“Go to sleep, go to sleep, Mommy is starting to hallucinate” was my impromptu, poorly-metered lullaby one night. (It’s a lot funnier now than it was at the time.)
I adored my little one, but he did. Not. Sleep. Full stop. That is, at night. During the day he was happy to catch his 40 winks plus, to the tune of at least three giant naps a day. He awoke from each of these with a gurgle and a smile. Not me. I was a zombie.
I was confused. We always hear that “babies sleep a lot.” I looked at my much-loved and beautiful but seemingly always wide-awake bundle of joy and thought, “Nobody sent this one the memo.”
There are a number of reasons babies may be more wakeful during the day than at night. (We’ll be talking about those in a later post.) But if you’re sitting here right now trying to read this article through blurry eyes, my guess is you want help right now.
Not to worry –– the single most important thing to do for your baby, once you’ve ruled out any physical issues, is to establish a routine.
Here’s why, plus 5 great routines that have been slaying bedtime for generations.
Why Routine is So Important
If you’ve ever had your sleep derailed by travel, illness or stress, you already know how hard it can be to get back on track. In fact, following a period of disrupted sleep, you may have experienced insomnia for as little as a day or as long as a couple of weeks.
Think about it this way: even as an adult, with a mature brain and the ability to self-regulate, you struggled to get back into good sleep habits.
It’s that much harder for your baby, who wasn’t born with a bedtime routine at all. Biology wakes her when she needs you and lets her nod off when she’s hit the wall with her energy level.
The problem is that as adults we need uninterrupted sleep. And that’s where a routine comes in. Your baby’s brain, just like yours, responds to habit. Humans love our little habits; it’s built into our DNA.
Which Routine is Best?
The 5 routines below are all great for baby’s bedtime. Each child is different, so what works for one baby may be less effective for another.
I recommend you choose the one that resonates most with your own little one’s personality and then try your absolute best to stick with it. Don’t cycle through all five on five consecutive nights. You’ll confuse Baby and make her more wakeful, as she’ll be curious just what you’ll be trying next.
We actually tried two different routines with our little one. One of the following worked perfectly for us; a slightly different one worked for our second child. IMPORTANT: If you’re switching routines, give each trial at least two weeks. Otherwise, there’s no time for it to become routine at all, and you won’t know for certain that it did or didn’t work.
The 5 Routines (and How to Do Them)
Ready? Here are 5 of the best routines to slay Baby’s bedtime and finally get some shuteye yourself.
- The Three-B’s Method
This is a time-tested routine that parents have been using since Victorian times (in some families and cultures, even longer than that). The three B’s stand for bath, book and bed. Be sure you perform the B’s in the right order. The reason is that speaking quietly, gently washing in warm water and then laying Baby down are all layers of allowing her, and you, to relax.
Make sure you keep the book about the same length each night. For an infant, a 5-minute book should do. Try it…this method has worked for thousands of generations all around the globe.
- The Special Song Method
“Get the heck out of here, scary stuff, scary stuff! Get the heck out of here, scary stuff, scary stuff!” may sound hilarious (and a little strange), but this is what worked for my sister-in-law when my niece showed a lot of fear at bedtime. Sis and Brother would sing the song (quietly, without too much excitement) for my niece, in tandem. They did it every single night and it worked.
Having one special song that’s just for bedtime is a routine all by itself. It’s a signal that nighttime has come, and also that all is well, something even tiny babies need to know. Singing tends to signify calmness, so it’s a double-whammy for putting a fork into crying nights and frequent wakings.
Whatever you decide the special song is, sing it only at bedtime to your baby. You want her to respond to that song in only one way, and if she hears it during the day, she’s connecting the song with wakefulness instead of quieting down.
- The Nighttime Lights Method
Here’s something that both infants and adults respond to, and which we tend to be lacking in our well-lit, electronic world: turning down the lights when bedtime approaches.
About 30 minutes before your established bedtime for Baby will be, say softly and cheerfully, “Nighttime lights!” Then turn down the lights in any rooms you and Baby will be in as you quietly get her ready for bed. If you don’t have dimmers, simply turn out all lights except a low-wattage lamp.
Your baby’s brain will eventually begin to respond to low lighting the way it was meant to: by amping melatonin and bringing on a wonderful wave of sleepiness.
- The Rhyme Time Method
While you may think your infant doesn’t understand many words yet, you’d be surprised. Babies understand words well before they begin producing them.
That’s where the Rhyme Time bedtime routine method comes in. This may be a prayer if you’re religious, or it could be an affirmation, words of love, or just something silly but not too stimulating.
Making the words rhyme gives this more effect: for example, “Our day was fun! It’s time for bed. Cuddle up, lay down your head” or “We love you, Avery, yes we do. Kiss and hug from me to you” are quick, easy, and fun sing-song statements for Baby.
As with #3 above, say the rhyme only at bedtime so she connects it with calmness and sleep.
- The “We’re So Sleepy!” Routine
Don’t laugh: my grandmother says she tried with me and it worked. (It still does! The moment that woman yawns, I’m practically out like a light right there at the holiday dinner table.)
“We’re So Sleepy!” can be thought of as a bit of psychology for infants. Human beings tend to follow each other’s cues. In this case, when 7:00 rolls around, you’ll be yawning, stretching, and letting your eyes close for more than a blink while holding Baby. Tell her, “Oh, we’re so sleepy!”
As with the other methods, you want to give this at least a couple of weeks. Don’t expect her to respond right away. Over time, though, if you’re consistent, she’ll equate your sleepiness with hers.
Why Not Try All the Routines at the Same Time?
Well, technically, you can. However, if you try to stuff too many steps into Baby’s bedtime routine, these things can happen:
- You’ll be out of luck if you’re ever pressed for time or are in a place other than your home and you can’t perform every step.
- Your baby may be more stimulated by the many steps, and she may actually become more wakeful.
- If your baby senses you’ll jump through hoops for a bedtime routine (especially if you keep adding new steps), she’ll keep pushing for more. How? By refusing to sleep, of course! Babies love attention, and they don’t like parting with their parents. This reaction would be natural –– but it would also make things worse in the long run.
- You’re tired, too. You may simply want a quick 5-minute routine sometimes. Be prepared for that by keeping things short but sweet.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these ideas. Remember: consistency is key. Even if the routine you choose is a little unorthodox, if it works for Baby and it’s safe, go for it. You’re not only getting her to sleep reliably, you’re setting the precedent for other times in her life where she’ll need to be disciplined and follow a routine. That means she benefits, too – and the whole family gets the sleep you need.