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Bedtime Routines and Sleep associations

Let me start by saying this: Sleep is a very vulnerable state to be in, so if your baby/child is feeling stressed or anxious going into bedtime, the chances of them having a hard time falling asleep increases dramatically. Why am I saying this? Well, because routine offers predictability, for both babies and parents, while also making room for flexibility and fun. For most people, but especially children predictability = feeling safe and secure.

For some parents and babies, nap and bedtime can be a struggle. When we encourage a daily nap and bedtime routine, everyone will be ready and prepared for sleep when baby’s natural sleepy rhythm occurs. To ensure success with a routine, you will need to be consistent. The activities in the routine do not have to happen at the exact same time each day, but they do need to happen every day in the same order. This predictability will ease baby into nap time or bedtime, making baby feel safe, and reducing overall stress for everyone in the home.

As you plan out your routine, take some time to think about activities that you and your family will enjoy doing with your baby. For example, bath-time or a daily walk in the pram or carrier as the day comes to an end. It's really important to remember that what one baby may find relaxing, another baby may find stimulating. So, I encourage you to tune in to your baby, noticing how each piece of your routine makes them feel. The more you observe baby, the easier it will be to determine which elements to include in a relaxing bedtime routine and which elements are best suited for a morning wake up routine.

Try out chosen activities over a few consecutive days so you can gauge baby’s interest in them, and understand how the activities will fit into a routine that respects the needs of both parent and baby. Soon you will learn what works and what doesn’t, how to best prepare your baby for nap time and bedtime, and what activities are the most enjoyable for everyone.

Sleep latency:

This is the term that is used to describe how long your baby takes to fall asleep.

According to sleep science, a normal and good sleep latency is anything from 15-30 minutes. If it takes less than 15 minutes, check for signs that your baby might be overtired. If it takes more than 30 minutes, it could mean that baby is not tired enough, or overtired (usually accompanied by what is known as a “second wind”. They may seem hyper and really hard to settle) or that the bedtime routine is too exciting / stimulating instead of relaxing.

Keep this in mind when experimenting with your routine, as well as your wake windows.

Routine examples:

Once a routine has been established, you need to try and be consistent with it. Your baby will be expecting certain activities to happen in a particular order, signaling to his/her brain that it is time to wind down and get ready for sleep.

Nap time:

You do not have to follow the same routine for nap and bedtime, the naptime routine is usually a shorter version of the bedtime routine and only needs to be about 10 minutes long. Include whatever you may think will help in the wind down.

Sample nap-time routine:

· Nappy change and pajamas

· Close curtains, switch off lights.

· Turn on white noise.

· Sing a sleepy song.

· Feed / rock to sleep.

· Unlatch, get up, rock a bit.

· Place baby down in crib (if she startles too much when placed on back, try placing her on her side and then rolling her over onto her back before leaving the room).

· Keep your hands firmly on her and shhh or sing softly.

· When fully asleep and settled, remove your hand and stop shh'ing.

· Leave the room.

Bed time:

The bedtime routine can be about 30 minutes long from start to lights out. It will still take about 15-30 minutes for your baby to fall asleep after the routine is done. Something to consider about a bedtime routine is also eliminating anything that can be too exciting / stimulating and avoid anything that raises cortisol levels for at least 1.5-2 hours before lights out. This includes blue light from TV or other screens; stress or conflict; etc.

Sample bedtime routine:

· Bath-time

· Nappy + Pajamas.

· Read 1 or 2 books.

· Turn on white noise.

· Sing sleepy-time song.

· Feed / rock to sleep.

· Unlatch, get up, rock a bit.

· Place baby down in crib

· Keep your hands firmly on her and shhh or sing softly.

· When fully asleep and settled, remove your hand and stop shh'ing.

· Leave the room.

*please note that these routines are only meant as examples and will differ based on what you find works for you and your baby

Sleep associations:

Sleep associations is exactly that: anything your baby associates with sleep.

We are our baby’s strongest sleep association, but we want to fill their nap and bedtime routines with as many sleep associations as possible. This is called “layering sleep associations”. We want to layer in as many sleep associations as possible, so your baby doesn't rely solely on your presence for staying asleep.

Think about it as a ladder. The "ladder" refers to some associations being stronger and others less so. For example, breastfeeding would be at the bottom of the ladder as it's the strongest association, white noise might be at the top.

Other associations besides feeding might include:

Rocking, bouncing, swaying, cuddling, shhh’ing, singing, white noise, dark room, sleep sack, lovey, bum pats, rubbing back or tummy, etc.

You will probably start at the bottom when you feed to sleep or lay next to baby. Then move up the ladder as you get ready to put baby down. Sometimes, baby may startle, or wake and you’ll move back down the ladder, supporting them back to sleep as needed.

The top association / support will stay for the duration of the sleep time and will help baby to connect sleep cycles. (for example: dummy/pacifier, dark room and white noise)

Remember, while baby is getting used to these sleep associations and the routine, they may only get a single sleep cycle before waking fully. Practice makes perfect. The more they get used to it all and come to expect it, the easier it will become.

Some examples of sleep associations you can add to your sleep routines:

Environmental supports – dark room, white noise, sleep sack, lovey

Sound – shhh’ing, singing, humming

Touch – pat, rub, stroke


Motion – rock, sway, bounce

Feeding and/or laying with baby (bottle or breast)

What I love about sleep associations is how helpful they are long term. They help signal your baby's brain that it's time to wind down and sleep, help your baby move more easily through sleep cycles and when you want to make changes or change patterns that aren't working for you anymore, they are your new best friend!

Still feel a bit lost and need some helping with setting up a routine and unsure of how to implement sleep associations? Get in touch and I'll help you through it :)


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