Creating the Perfect Bedtime Routine

Routines. They help our bodies know what to expect. When we wake up in the morning, getting started on our routine tells our bodies to wake up and keep going. When we get ready for bed and follow the same routine each night, our bodies understand it’s time to wind down for the day.

Children are no different.

You can begin a bedtime routine with your child at any age, from the moment they come home from the hospital to their school years. A bedtime routine begins to tell your child’s body to wind down, and it prepares them for a good night’s rest.

A bedtime routine does not have to be complex. You should aim to keep it short – about 15-30 minutes – and it should be easy enough that you can do it nightly.

As with everything, you should tailor this to your family and your child. But typically, the following sets a good foundation for implementing a routine.

Before You Begin the Bedtime Routine

About 1-2 hours before bedtime, screens should be eliminated. This includes TV, phones, tablets, etc. We want to do this for a few reasons. First, it’s been proven that the light emitted from screens interferes with sleep hormones. The earlier we can shut the screens off, the better. You can encourage your child to play outside, read a book, or if they are younger, you can have them in their swing without the screens on.

Secondly,  turning off screens early helps decrease nightmares. When I worked with Jenny, her son was having intense nightmares about bears. When we dug into his schedule, we found that his watching TV had a direct impact on what he was dreaming about.  So if your child is experiencing nightmares, this is another areas to look at: what are they watching on TV?

Before we move into the bedtime routine, I always encourage my families to have a time of “rough, silly play.” Make your child laugh, tickle them, get out as much laughter as you can. Let them be overly silly. I know what you’re thinking: this seems counter-intuitive. In fact, I vividly remember my mom yelling at my dad when he would horse-play with us when we were younger. But this rough play is actually beneficial.

When children are tired, they become emotional. The same is true for us mamas. Remember the early newborn days? The feelings of despair or anger or frustration or silliness when you weren’t sleeping? Humans become emotional when they are tired.

At the end of the night, kids often need an emotional release to calm down and initiate comfort. They will find this emotional release in one of two ways: laughing or crying (or both). If your child has a lot of pent up emotions, they may cry at bedtime. That’s okay and healthy. Let them cry if needed. If it’s hard for you to do that, keep in mind that it’s not a cry caused from any pain. Your child is not hurt, they’re not in danger…they’re simply crying to release all of their little emotions and to soothe themselves.

Moving into the Bedtime Routine

Starting about 30 minutes before bed, you will begin your bedtime routine. This is going to be a special time to bond with your child and fill their emotional cup before having them sleep in their room.

You can start with a lukewarm bath, followed with a gentle massage with lotion. Sometimes, depending on your child’s age and skin sensitivity, applying mom’s lotion will help ease any separation anxiety.

The bath doesn’t have to be a long event. Five minutes is perfectly fine. And really, the bath is just a cue for your child that nighttime is here (as well as cleaning off the dried peas along their neck). So if you need to skip a bath one night, that’s fine! You can take a warm wash cloth and wipe your child’s face and hands.

Next, you’ll dress them in pajamas, read a story, and if you want, you can cuddle with them for a bit. Of course, as a former English teacher and librarian, I would require a book in the bedtime routine. And for toddlers, they may be in the habit of wanting books at bedtime. But do newborns need story time?


Even babies can look at pictures and become excited when looking at all of the colors. This is also a good time to bond with your baby, especially if you work during the day. And as your baby grows, having conversations about books will help your child’s reading and social development. My last push for books is that it’s a great buffer for children who have a feeding before bed but can’t lay down right away.

My daughter needed to stay sitting upright for 15 minutes after eating, so story time was the perfect activity to pass the time.

Then when it’s time for bed, you can to kiss your angel goodnight, turn on the sound machine, turn off the lights, and shut the door and leave.


Bath. Lotion. Pajamas. Story. Cuddles. Bed.

If you want to add anything into your routine, you can! Some parents who work away from the home may want to add in time to have a conversation about how the day went. Or if you’re a mama to a newborn, you may want to give one final feeding before laying your little one down. The key is to find what works for your family and stay consistent with it.

You notice I didn’t mention getting your child a drink of water, letting them get up to go to the bathroom, fulfilling all of their requests, or rocking your baby to sleep?

There’s a reason for that – you don’t.

If your child is older than 4 months, they are developmentally ready to fall asleep without your assistance. Sometimes, that’s easier said than done. If you struggle with multiple requests at bedtime or find yourself bewildered as to why your baby begins crying the second you put them down, consider one of the Rockabye Mama Packages. We will work with you and your child to make bedtime an easier process.

Final Words

Stay consistent. Stay consistent. Stay consistent.

Any change will require commitment if you want to see results. Remember, our goal of a bedtime routine isn’t to get our child to fall asleep, but to cue their bodies that it’s time for sleep.

The only way we will accomplish that is if we do it over and over again.

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I’m Katie

certified pediatric sleep consultant

Fueled by equal parts caffeine and passion, I spend my days helping exhausted mamas get their babies the sleep they need. 

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