Want a baby bedtime that’ll help babe sleep easily and stay asleep? Put these 4 habits into practice and you’ll see baby start snoozing away.
I remember the first time my son started screaming his head off in those evening hours…
I was shocked.
Whoever started the “sleeping like a baby” phrase had not encountered my firstborn boy at bedtime. Oh no, they hadn’t.
It was in those first few weeks when I realized that this bout of crying in the early evening actually had a name.
These were called the “witching hours.”
After a few evenings of this I began to feel crazy, panicked, and anxious as evenings approached.
It was hard to handle hours of unhappiness.
With a lot of reading, experimenting, and asking around… I figured out how to minimize these witching hours. Then, with the next 3 babies, I was able to eliminate those times almost entirely.
Occasionally, if baby was extremely overtired, we’d have a tough time, but otherwise… smooth sailing.
So what’s the key to having a calm and restful bedtime period and longer periods of sleep for little ones?
Read: Foolproof Baby Sleep Tips — Routines, Habits & Strategies
4 Essential Elements To A Successful Baby Bedtime Routine
Consider these factors when establishing a baby bedtime routine and you’ll be well on your way to peaceful evenings.
Read: How To Get A Newborn To Sleep Well From Day One
Choose The Time Wisely
While there is no hard and fast rule, most experts agree that an earlier bedtime is better than a later one. When newborns are so little they’re napping on and off all day and night, it isn’t as important.
But once babies reaches 3 or 4 months, establishing a set time, say 8 p.m. or so, means that baby’s body clock will align with bedtime, making things easier.
Use these baby logs and checklists to determine why baby isn’t sleeping well, if that’s an issue.
Read: Cocooning a Newborn & 7 Reasons Why it Can Be Good For The Family
Factors To Consider:
- Choose a morning wake time, then backtrack to get a bedtime. If you don’t want baby to sleep until 10:00 a.m., don’t put bedtime at 10:00 p.m.
- Choose a baby bedtime that fits around the other kids’ bedtimes. If it takes you a bit longer with baby than everyone else, put other kids to bed then do baby just after.
- “They” say that every hour of sleep before midnight counts as two so, unless baby takes a nap that goes on into early evening, don’t push bedtime back too far.
Cluster Feed When Possible
Cluster feeding is when you feed baby closer together than normal in a given period of time.
If you normally feed baby every 3 hours, a cluster feed might be feeding baby every 2 hours from 4:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. If you are nursing, cluster feeds are very effective for settled babies.
Benefits of Cluster Feeding
- The quality of breast milk can deteriorate as the day goes on due to a variety of factors (diet, stress hormones, etc.) so cluster feeds at the end of the day mean baby does not get fussy from hunger due to lower calorie milk. (Here’s how to tell if baby is getting enough milk)
- Cluster feeds will fill baby’s belly so they’re more likely to go to sleep easier, without fuss, and stay asleep longer.
- Cluster feeds will help you make sure baby is getting enough of their nutritional needs during the day so they wake less frequently at night.
- Frequent feeds will keep up your milk supply.
- Cluster feeding minimizes witching hours. They are somewhat unexplainable and unavoidable, but you can minimize both witching hours and colic by providing baby frequent feeds in a short period of time in the early evening period.
Read: Simple Baby Advice That Stands The Test Of Time
Put Baby In Their Own Space
Imagine going to sleep in your comfy safe bed and then, an hour or two later… waking up on a new pillow in a new place. Would you be disoriented?
Yes, and you’d probably fully wake up to investigate your surroundings.
This is what happens if you try to put baby to down in one place (including your arms) and then expect him to keep sleeping when he wakes up somewhere else.
Read: How to Stop Contact Naps (Peacefully)- and What to Do Instead
Things To Consider:
- You can have a separate napping bed than nighttime bed, but be consistent with where you put baby to sleep and where you want them to remain sleep.
- Choose an area for nap away from the hustle and bustle main living areas of the home. Here’s how to keep noisy siblings from being a problem.
- Have a naptime routine that will help baby calm down from the normal stimulation of the household to being ready to sleep.
Read: Common Habits That Help And Hurt Baby’s Sleep
A Good Wind Down Routine
A good wind down routine is an essential ingredient to helping baby’s body calm down in order to sleep.
If baby is in a room with loud siblings then you march him into his nursery, turn off the lights, and put him in his bed, that’s a recipe for frustration and crying.
In order for baby’s body to begin to calm down, release melatonin (sleep hormone), they need a short period of time in which you repeat your chosen sleep associations.
Create sustainable sleep habits for your little lamb so the whole family can sleep peacefully without the stress, drama, and tears.Learn More
Babies will begin – from that very first week – to associate things with sleep.
If you always nurse a baby to sleep, rock a baby to sleep, or lie down with baby to help them go to sleep they will need this. These are called sleep props because they prevent baby from learning how to get to sleep on their own.
Essential elements to a wind down routine include positive sleep associations which are those things that baby associates with sleep that help them calm down and get to sleep on their own.
You may want to print these beautiful wind down routine cards and hang them in your nursery as well.
Read: End Baby’s Witching Hour — In 4 Simple Steps
Wind Down Routine Essentials:
- Turn down lights so the room is dim.
- Use your phone app or a machine and turn on white noise.
- Hold baby in a relatively still and comfortable position so they become calm.
- Rock, swing, or move gently to help baby get drowsy.
- Put baby into their own sleep space while drowsy, but still awake.
- Swaddle baby and then, if desired, offer baby the pacifier.
Read: Wind Down Routines Guaranteed To Help Baby Sleep
Learn how to space naps, how many a day per age, best times, etc. and get your nap game ON!
