Is a Strict Bedtime Routine Really that Important?

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It's the first thing any baby sleep book, fact sheet or expert will tell you to do: establish a bedtime routine.

To some parents, this can feel like their last shred of freedom is being ripped away. Not every parent is a "routine person." For some, living every evening by the clock goes against their very DNA.

But I recommend them anyway, because I believe that a consistent bedtime routine for your kids can actually give you your freedom back.

Stay with me for a minute. 

Here's why routines work for babies and young kids:

  • Until about middle childhood, babies' and kids' worlds are very black-and-white: there's right and wrong, yes and no, play time and nap time.... When they know what's coming next, and what to expect, there is more calm and less chaos in their minds.

  • Little ones need to develop an internal body clock. When babies are born, their lives are a 24-hour blur of eating, sleeping and diaper changes. They lack a circadian rhythm - that internal body clock that tells us grownups when it's daytime and when to shut down for 8 hours of sleep. To help them develop it, they need to go to bed at roughly the same time every night, give or take 20-30 minutes.

  • Kids like to know what's coming next. If your kids are verbal, just notice how many times they ask what's happening in the future: When is dinner time? When's daddy/Mommy coming home? Are we going to Grandma's today?  When they have a bedtime routine that doesn't change much, like the one below, there are no surprises to throw them off. This matters for babies too; they just can't express it yet.

  • Clear boundaries build security. Really.  When the big people in their lives are really clear about what happens when, i.e. after bath we brush teeth, have a story and go to bed (virtually every night), and there is no room for negotiation, kids just stop pushing against a wall that doesn't move, and they feel safe in a predictable world (to my American friends, I apologize for the wall analogy). And that means peaceful, calm, sweet bedtime cuddles, kisses and 'night-nights'.

Now, here's why bedtime routines are AWESOME for parents:

  • When the bedtime routine is relatively the same and doesn't change in timing or content from night to night, there is just no battle. Bedtime can become some of the sweetest time you spend with your child, rather than a nightly struggle.

  • When your kids have a predictable routine, and (very importantly) clear boundaries around sleep at night (i.e. that play/attention/fun/food is for during the day), you get your evenings and nights back for you. Completely.

  • Kids with routine sleep habits will easily hunker down at 7 p.m. for 11-12 hours of straight sleep. So for you, that means 3-4 hours every night to do what you want or need, knowing that you'll still have your 8 straight hours when your head hits the pillow. No more wondering what time they're going to call out and wake you up.

  • The earlier you start, the easier it is to stick to - it's just a part of your child's life; no debate, no questioning. You can keep the same bedtime routine you developed for your 6-month-old until they're 8. And it makes life so much easier. Really.

So, for a preview of my live webinar on Saturday, February 23, The 90-Minute Baby and Toddler Sleep Solution, here is my sample bedtime routine and age-appropriate schedule - this is just Part 1 of a full, sleep-solving plan:

Start the routine ~ 6:30 p.m.
Bath
Pyjamas
Feeding / snack
Brush teeth (if they have some!)
2 stories (max)
Song / snuggle time
Into bed awake ~ 7 p.m.

If that "Into bed awake" part scares the daylights out of you, then I highly recommend you join me this weekend when I will walk you through a complete, step-by-step plan to help your baby or toddler learn to blow your mind by falling asleep independently and sleeping through the night, every night.

Here's the link to learn more about the live webinar: 
The 90-Minute Baby and Toddler Sleep Solution

Sleep well everyone.