your baby sleep through the night.
For those persistent toddler sleep struggles, check out The 5 Step System to Help Your Toddler Sleep. Using the same unique approach and practical tools for success, this e-book helps you and your toddler sleep through the night and enjoy a better daytime schedule.