I like my children to go to bed early.
I’m talking 7pm early.
For me, this is more important than sleeping through the night.
This is the one thing that has kept me sane through the madness of infancy, teething, night feeds, illnesses, tantrums and full time work.
If your baby goes to bed at 7pm, you get your evenings back.
You can catch up on all those jobs you didn’t get to do during the day. You can have a bit of time for your hobbies. You can even hire a babysitter and go out. Or – absolute bliss, as far as I’m concerned – you can go to bed at 7pm yourself.
We got our boys to a 7pm bedtime by the time they were 6 weeks old. With the odd exception, they have been to bed at 7pm every night since. With Ben, it was a happy accident, but with Samuel, we’ve been a bit more intentional.
Like almost all babies, ours were born with their days and nights upside down. They would sleep all day and be much more wakeful at night, sometimes staying awake all evening with only 10 minute catnaps, most often falling asleep during a feed. The “witching hour,” as it is known, would start for us around 5pm, and last until the baby fell asleep, exhausted. This was definitely worse with Ben, who refused to sleep until midnight or 1am in those first weeks. It’s horrible for the new parents: exhausting and relentless. With Samuel, I think we knew a bit more about what to expect, and he was a lot more chilled out, so we were a bit more intentional about bedtime.
I’d suggest starting to establish a bedtime from around 6 weeks.
SIDS guidelines suggest keeping the baby in with you so he or she might go to bed in a Moses basket downstairs, or you might stay in the bedroom with him or her. It’s up to you. Either way, here’s how we established a bedtime routine for our boys.
- 1. Get up at a consistent time in the morning.
I actually think that this was the real reason that Samuel was so easy to get into a bedtime routine. Every morning, at 6.30am on the dot, Ben flings open our bedroom door and shouts, “The sun clock is awake! It’s daytime!” We’ve taught him that he has to stay in bed until the sun comes up on his Gro-Clock.
Anyway, it meant that Samuel was being got up for the day and taken downstairs every morning at the same time. Sometimes he would be sleeping, so I’d leave him in his crib, but he rarely slept for long after 6.30am.
A huge part of establishing a bedtime routine is teaching your child the difference between night and day, and so actually having a set getting up time is crucial. I should probably add at this point that both Tim and I are better in the mornings than we are in the evenings, so it suits us to get up earlier, plus Tim has always had to get up early for work.
- 2. Watch for the sleepy signals.
You know the ones: rubbing eyes, grumpy, wanting to feed all the time… But they just won’t sleep! Just make a note of what time the baby does eventually go to sleep. Then aim to bring that bedtime forward by about 15 minutes every day. So if he’s going to sleep – finally – at 10pm, bring it forward to 9.45pm. Some days it’ll work, some days it won’t. Don’t worry about it too much – you will get there.
- 3. Aim to give the baby a bath just before the baby gets sleepy.
For our babies, the bath was a real signal for bedtime. Both of our boys, once they got upstairs and were lying on the change mat, listening to the running water, would calm down instantly. Then they enjoyed their bath. During those cluster-feeding days, I could hand them over to Tim for their bath and have a break. Some parents like to do massage after the bath which is great.
- 4. Feed the baby after the bath.
I love doing this feed. I turn the lights down low, and read my Kindle while I’m feeding. No other noise or distractions. I feed the baby for as long as I can (I’m breastfeeding, but with Ben I later gave a bottle at this feed). Then I get him into his sleeping bag or, in the early days, wrapped in his blanket.
- 5. Let the baby fall asleep.
On you, in your arms. Feed him to sleep. Give him a dummy. Whatever he needs: swaddling, rocking, sound, give it to him.
I think one of the biggest things I had to learn with Ben was that babies need a lot of help to get to sleep, but then they can quite often sleep through things that would disturb other people. In the first few months, given them all the help they need to sleep.
Then… use your ninja parenting skills to transfer the baby into the crib. Or, if you’re me, wake the baby up numerous times by not being ninja enough. Warm the crib if you like, put the baby’s bottom down first followed by the head, and do it slowly.
- 6. Treat all feeds as night feeds until the morning. Your baby will wake up. Use the same principle: quiet, dark(ish) room, as little fuss as possible.
I’ve been lucky: both my boys have mostly woken up and fed back to sleep. Some babies do fuss and are very awake. In the early days, be kind to yourself: iPlayer on, snacks and drinks to hand etc. Sleep deprivation is no fun at all.
- 7. Gradually bring bath time forward (but keep getting up at the same time).
As you aim to bring the bedtime forward, bring bath time forward. I find that it takes about an hour to bath, feed and get the baby to sleep when he’s not in a cluster-feeding mode.
- 8. Watch nap times as the baby gets older.
When the baby gets into a pattern, I find I need to wake him from his nap before 5pm. This will then get earlier as he or she gets older. So, at the moment, Samuel is 10 weeks old and can stay awake for about 2 hours at a time. To be honest, it’s rare for him to have a nap later in the afternoon, and the time before bed is usually his longest awake stretch of the day, but sometimes he falls asleep. That’s fine, but I try to make sure he’s awake for about 2 hours before bedtime.
With both babies, I’ve been amazed at how easy it has been to get them into a bedtime routine. I won’t say they are good sleepers, as they have both woken up to feed throughout the night, but the bedtime routine has been the one thing that has saved my sanity.