“The bedtime routine for my kids is like this Royal Coronation Jubilee Centennial of rinsing and plaque and dental appliances and the stuffed animal semi-circle of emotional support. And I’ve gotta read eight different moron books. You know what my bedtime story was when I was a kid? Darkness!” -Jerry Seinfeld on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon (February 2014)
I remember three things about going to bed as a kid: brushing my teeth, hugging/kissing one parent, and the other parent saying a prayer with me and each of my three sisters. Then, as Jerry so aptly describes, darkness. Not darkness in a bad way, just a flick of the light switch to signal, “it’s bedtime.” This is the way I always envisioned the bedtime routine with my own children, and though we’re not quite there yet, we’ve finally gotten it down to a manageable 30-minute routine.
You see, sleep is something I value… a lot. When I don’t get enough sleep, I am short and snappy to family, and I don’t perform as well in my day job. I also, unfailingly, get sick every time I go more than a week without a good night’s sleep. Don’t get me wrong: I definitely pull my fair share of late nights and very early mornings to keep our household of two full-time working parents fully-functioning, but I still get my eight hours most nights (even if it means skipping doing the dishes or watching a TV show so I can get to bed at 9 p.m.).
When I was pregnant with our daughter, my husband and I were on the receiving end of a lot of commentary about sleep from well-meaning friends: “Enjoy it now while you still can;” “You won’t sleep again until your kids in their 30s;” “Wait until your kid decides he/she is going to sleep in your bed with you…” In some ways, they were right about sleep as new parents. The first six or eight weeks were brutal, and I was most definitely a zombie 24/7. But as time went on, we were able to ease our daughter into a routine that we’ve been using since she was about 10 weeks (she is now 2), with age appropriate modifications.
Birth to 16-ish months:
- Change diaper, put jammies on (if it’s a bath night, bathe first)
- Nurse and sing songs (while nursing) in her room, very dim nightlight
- Burp, hugs, and lay down in crib, awake (when possible; sometimes she’d nurse to sleep)
- Turn on white noise, very dim nightlight
- Exit room, closing door behind
- Nurse during the night as needed, repeat steps 3-5
16-ish months-age 2 (current):
- Pick up toys in living room
- Change diaper, brush teeth, put jammies on (if it’s a bath night, bathe first)
- Read 2-3 books, in living room
- Hugs, kisses, good-nights
- Go upstairs, turn on fan (for white noise), rock while singing 3-4 songs, very dim nightlight
- Hugs, kisses, good-nights, lay down in crib
- Exit room, closing door behind
Looks pretty simple when written in short, numbered steps, right? HA… it’s not. But in the course of two years, I’d say this routine has worked for us about 85% of the time. The other 15% we made exceptions due to various phases our daughter went through (waking up in the middle of the night hungry or thirsty; waking up screaming/we’d soothe her/she’d scream again, etc). With each phase, we modify the process slightly to attend to her needs, but made every effort to stick as closely to our core routine as possible. The goal was always to get back on track the next night. These phases usually lasted less than 10 (sometimes brutal) nights, but with time and consistency, she’s always fallen beautifully back into the routine (and she typically sleeps 11-12 hours per night).
There are two other key things we’ve tried to do that I think have been helpful as she has gotten older.
- We have always talked her through the steps, describing what will come next: “It’s 7:30. Let’s pick up our toys, and then we’ll go get our jammies on.” Then, “after we get our jammies on and brush our teeth, Daddy will read you two stories.” I even say, “Mommy will sing one more song, then it’s time to lay down in our bed.” When the last song ends, she usually gets up off my lap on her own to get into bed.
- We have always alternated/shared the bedtime routine as much as possible. My husband is typically the bath giver (I can count the number of times that I have bathed our daughter on one hand!), but the rest of the routine is shared equally. Big picture, I believe it helps our daughter understand that both moms and dads are caregivers, and that we support each other as partners in every aspect of parenting. I also think it’s has been important because 99% of the time, our daughter goes to bed equally as well for both of us. It’s also made having a babysitter easier because our daughter (and the sitter) know what to expect.
I’m not a sleep expert by any stretch of the imagination. Perhaps our daughter is an undiagnosed narcoleptic. It’s also possible that we just got lucky with a good sleeper. Maybe our future children will be nocturnal, and my posts will highlight the book Go the F*** to Sleep.
I can tell you that there are nearly 12 million articles and books on babies/kids and sleep, but as with all kid- and baby-related literature, you eventually have to use trial and error coupled with your best judgement to figure out what works best for you and your child.