The short answer is yes!! Most children really are creatures of habit and so having predictable sequence of steps before going off to sleep is a really helpful way to not only to calm and settle them but also to cue them as to what is coming next. While the steps in the routine will change and evolve as your child gets older, the basics will stay the same and as such form one of the fundamental foundations in setting up healthy sleep habits.
Predictability is Key
A bedtime routine is simply a sequence of steps that you do each time your child is going off to bed. It is the repetitiveness of doing them in the same order each day that helps in calming as your child will come to know what to expect.
You will know even as an adult that you don’t fall asleep the minute your head hits the pillow (this doesn’t apply to those of you with a newborn!) – but it takes some time to wind down and then start the process of actually drifting off to sleep. This is particularly important with children whose days are often busy and filled with exciting new experiences.
Stick to a Regular Bedtime
Your child will really benefit from having a regular bedtime. The circadian rhythm is the part of the brain that controls when we go to sleep and it doesn’t handle big swings in bedtimes – so for example 8pm on one night and 10pm the next night. Try and find a bedtime that you will be able to achieve on most nights, so a good time is around 7pm.
In the lead up to this bedtime try and make the environment calmer – again cueing your child that it is soon time for sleep. This would include dimming the lights and turning off electronic devices.
Evolve as your Child Grows
In the early months, your bedtime routine will be very simple. Something like a bath, a feed, some cuddles, swaddling and into bed. As your baby gets older, this routine will stay an important component of cuing your active toddler it’s time for bed but can become more complex to involve things such as teeth brushing and the reading of books etc.
The steps are totally up to you and for some families this may be a particular phrase or saying good night to special soft toys. It may also be singing a song or having cuddles. Try and have the very last steps in your routine be in your child’s room with the lights off and remember to make sure that they are soothing and calm and not overly stimulating!
Kate has a Ph.D. in Sleep Psychophysiology from the University of Melbourne and has worked in the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School. She lives in Melbourne with her husband and their 4 small children and now runs Babysomnia where she takes a mother- and family -centric approach to getting better sleep. If you need any help with your baby’s sleep visit her website to book a one-on-one consultation and like her on Facebook