When I was first told two years ago I could start a nap and bedtime routine with my newborn baby girl, I was a little overwhelmed. What would we do? What song should we sing? Would this really matter for a newborn? What if we somehow messed it up? So Jason and I chatted through what our routine might look like, but to be totally honest, we held very loosely to it for the first several months of Olivia’s life. We sometimes sang one verse, we sometimes sang a million verses. We occasionally threw in a story, but she was often too tired. I would nurse her, but sometimes she would nurse right to sleep. It wasn’t until Olivia was ten months old and we were ready to finally sleep through the night that we tightened up on our routines. I absolutely kept Olivia awake while nursing her, we read a story, and we always sang three verses of our song.
Our routine was a success and we had an independent sleeper, but we would always have tears for 3-10 minutes, and thought that was just the way it was going to be (because for some kids it truly is!). We then made some adjustments to our bedtime routine this past spring and found our sweet spot. We started reading a page of the Jesus Storybook Bible at night (if you’ve not read it, here’s my plug!), we let Olivia choose two stories to read, and we dropped to one verse of our song. These tweaks lengthened our routine time and we no longer sang Olivia into drowsiness, because we learned it actually interrupted her first sleep cycle. We also let our routine be FUN! If Olivia got silly, we didn’t try to shush her or bring in the calming oils, we got silly right along with her.
The idea behind solid sleep routines is to cue your child that it’s time for sleep, not to get them drowsy and quiet (“drowsy but awake” is only for newborns!). For naps, this routine should really only last 5-10 minutes before you put your kiddo down. At bedtime, however, we suggest aiming for 20-30 minutes. Anything less than 20 minutes may not be enough time for your child to register it’s bedtime, and that can actually introduce some unnecessary challenges to your child’s sleep. Similarly, anything longer than 30 minutes is too much for your child to remember, and he or she will forget it’s bedtime. We want bedtime to be predictable for your child and also repeatable by anyone who puts your kiddo to bed.
Did I mention you can start these routines on day 1 of baby’s life? Thankfully we get to start all over now that Avery is here and do it right from the start! Here’s what our current routines look like in the Engler household:
Olivia’s nap routine (26 months old): potty, sleep sack, two stories, one verse of “Jesus Loves Me,” down in bed (10 minutes)
Olivia’s bedtime routine: potty, brush teeth, wash face, jammies, sleep sack, Bible time, two stories, first verse of “Be Thou My Vision,” down in bed (25-30 minutes)
Avery’s nap routine (3 weeks old): change bum, swaddle, one verse of “Jesus Loves Me,” down in bed (5 minutes)
Avery’s bedtime routine: nurse, change bum, jammies, wash face, swaddle, first verse of “Be Thou My Vision,” down in bed (30 minutes)
(**Note that milk has no place in Olivia’s bedtime routine! Milk ends with dinner for our sweet toddler. And note that nursing doesn’t exist as part of Avery’s nap routine, and it’s first thing in her bedtime routine, because FOOD IS FOR NOURISHMENT, NOT FOR SLEEP!)
Are you wondering why face washing is in there so young? Well, many people give their kids a quick bath at the beginning of their bedtime routine each night, which is a GREAT way to start. Our girls, unfortunately, have dry and sensitive skin, so we are not daily bathers. Water, however, is a really strong signal to kids that something different is happening, so rather than a bath, we do a little face wash! For Olivia, that’s a little extra splash and wipe down after brushing her teeth, and for Avery, that’s a warm wash cloth, a little event that does not usually happen at another time of the day.
I’d love to hear what your routines look like in the comments below! We snagged “Be Though My Vision” from family friends, so let us know your routines, maybe others can glean and steal your good ideas, too! If you’re reading this and don’t have a nap or bedtime routine, it’s not too late to start! Decide on what you’d like to do and in what order, start it tonight, and stick to it! Before you know it, your child will pick up on it (even those newborns!) and will be able to predict what’s coming!