Nap and Night Routines

I’m often asked about nap and night routines, and so I thought I’d write a little about the importance of both – what the routines look like and why we need to have them. I’ll point out here that there really shouldn’t be one or the other. In order to encourage good sleep habits for your baby, a solid night time routine and a solid nap time routine is essential. Let’s take a look at how we can achieve this.

Night time routines

A good night time routine acts as your baby’s cue for sleep. This is 100% the reason why it’s so important, and something that all families need to get on top of as quickly as possible. I usually recommend that families start their routine from around the age of 12 weeks. That said, it IS possible to have a good night time routine from day one! Even newborn babies can adapt quickly to a good nighttime routine, and if you have other children, it might work well to merely fit the baby in with your existing routine anyway. Just bear in mind that newborn babies can be unpredictable, so don’t stress if they don’t slot into your routine straight away!

The key thing about having a consistent nighttime routine is that your child will know that sleep is coming, and that is vital when it comes to teaching good sleep habits. Being consistent with your routine means that you do the same thing, in the same place and in the same order each and every night at bedtime. Consistently. If you share bedtime duties with someone else, then make sure that they’re on board with the routine too. It’s this predictability that your child is going to rely on at bedtime to act as their sleep cue- and you don’t want to break that! When babies are faced with a predictable situation, such as a good solid bedtime routine night after night with consistency, they naturally feel more relaxed and calm. And THAT is the state we like them to be in at bedtime!

How long should your bedtime routine take?

A good routine should take between 30 and 45 minutes each night, and this is significantly longer than you would take at nap times. The reason for this is that you’re preparing your child for a longer stretch of sleep (hopefully!) and actually there is more to do at bedtime too. For example, a good routine for your child may involve a bath, a story, and a feed. Bear in mind here that some children get very excited at bath time so you might want to skip this at bedtime! If you don’t do bath time at bedtime, or you do it every other night or just twice a week, then your bedtime routine would start after bath time. So that’s when you would need to begin the predictability of the order of events that follow. At this point, you could introduce a massage as part of your bedtime routine, which is a great way to help some children to relax and get ready for sleep. It’s interesting to point out here that studies have found children who have a 15-minute massage before bed generally sleep better. Worth knowing!

If you find that you’ve done your bath, you’ve had a massage, and you still have time left to fill, then you can have a little play time here. Choose activities that are calm, keep the lights dim and voices soft. This can be tricky with children who are a bit older, so as always use our judgment here and adapt your routine according to your child’s temperament. Playing with your child before bed can be a really lovely way to end the day, and an excellent bonding opportunity too. And, of course, I always recommend books as part of the bedtime routine also.

An important note here is that the 30-45 minute routine is everything that happens before you start to work on getting your child to sleep.

Nap time routines

The nap time routine needs to be similar to the nighttime routine, but it should take a lot less time to complete. This routine should take between 10 and 15 minutes maximum, especially for younger babies who are having more than one nap a day. Again, consistency is the key here as we want your child to feel just as relaxed with the predictability as they are at bedtime. So the routine should be the same thing, in the same order and in the same place (if possible) for each and every nap- just like at bedtime.

So your nap routine could be something as simple as reading a story, closing the curtains and putting your child into bed. As long as it’s the same thing every day. That said, don’t worry if you’re out and about at nap time. It’s ok for your child to sleep on the go on days like this, and if you can’t complete your routine wherever you are that’s ok. Having the consistency at home is the key. This will help your child to be relaxed and calm and ready for sleep, and this is vital for good naps!

Rebecca Michi

Rebecca is a British Sleep Consultant and author based in Seattle; she gently helps families get a better night sleep by working with them privately as well as in her sleep academy. She loves her job; she adores helping those who are having a tough time with their child’s sleep gain clarity and confidence to make the changes needed to gently support their child and help them learn the skills they need to get themselves to sleep as well as back to sleep during the night. Rebecca has been working with families for over 20 years and as a children’s sleep consultant for ten years. She is British (cup of tea anyone?) and currently lives in Seattle with her engineer husband, two teenage daughters (maybe she should have something stronger than tea) and German Shepherd.

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