Written By: Alan Greene, M.D.
As a new parent, there is something rewarding, almost magical, about babies falling asleep as you hold them. But as the months and years go by, this begins to become a burden, not a joy – for both of you. As a doctor I can say that eventually parents want their children to fall asleep on their own. Learning this skill early will put your baby ahead in life. Unfortunately, this is one skill that cannot be mastered overnight.
Foundational to helping our children learn to fall asleep at night is to develop a bedtime routine – a set of rituals that signals the body that it’s time for sleep. There is no one set of rituals that is right for every family. Here are several of my favorites for you to choose from:
An Anchor Evening Feeding – Having a full tummy at about the same time every night helps baby go to sleep, but once the teeth have come in, be sure it’s at least one-half hour before bed to prevent baby bottle tooth decay.
Bath Time – A warm bath before bed tends to relax muscles and make children sleepy, as long as it’s not active bath-playtime. Introducing stimulating bath toys and shampoo-induced-pixie-doll-hair can actually stimulate baby.
Bed Time Clothing – Have you ever wondered why there are different comfy clothes for baby at night than the comfy clothes they wear during the day? Using clean clothes that are only worn at night can be part of signaling baby that it’s bedtime. And of course, don’t forget to put on a fresh diaper.
Sensory Experience – You may have used lavender spray to promote relaxation for yourself, but lavender may not be the best for young children. There are, however, effective sensory experiences that are safe and relaxing for babies and children. We’ve combined several of them in Dreamy Hush Time. Simply roll on in a row of Z’s across the forehead and model taking several slow, deep breaths. Children take cues from their parents and will often mimic your slow breathing. Deep breaths help them relax. And the ingredients in Dreamy Hush Time have a long history of helping drift off to sleep.
A Bedtime Story – A bedtime story is great for so many reasons. Not only can reading to children help lull them to sleep long before they are old enough to understand the words, but you can begin to build a lifelong love of reading. And if they know it’s part of a nighttime routine, their body will begin readying for sleep as you begin to read.
Sing Lullabies – You don’t have to pick a standard but can use anything with a soothing melody to be your special song. Love songs work especially well, not only to signal it’s time to go to sleep, but to swaddle your little one in the special bond you share during those special moments before sleep. There’s a reason lullabies have been part of so many diverse cultures.
Timing – Parents often ask if a set bedtime is essential. For many parents, a set bedtime is difficult to maintain, It is indeed much easier for your child to fall asleep at the same time every day. Though some kids will get by fine with an irregular bedtime, I do recommend consistency when practical. And if possible, make it early enough to give you some adult time before you go to bed.
It’s nice to make at least one part of the bedtime ritual something you can use when your child wakes up in the night to help them (and you) get back to sleep).