Getting your baby into a sleep routine

Decide whether a sleep routine will work for you and your baby, and how to get your baby into a routine for bed and sleep.

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Your baby likes his life to be predictable, especially when it comes to sleep. Your baby thinks to himself, “I love my sleep routine, because I know what to expect.” It’s that consistency of schedule that makes him feel so comfortable and gives him a sense of safety and security. Of course, he may resist your attempts at getting him into a regular sleep pattern to start with, but he will thank you for it eventually!

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Getting enough sleep at the right times throughout the day and night is essential for your baby’s development – he needs sleep to recharge his batteries. A baby who doesn’t sleep will become irritable and unhappy, and will lose interest in feeding and playing with his toys.

Challenges in setting a sleep routine

Establishing a sleep routine in the first year is often challenging. This is because, firstly, your baby’s sleep needs change rapidly. A newborn baby sleeps up to 80% of the day and night, but by the time he’s reach 1, his total sleeping time will have dropped to about 55%.

Secondly, the fact your baby needs lots of sleep doesn’t mean he looks forward to it. In fact, he often thinks, “I’d much rather stay awake – everything here’s so interesting.”

Thirdly, in the first few months, his sleep cycle doesn’t fit neatly into yours. These challenges can be overcome though, but you’ll need to get to know your baby’s individual sleep pattern. Once you’ve done that, gently steer it into a more stable routine.

Is a sleep routine right for you and your baby?

You need to make up your own mind about whether a sleep routine will work for you both. Only try to establish one if you want to. If you prefer to let your baby sleep whenever he wants or if that’s more practical, that’s entirely up to you.

However, if you choose to establish a routine, you’ll need to persist with your efforts. Don’t give up the first time your baby resists going to sleep when you want him to, but persevere, even though it can sometimes be hard in the beginning.

Whenever possible, use your baby’s sleep routine positively for your benefit. You might, for example, try to rest when he rests. And aim for a long night’s sleep. The part of the sleep routine that will have the greatest effect on your family is if your baby sleeps longer in the night.

How to establish a sleep routine for your baby

These step can help you get your baby into a routine:

  • Tie in with your baby’s natural rhythms – in other words pick times for sleep when he’s usually tired, such as after a feed.
  • Develop a pre-sleep routine. Go through the same steps in preparation for sleep each time (bath him, change him, quietly sing a lullaby etc).
  • Keep the time consistent. Once you’ve chosen the times you want him to sleep, try to stick to them.
  • Don’t rush to cries. Your baby is more likely to adapt to his sleep routine if you don’t rush in the moment he cries when he doesn’t want to sleep. Wait to see if he settles himself before going in.
  • Be flexible. He doesn’t have to go to sleep at the exact same time, every day. A small amount of time either side won’t irreparably damage his routine.

How to spot your baby’s tired

You probably don’t realise that your baby self-soothes. Next time he’s nodding off stay out of his sight, but stand where you can watch him. You’ll notice that once he stops moving, yet before he falls asleep, he makes self-soothing actions, for example:

  • Your baby starts to suck as if having an imaginary feed
  • Your baby tries to rub his blanket against his face

These gestures are your baby’s natural way of encouraging himself to sleep and can also help you spot when he’s getting tired.

Mums’ tip

“I’m sure that a tight routine has helped Amelia become such a good sleeper. At 7pm we’d bath and change her and put her in her baby sleeping bag. This would be followed by milk downstairs. Then it would be back up to her bedroom and straight to bed with the lights out. We’d switch on the musical mobile and close the door.”

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Clare, 30, mum to Amelia Grace, 13 months

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