A Bedtime Routine: Settling To Sleep Like A Charm

Author Name: Heidi Holvoet, PhD

A bedtime routine for your baby is unmissable. Fun and easy to do, the recognizable sleep routine effectively helps with winding down, self-soothing and sleeping through the night.

A bedtime routine or ritual is a set of actions and words you do with and say to your child at each bedtime.

Your baby learns to associate these with settling and that is enough for their body to get ready for it.

Good bedtime routines (see below) are simple and recognizable, calm and pleasant, and you're consistent with it.

You can start this from the first weeks with your newborn baby and you'll continue to do it to help your toddler sleep well.

Your baby's bedtime routine will evolve as they grow.

Easy settling with a routine is just as valuable for growing up kids and adults.

It is one of the many things we know from sleep research. The anecdote in the box on this page says it all.

An example of a before-bed routine

One simple example, your winding down bedtime ritual could be like this:

announcing bed time
to the bathroom to change nappies, softly talking about the nice sleep coming up
extra hug for the sleepy baby
walking past and showing a picture on the wall
saying goodnight to a favorite toy
putting down and then "good night, sleep tight"

This is just one, typical, bedtime routine but it can be any set of similar quiet things you and your little one like to do.

A mathematician's bedtime routine

An interesting story about David Hilbert, a professor of mathematics at the University of Goettingen.

One night [...] there was a party to be held at Hilbert's house. Just as the first guests were arriving, Hilbert's wife noticed that her husband's shirt was soiled; she quickly sent him off to put on a clean one. In response to her request, Hilbert went upstairs.

After 20 minutes or more had passed, he still had not returned. The guests were milling about waiting for him. Somewhat concerned, Mrs. Hilbert went up to the bedroom. There she found the great mathematician peacefully tucked into his bed, fast asleep.

"You see", explained his friend, "it was a natural sequence of things. He took off his coat, then his tie, then his shirt, and so on, and went to sleep.". Most of us are not so susceptible to the cues that signal our bedtime, but we do become conditioned to the natural sequence of our own routine and it does assist us in falling asleep .

Taken from Sleep Thieves by S. Coren - ISBN 0684823047

A good bedtime routine is ...

  1. Always the same

    Since your little one must recognize the pattern, it must naturally be the same each time. Hmm, I even sang exactly the same lullaby for almost a year (because it worked ... so why change a winning team ;))

    You can of course vary with different lullaby songs, as long as the routine is recognizable to your baby.
  2. Not too long, not too short

    Too short and your baby won't easily recognize the pattern.

    Too long and getting baby to bed becomes a chore.
  3. Relaxing and pleasant for baby and for you

    Make the bedtime routine a quiet moment you can both enjoy.

    Hugging and holding your baby close, talking and singing softly, etc. It helps you both wind down and relax and leaves your baby feeling relaxed and ready for sleep.
  4. Guided by you, without hesitating

    Also here, be determined. You'll want a clear ending to the routine , don't let your child stretch it. As your baby grows into toddlerhood, they'll love to try and extend this pleasant time. Saying goodnight to another toy. And another one. Asking for a second song, another book, etc.

    If you go along in this, it becomes more difficult to end the routine and start them sleeping. Avoid giving choices as well, like choosing the lullaby. It can take a looooong time before you agree on a song.

    Any thing your toddler asks about, simply tell them "yes, we'll do that later on/tomorrow", and finish the routine as usual. Still fun, but no distractions.

    Of course also here you can experiment, and by all means include more flexibility if your baby still settles well .

A bedtime routine is the best start of any nap and night . The recognizable cues help your baby, also physically, get ready for sleep - this is how sleep works.

There's never any magic of course, and having a routine is not a guarantee that your baby will sleep. But it is one of the crucial must-haves toward the best sleep they can have right now.

Article Author: Heidi Holvoet, PhD - Founder, senior sleep consultant

Heidi Holvoet, PhD

Heidi Holvoet, PhD, is the founder of the Baby Sleep Advice website and movement, an award-winning author, baby & toddler sleep consultant with 15+ years experience as well as a certified lactation counselor.

Over the years, Heidi has received several awards inluding a Mom's Choice Award (MCA) and National Parenting Awards (NAPPA) for her Baby Sleep Advice website, programs and books. Also, Baby Sleep Advice was awarded "Most Trusted Infant's Sleep Solutions Company 2023" in the Benelux Enterprise Awards 2023.

Heidi continually conducts personal research and participates in continued education and in that way stays up to date with current scientific and pyschosocial infant care.

Association of Professional Sleep Consultants

She is also a member of the Association of Professional Sleep Consultants of which she was one of the earliest contributors. She obtained her PhD degree in physics at the University of Ghent in Belgium.

Heidi is passionate about helping babies and their parents sleep more and better, with her trademark approach that has been proven and praised time and again by parents worldwide to be effective and truly no-tears. Respect for you as a parent and your baby, is at the heart of Heidi's warm and kind support. Her approach always keeps in mind a baby's needs and abilities at any given age, is based on pediatric science and the most up to date knowledge in infant care and sleep science.

As well as the award-winning baby sleep programs, Heidi offers popular 1:1 consults and easy-access 30-minute SOS Sleep sessions.