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Medically reviewed by:
Carlos Del Rio-Bermudez
Carlos is a neuroscientist and a medical & science writer with more than eight years of research experience in the field of Neuroscience. Prior to working full time as a medical writer, he was a postdoctoral researcher at the University Hospital of Bern (Switzerland). Carlos obtained his PhD from the University of Iowa (USA), supported by the Fulbright Program.
Some of the areas Carlos focuses on are RNA therapeutics, Rare Diseases, and REMS/RMPs. He has authored multiple original research papers in top journals in the field, book chapters, and periodicals. Carlos has also participated in international scientific meetings; most notably, he was invited to present his dissertation research at the 2018 Gordon Research Conference on Sleep Regulation and Function.
Did a new baby turn your life upside down? Have you become one of those sleep-deprived parents because your baby cannot sleep through the night? Are you looking for a way to put things back in order?
Seek no more, because your sleep problems can be alleviated if you follow our sleep guide. All you need to do to improve you and your baby’s sleep issues is invest a bit of time and effort in sleep training and create a bedtime routine for your little one.
Why is a Bedtime Routine so important?
Babies love routine more than anything. With regard to sleep, a relaxing, consistent bedtime ritual will help your baby understand when it’s time to sleep and will help them doze off more easily.
Newborns can sleep for around 16 hours per day, distributed in shorter sleep bouts throughout the day. By the time they are 3-4 months old, some babies can already connect several hours of sleep, so it is essential that parents start establishing proper bedtime routines so that everyone in the family gets enough sleep.
How to Setup a Routine for a Newborn Baby
The internal clock of babies is not fully synchronized or coupled to relevant environmental or social cues, so it takes a while for them to adjust to the 24-h, circadian sleep-wake rhythm. Also, the sleep-wake cycle will interact with the need for feeding and nurturing. So yes, it will be hard for your newborn baby to follow a strict schedule.
In the meantime, however, you can help your baby differentiate night from day and encourage sleep in the nighttime with the right bedtime rituals.
First and foremost, you should observe their little one’s sleep patterns and learn to identify when they are tired and ready to doze off. Signs of sleepiness include yawning, fussing, or rubbing of the eyes.
During the first weeks, you should let your baby sleep and eat whenever they feel the need, but you can start encouraging nighttime sleep and exposing the baby to bright natural light as soon as the baby wakes up in the morning. Another good idea is to limit playing and arousing activities to the daytime. This will help with the synchronization of their internal biological clocks.
Another important component of establishing a bedtime routine is that babies need to learn how to fall asleep around bedtime alone, and how to soothe themselves if they wake up in the middle of the night. To help them master this important skill, make sure you put the sleepy one down while drowsy -but not asleep-. This way, they will get used to soothe themselves and fall asleep on their own.
And yes, they will definitely complain in the beginning…, so don’t fall for those tears; it’ll get better!
0 to 3 Months Old Babies
As your baby gets a bit older, it is good to start making a more detailed bedtime routine, which should include dim lighting in the evening, a warm bath, and feeding.
In the beginning, your baby will probably wake up after a few hours, so do not expect miracles after your first shot.
The goal here is to establish a consistent, soothing bedtime routine. Eventually, babies will start connecting these rituals to bedtime and sleep. When breastfeeding at night, avoid bright light. It is best to use small table lamps or nightlights with blue light filters.
And remember, sleep associations are very strong. To guarantee success, make sure your routine has consistent steps, and that it occurs around the same time every day. This will eventually make your baby understand when it is time to doze off.
3 to 7 Months
When babies are around three months old, parents can introduce some simple rituals like playing with toys or taking a stroll around the park around bedtime and start introducing a bedtime routine.
However, some babies will still be completely clueless about what their parents are trying to do, so stay patient. At this point, babies can connect five or more hours of sleep, so you have to stick to the routine to ensure that their sleep habits are improving.
By this time, parents will probably be able to recognize some mood changes, and they will know a lot more about the baby’s sleeping and eating habits, so in a way, it will all be at least more predictable.
7 to 12 Months
At 7 months, your baby can be sleeping for long stretches at night. Also, your little one should now be ready to adapt and follow a particular eating and sleeping schedule.
By the time they turn one, toddlers are usually able to consolidate the sleep associations established through a bedtime routine. They will understand that after dinner comes bath time, which means that the bedtime is approaching.
However, bear in mind that other challenges like nightmares and resisting going to bed may alter you and your child’s sleeping habits. It is important parents are strict about the established sleep schedule and bedtime routine.
Parents beware: Just when you think you have everything under control, some minor impediments may interrupt your carefully curated routine. Children change and grow very rapidly, and their sleep is not an exception. This is why you may need to modify sleep schedule and bedtime routine at different stages of your child’s development.
A family trip, moving houses, unexpected visitors… Many factors can affect your baby’s routine and sleep schedule.
You may not be able to negotiate with your little one just yet, so you may have to wing it and find a new routine that will suit them better.
Once babies are one year or older, they become aware of routines and rules, so they decide to test them. Kids will take every opportunity to test your patience, and if they realize that they can take control of the situation, you are in big trouble.
Vacations and even shorter weekend trips are regular routine disruptors. So when you are traveling, try maintaining the same bedtime routine, and stick to the regular napping and feeding schedules.
Whatever happens, you should not panic if something does not go by plan, or if your bedtime routine gets disrupted once in a while. A few unexpected situations will teach the baby how to be more flexible, adaptive, and tolerant.
What is Normal? And What is Not?
You can never be too cautious when raising a baby. However, it is important to know what is and what isn’t healthy in your little one’s behavior.
When it comes to sleep, it is entirely normal for a baby to wake up several times per night. Indeed, nighttime awakenings are common during the first 6 months. Although this may drive most parents crazy… it is what it is!.
As babies and toddlers get older, they may also experience a variety of sleep disturbances, including night terrors, nightmares, or resistance to bedtime. Baby’s behavior and sleep habits tend to vary a lot, so it can be hard to tell whether there is an actual problem.
Sleep is a crucial component of your baby’s mental and physical development. If you suspect that your child may be suffering from sleep problems (like continuously waking up more than three times per night after the first 6 months, or needs more than a half an hour to settle), we encourage you to talk with a pediatrician or sleep specialist about your child’s sleep patterns and habits.