Is a sleep routine for baby essential or not?
Welcome home to you and your precious bundle of joy! How amazing to share hugs and kisses and get to know each other better!
Some babies adapt really well to their new environment from birth: for others, the transition to this new world is a little more uncomfortable and they crave the security of being near to parents at all times. Yes, those little angels will lie sweetly in your arms, in baby carriers, swaddled or in their shell or box – they’re all different! And it’s no surprise that some babies can crave these close quarters; these small environments reproduce the conditions baby experienced inside your belly and give a sense of comfort and reassurance. The first few weeks are important to become attuned to what baby prefers and this will encourage relaxation and better sleep.
As baby approaches 4 weeks old, an in-built condition in human beings starts to work: it’s the biological clock. This clock takes into consideration the routines of the day (generally over a 24-hour period) and starts to emit regular signals. Rhythms are then put in place, including sleep time. From then it’s really helpful to have baby sleep in light in the day and in darkness at night to better differentiate them. As a result, the brain will be better guided to send the right hormonal signals at the right time (melatonin for sleep and cortisol for awakening).
How to create baby's sleep time routine
This is where the bedtime routine comes into play. One of the things we’re looking to establish is a transitional moment that’s almost always identical between wakefulness and sleepiness to pave the way for bedtime. This routine is similar day by day in its stages, but not necessarily in those bedtime activities. For example, dad could sing a song during the relaxation period, while mum might prefer to read a story to baby. So, you can see the relaxation period is always well considered but the activity itself can be different. See what baby relaxes best to and take it from there! The most important thing is to respect each of the steps so that their brain can begin to emit signals from the beginning of the routine that will improve the baby's feelings: sleepiness is just around the corner!
The 3 essential steps to a good bedtime routine include hygiene, relaxation and affection.
Step 1 – Hygiene
Remember: all babies are different so try some of these out. This can include a bath, a shower (when possible) or simply a change of diaper while washing the face and the hands. Don't forget, Angelcare's Baby Bath Supports (both the original and the Mini) are perfect additions to your bath time routine. Finally, a less fitted outfit to sleep, such as pyjamas, is a good idea too.
Step 2 – Relaxation
This is the most important moment of the routine because, in order to sleep, the brain must generate slower electrical waves and the calm activities are all appropriate during this stage.
Here are some of our favourite relaxation ideas:
- Stories with beautiful illustrations, just 4 to 6 pages and less plastic fleece that he can eventually chew
- Singing calming songs and rhymes
- Baby massage
- Gentle cradling and rocking
- The last drink of the day (plus a feeding or bottle of comfort as a food option), in a room with soft lighting. This time is also a beautiful moment of tenderness where baby’s heart fills with love. Awwww!
Activities that are not suitable:
- TV shows
- Pictures or videos on an iPad or tablet device
- A walk outside sitting in a stroller
These activities are too stimulating for the brain, even though we think of them as relaxing!
Step 3 – Affection
As the final stage of the routine, moments of affection including a last hug and kiss allows baby to settle off to the land of dreams. It goes without saying baby will also have enjoyed this tenderness throughout the hygiene and relaxation stages, too. Lots of physical closeness and gentleness reassures baby throughout so lots of kisses and cuddles are in order!
How long should a baby’s bedtime routine take? Again, all babies are individual, but we suggest around 20 minutes to begin with. As baby grows, the hygiene step can be both shorter or longer and can also become a family activity – you choose what suits your family. You’ll then find that the relaxation and affection steps should be around 20 minutes.
If your little one likes to nap during the day try to replicate the routine, but of course you can take less time and vary it slightly. You might simply like to change a diaper and swap into a sleeping outfit. This will be enough to indicate a change of emphasis for baby.
If you repeat these steps night after night, you’ll see baby start to adopt the routine themselves. They’ll associate the activities with sleep time and will start to produce their own rhythm to prepare for sleep by themselves.
Author and speaker, Expert in sleep education, NLP Coach
Good sleep habits can be learned!