1) Short and Sweet
Don’t be fooled into thinking your bedtime routine needs to be some long and drawn out process with multiple steps including baths, massages, books and more! Ideally, your bedtime routine (including feeding) should last no more than 30 minutes tops. Many families can get away with routines as short as 15 minutes. As long as your baby is ready to go to sleep, and you are using auditory and visual cues such a white noise and darkness, your baby’s body will do the work of getting itself ready to go to sleep. All you need to do is make sure your baby is well fed and properly dressed in order to sleep soundly. In fact, you don’t even need to give your baby a bath every day since bathing infants and toddlers a few times a week is more than enough to keep their skin healthy.
Once you know your baby is ready for bed, feed him in a bright room so he won’t get sleepy or drowsy during the feeding, continue with whatever else you’d like to be a part of your routine (bath, pajamas, books, etc), and then put your baby down for bed. Many women nurse their baby to sleep or do a bottle as last part of the routine in dim lighting, why not do that?
2) Calm and Quiet
As mentioned above, you’ll want to make sure baby is fed in a bright room so that baby doesn’t get sleepy, however, after your baby’s last feeding is complete - strive for dim lights, calm, quiet. Using low lights and low voices for the pajama and book reading portion of your routine (for example), is helpful to relax baby and help her get ready for sleep. In fact, playing in a room with a 15 watt light bulb, and white noise going in the background for about 10 minutes before bed can help even the most active baby’s body get bed-ready to transition into the sleep state. Going back to bath time in tip #1 above - keep in mind that some babies find bath time very stimulating is there a certain age for this?, which is the opposite of what we’re looking for before bedtime. Just remember, after baby's last feeding - keep things calm and quiet, and be sure to turn down the lights to ensure your baby is ready to go to sleep.
Most parents don’t realize that it’s always better for babies to be cooler, rather than warmer, in order to sleep safely and healthfully. Babies aren’t able to efficiently cool themselves via sweating like older kids and adults, so it’s important to never over-dress them for bed. Keep their bedroom between 68 and 71 degrees year-around, and dress them in a single layer in warm months for bedtime and naps. If their nursery is notoriously cool, use a sleep sack over pajamas, but never a blanket to help them stay warm, because of SIDS. Besides being safer, sleeping in cooler temperatures prompts the body to fall asleep more easily and stay asleep longer, so be sure to err on the side of cooler temperature for sleep time.
4) Do it at the RIGHT Time
Generally speaking, bedtime should be between 6:30pm and 8:30pm for babies 4 months to 4-years-old. The younger the child the earlier the bedtime, but often times older toddlers, like for example a 3-year-old who no longer naps, may need to go to bed as early as 7:00pm. If your family’s lifestyle permits, aim to have your baby down as early as they seem tired. Once they start to get fussy anytime after 6:00pm, that’s the best indication of when your child wishes they were already sound asleep in their bed. If you happen to know more or less what time your baby seems to be fussy each day, start your baby’s bedtime about a half hour prior to that time so that they are ready to go to sleep by the time the tiredness hits.
Sometimes when you put your baby down to sleep, it seems they just don’t want the mom party to end! Keep in mind that many babies may need to let off a few minutes of steam (via crying) before they settle down and go to sleep for the night. The most important thing to remember in the 1-2 hours before baby goes to bed for the night, is that you’re not helping your child become sleepy or drowsy (even during the bedtime feeding). Aim to make sure your baby is completely awake in the 1-2 hours before bed, as well as during the bedtime routine. Spend a few moments calming your baby down right before you place her in the crib, then try to put her down calm but awake. Studies show that babies who independently put themselves to sleep at the start of the night, tend to have fewer wakings and sleep more hours through the night, compared to babies who have help from mom and dad to calm them down and fall asleep.
And there you have it! These tips and tricks should help you achieve your goal for a happy bedtime, and as a result - a well-rested baby or toddler.