All in all, baby bedtime doesn’t have to be such a big battle. It may take a few nights of tweaking your current routine, but I’m confident you can see positive changes in just a few short days.
You can begin making positive changes that take the bedtime from 3 hours of shenanigans to 20 minutes of precious bonding time.
Common questions about bedtimes for babies
Typically, between 6:30 and 7:30 pm is the best time for baby to go to bed. This will help prevent overtiredness and let them take advantage of the deepest time of sleep (before midnight).rnrnWhen babies have missed naps, move bedtime up slightly so they don’t go into the night overtired. When baby is overtired they will release stress hormones that will make it harder to stay asleep.
If baby is currently going to bed late and you want to move it up until, say, 7 p.m. you can try a few things. You can go cold turkey and move bedtime to 7 p.m. and help settle your little one if they protest.rnrnOr you can move bedtime up in increments. Don’t allow napping past 3:30 p.m. at the latest, and then move bedtime up by 15 or 20 minutes each night until you reach the desired bedtime.
Baby bedtime can begin to feel like an actual nightmare. You just want baby to sleep well.
You just want to have some peace and quiet after a long day of momming and yet you are spending so much time trying to comfort an exhausted baby and wondering where it all went to pot.
Because moms with babies are busy (and tired) I created a set of nitty gritty baby sleep checklists that get straight to the point.
These lovely cards and checklists will help you create and keep healthy wind down and sleep routines for your little ones.Learn More
Hey! My son is close to two months! And my struggle is that he just doesn’t wake up! If he’s sleepy he will easily keep sleeping even if I pick him up to feed him. So it’s hard for me to put him on a schedule.
Any suggestions or ideas I of what I could try.
The other struggle is every parents nightmare! Is that he sleeps more calmer upside down and fusses to much even when swaddled.
I was having the same problem.
If I needed to wake my babies up I changed their diaper. The cold air and manipulation annoys them but they woke up ;)
I have not received any information that I requested over a week ago.
Rachel Norman says
Hi Jeanine, you should have immediately received an email. Did you check the spam folder?
I just wanted to find out if your methods, (e.g. Cluster feeding), only work if the mum breastfeed? I sadly could only formula feed.
Rachel Norman says
Candice, I do think you can cluster feed ABSOLUTELY but baby may not need as many!
First I want to say that your posts have been a huge blessing for me and saved my sanity last week! I have a 5 week old that will sleep for hours being held but hates being put down to sleep. I started doing your newborn routine along with your other recommendations (including your swaddle and pacifier) a week ago and have seen a huge difference. He went from sleeping 30 min at a time to around 1-2 hours at a time and even 2.5 at night. However last night we seemed to have regressed. He’s back to not wanting to be put down to sleep. He usually will go down okay but wakes up every few min with either spitting up or gas pains, starts crying and will not put himself back to sleep. I’ve tried burping, rocking, patting, letting him cry a few min but nothing is seeming to help. Any ideas?
Thank you for your advice and wisdom. You are a blessing!
I have a four month old, who was 6 weeks early and only woke every 2 hours to feed until last month. He is awake more often during the day now, but naps are sometimes really stressful as baby doesn’t always want to go to sleep even though he is obviously tired. As soon as I notice his tiredness cues (rubbing his eyes, staring into the distance, yawning) I try to take him up to his room, which is quiet and calm, for a nap- should I be drawing the curtains as well every time he has a nap? I find that even though I am rocking him or rubbing his back, he is still quite alert (gurgling, laughing etc) and finds it difficult to sleep. On some occasions when I put him down in a drowsy state he will become fully alert and I have to start the whole process again. Getting him to sleep can take longer than his actual nap! I’ve read your recommendations that babies of this age are usually not awake for more than two hours but as a result this isn’t the case with my little one.
Sometimes he can sleep for up to 2 hours during the day with 2 shorter naps either side, other days it;s 2 short 20- 30 minute naps.
On days like this, bedtime isn’t fun even though we have a set routine of feed, bath, massage, lights down low and bed. Should I try moving his feed so it is closer to when he is going to sleep like after his massage? I’ve tried moving bedtime up when he hasn’t napped well during the day but it is not always successful.
Trying to establish a daytime routine when his nap times are like this is hard and I’m not quite sure what else to try. I do swaddle him.
I would be extremely grateful if you could share any suggestions about what I should try.
He is my first child and bottle fed.
My 11 month old used to sleep from 8pm-8am which worked perfectly for childcare in the mornings as I head help from 7:30 onwards, but she started sleeping through the night last week which is excellent but she sleeps now 8pm-6:30 am. Then around 8am again she is so tired and just sleeps for another 2 hours.
How can I encourage her to sleep till 8, or later In the morning. I don’t mind putting her to bed later If it means she’ll wake up later as I leave for work at 6am and I I start In a week!
Would really appreciate some help please.
Any suggestions on this? Have the same problem :(
Laura Quinn says
My baby is nearly 6 months old, were struggling to feed him at the moment (he basically refuses most feeds and im not forcing him) so cluster feeding later in the day is difficult so we always have a stressful bedtime routine and now (as of the last week or so) both night and day sleep is dreadful. Im so lost and cant figure out how to change it.
Rachel Norman says
Laura, do you have a high enough milk supply? Does he refuse ALL feeds? So, if you feed him at 7 am, say, then try to feed him again at 10 am, would he take it? Or are you offering to feed him a few times an hour? Need more info!
I put my 3 month old to bed drowsy but awake… but then she just cries! Does this mean we need to sleep train/controlled cry? Or rock her to sleep? She also will fall asleep when I rock her but she wakes up a few minutes later crying. Almost every night!
Rachel Norman says
Have you done my free sleep series? It could be because she doesn’t know how to put herself to sleep, she is overtired, she’s hungry, etc.