What’s better than a good night’s sleep? Before Baby came along, there are a lot of ways you might have answered that question, but now that they have a say in how much rest you get, there’s a good chance your only answer is either “nothing,” or “two good nights’ sleep.” This is where the bedtime routine comes along – parents whose children get good nights’ sleep are a lot more likely to get their 8 full hours (myth, but this is neither the time nor place).
The power of belief
Gina, who is the first-time mom of a 6-month-old, loves talking about sleep. “It’s what every new parent wants,” she says. “I could read so many books about sleep.”
After all of her research, though, most of Gina’s ideas about the ingredients for a successful bedtime routine are pretty simple. “I went with the philosophy that sleep will get more sleep, so the better the naps are, the better the night will be.”
For this reason, from the time when she was at home with her daughter through her transition back to work, Gina has made sure to keep a consistent nap schedule, and to make sure naps happen in the same place, and with the same bedtime routine as nighttime sleep.
This routine, before naps and before bed at night is, again, pretty simple. Gina’s daughter eats an hour before bed, and then they read a book, sing a song, and then her daughter lies down in her crib or bassinet, sleepy but awake.
It doesn’t always go smoothly, and what works one day may not work the next, but Gina says one of the most important parts of the bedtime routine, like so many things in life, is belief. “Tell yourself, ‘my baby will sleep through the night.’ If you believe it, it will happen.”
These days, “brothers’ time,” a semi-structured, play- and tickle-time that comes right before bedtime for Leslie’s two toddlers, is a highlight of her family’s day, but there was a time when getting her boys into the bedroom for bedtime was a battle.
“For a while, I think we just kind of survived,” Leslie said, describing the months after her second son was born, but before “brothers’ time” came on the scene. After having a very structured, precise bedtime routine through her first son’s babyhood, she and her husband had thought they had bedtimes down. Their second son, however, had other ideas.
When their second son started to reject the bottle at 4 months, and would only breastfeed, it started to cut out some of the critical role her husband was used to having in their bedtime routine. More than that, though, they’d planned to move the new baby into his older brother’s room as soon as he started sleeping through the night, but sleeping through the night just wasn’t happening. Their oldest was starting to feel sad and left out about being the only person in their family not to sleep in his parents’ room.
Eventually, Leslie decided that waiting until the baby started sleeping through the night just wasn’t working the way she’d hoped it would. “I tried so hard to control their environments, but it just wasn’t working out,” Leslie said. “Eventually, I decided I’d just throw them in a room together, and let them figure it out. I was surprised how well they rose to the occasion.”
After hearing the baby cry the first night, and coming into the room to find her older son comforting him, parts of bedtime started to get easier, and the brothers really started to bond for the first time in their lives. Many things about bedtime started to get easier, but getting the brothers into the bedroom at night was still a challenge. “They’re just two little monkeys, bouncing off the walls. Desperation breeds innovation, so that’s when I invented ‘brothers’ time.’”
At brothers’ time, Leslie brings both boys into the bedroom, sets them both up on the bigger bed, and then does her best to make it the most exciting time of day – she makes up songs, tickles them, makes up games, “and always,” Leslie explained, “the biggest part of brothers’ time is finding excuses to get them to hug and kiss each other, and that really facilitates their relationship as brothers, it gives me a way to teach them how to play together and love on each other.”
Now, brothers’ time, and by extension, bedtime, which comes after it, is a part of the day her boys look forward to, and enjoy. It can be tricky trying to switch gears into the right mood for brother’s time, especially after a hard day, or a difficult dinner, but Leslie thinks it’s important. “That way we all get to go to bed with some sweetness,” she said.
For first-time dad Jon, the bedtime routine for his 6-and-a-half-month-old has been a series of evolutions. “From day one, we’ve tried to stick to somewhat of a routine, which is kind of hard,” Jon said.
Their routine has some constants – white noise or music in the background, and always taking care to put her down to bed sleepy but awake – but more than that, it adapts to fit what works at a given time.
One big change was the loss of the swaddle. “For the first few months, we swaddled her completely, we found the swaddle was like a godsend. The best way she fell asleep was in the swaddle,” Jon said, but when his daughter started trying to roll over, the swaddle had to go.
Not every change is a loss, though. “She’s definitely on more of a human schedule,” Jon said. “Obviously in the early days she was waking up a lot. There was a stretch where she would only sleep in a swing that was going back and forth.”
Now, though, Jon’s daughter follows a pretty consistent nap schedule, and goes to sleep at about the same time every night, even if she still wakes up during the night sometimes. To Jon, these changes to the bedtime routine, and even the waking up in the middle of the night, make a lot of sense.
“As babies grow, physically and developmentally, I think they wake up so much because they’re growing so much. They can’t put themselves back to sleep because their brains are going a hundred miles an hour.”