We’re entering the dog days of summer are and while some of us want to maintain a rigid schedule for our little ones, carrying out a relaxed, “go with the flow” mentality can help sleep. Here are our top five tips for an easy, breezy bedtime with your little one.
1. Don’t over-think the bedtime routine.
A bedtime routine doesn’t necessarily need to be routine, or even calming. It’s best to avoid screen time the last hour or two of the day, but anyone who has a child knows it’s almost impossible to recreate the same predictable, Zen-like bedtime routine every single night. Sometimes Dad or Mom bounces in the door late from work or Grandma calls to say hi just before bed. Other times your little one just isn’t into sitting on your lap for a reading of Goodnight Moon. Instead of fighting these inevitables, embrace them. Replace the word “calming routine” with “intimate routine”. It’s a moment in your day when you stop the to-do list and emails and focus on connecting with your child. That may involve building a tower of blocks or even a tickle fest if it’s something you and your little one like doing together. Mix it up and enjoy. Going with the flow will also make it easy for others to replicate your bedtime routine since it’s not the same from night to night. It’s better to focus instead on keeping only the last two minutes of the night routine and distraction free (see tip #4).
2. Take it outside the nursery.
If you are struggling with sleep, try moving your bedtime routine into a living space (i.e., family room). This helps communicate living spaces in the home are for fun and the bedroom is for sleeping. It also helps keep a sleepy child awake until his or her set bedtime.
3. Avoid feeding right before lights out.
Instead of “topping off” your baby seconds before bedtime, give him or her a little time to digest. Try to finish the last milk feed 30-60 minutes before bedtime. It’s important for children to go to sleep satiated, but it can be uncomfortable for some to lay horizontally with an extremely full stomach.
4. Follow a playbook the last two minutes.
Keeping just the last two minutes of the night consistent will signal to your child that bedtime is about to commence. For example, this two-minute playbook could include putting on a fresh diaper, pulling down shades, turning on white noise, switching off lights, giving a good night kiss and putting your child in his crib. The time before that can be a hodgepodge of fun, but once the saying goodnight portion begins routine will help your child surrender to sleep.
5. Try to put to sleep awake.
If you help your child fall asleep at bedtime she may think she needs you to assist in that process throughout the night as she cycles through periods of wakefulness and sleep. On the other hand, if you give her a chance to fall asleep by herself at bedtime she’ll have the tools to do it again and again when she rouses in the night. Many children can’t do this consistently until after four months of age. Conner Herman & Kira Ryan are the co-authors of The Dream Sleeper: A Three-Part Plan for Getting Your Baby to Love Sleep and founders of Dream Team Baby Sleep Consultation (www.dreamteambaby.com).