I can’t emphasize enough the importance of a bedtime routine. Children as young as 8 weeks old can appreciate a bedtime routine. Why is bedtime routine important? From a biological standpoint, opioids are created in the brain when entering a welcoming, cozy, or familiar space. This helps calm the brain and get ready it ready for sleep. The bedtime routine is designed to help your child go from an alert state to a calm and drowsy state. When you go through a bedtime routine, you are showing your child that their room is a safe and nurturing space and creating a foundation for comfort, thereby activating oxytocin and the sleep hormone melatonin.
From a cognitive standpoint, the bedtime routine is important because your child doesn’t know how to tell time. As parents, we do things throughout the day that help our children to understand what is happening next and to help their day start to have some order and predictability. Your child will begin to associate the things you do in your bedtime routine with going to sleep. Bedtime routines help children calm down and relax in order to be ready for sleep. Especially for alert children, making the transition between interacting and playing and quieting and down to go to sleep can be very challenging. The process you go through before bed will help your child be ready to go to sleep rather then continuing to play.
In large part, bedtime routine is a very personal process and individual to your family’s traditions (or the traditions you are creating). You can customize it in whatever way you choose so that your child has their special time before bed with you. Bedtime routines often involve taking a bath (although baths are not typically relaxing for children-it tends to be play time but children do make an association between playing in the bath and going to sleep soon after), infant massage, diaper changing, turning down the lights, turning on white noise. putting on pajamas, feeding (nursing or a bottle) for babies, a special bedtime song or short story. For many young babies, it can be a challenge to even get through the shortest of books before bed when a baby is already very tired. I often recommend saving books for other times of the day when you expect your child is more alert and interactive. As children get older and are no longer eating before bedtime, adding in a story can be a good way to substitute one comfort (feeding) for another (concentrated attention from parents during story time). Make sure to include your child’s special lovey or security object in the bedtime routine because your child also associates having his or her lovey as part of the process of going to bed.
When babies are little, bedtime routine may not take much longer then 20 minutes and much of that may involve feeding. I often encourage parents to keep bedtime routine on the short end when their children are younger because as they turn into toddlers, they love to add to the bedtime routine. Toddler shenanigans can often make a bedtime routine rather lengthy because they are famous for their stall tactics. It is important, however, that you keep the routine consistent, especially with regard to the order of events because the consistency is very comforting. Changing around a bedtime routine can throw a toddler into a tailspin.