Bedtime Do's and Don'ts
The Big Settle Down: Age-Based Tips
for Sleeping Through the Night
Do's and Don'ts
Sleep can be an emotional issue for
the whole family. Children are often
reluctant to separate from Mom and
Dad at the end of the day. They're
revved up, and they want to continue
the fun. They may also have some
fears about being alone in the dark
or away from loved ones.
Meanwhile, sleep-deprived parents
may be longing for a chance for some
shut-eye themselves, or even just
some quiet time with each other. On
the other hand, parents who have
spent a long day at work may crave
more time with their children than
bedtime allows. Often it's a mix of
several feelings, making it a
complicated time. Bedtime is hard
for parents, too.
Here's what you can do to develop
bedtime rituals that make sense.
Consider a ritual carefully.
Not every bedtime routine will stand
the test of time. Once something
becomes established in your child's
mind, she'll come to expect it —
and do you really want to sing the
entire soundtrack to "The Lion
King" night after night? Choose
your rituals carefully, or you may
Some good, time-tested rituals to
- A warm bath, then some snuggle
time in clean jammies.
- Reading a favorite book or
listening to soothing music.
- A favorite song, sung by Mom,
Dad, or the whole family.
- Being tucked in tight with a
special dolly, stuffed animal,
- A gentle back rub.
Have a fairly firm bedtime and a
predictable order of events.
Toddlers will benefit from a
reminder about half an hour ahead of
time, then another about 10 minutes
before bedtime. Springing bedtime on
them suddenly will only make them
more reluctant to give up their
current activity. Make sure the
ritual takes place in their own room
or sleeping areas, too.
Keep activity low-key.
Don't overstimulate your child right
before bed. For a baby, clear out
the mounds of stuffed animals from
the crib and offer her just one
favorite to settle down with.
Removing toys will signal that it's
time to quiet down. For an older
child, no roughhousing or watching
TV before bed.
Let the ritual become too elaborate.
With a 10-month-old, your routine
may last just a few minutes, whereas
15 to 30 minutes is the right length
of time for a toddler or
preschooler. More than 30 minutes is
almost always too long.
Leave the lights on.
It's important for a child to learn
to distinguish day from night —
and that nighttime is for sleeping.
If she does wake up and it's dark,
she'll know that it's not time to
get up yet. Leaving a bright light
on is confusing.
Put your baby to bed with a bottle.
First, it's true that sucking helps
soothe a baby to sleep, but
swallowing milk or juice throughout
the night bathes the teeth in
decay-causing sugars. Second,
drinking while lying down can lead
to fluid buildup in the ears. And
third, if your child is accustomed
to falling asleep with a bottle in
her mouth, she'll have trouble
settling down when she awakens
during the night and finds no bottle
or an empty one.
If your child is sick or going
through a stressful time, it's
perfectly okay to bend the bedtime
rules a little. But don't dismantle
the routine entirely. For instance,
you might want to read one extra
story, but not let her sack out in
front of the TV.
Rush into solid foods to help your
Some parents are convinced that
babies wake up so often because
they're not satisfied with a liquid
diet. But breast milk or formula is
the ideal food for a baby's first
six months. Solids don't really
promote sleeping at night, so don't
introduce them before your baby is
six months old unless your health
care provider recommends it.
Give bedtime your full attention.
Bedtime should be a special time for
you and your child. Don't
shortchange her by being preoccupied
with something else. Focus on her
alone as you snuggle, bathe, or read
to her each night, and you'll both
be the happier for it.
Take away a bedtime ritual as
Keep it sacred.
Big Settle Down: Age-Based Tips for
Sleeping Through the Night
All of us, from newborns to adults,
move between light sleep and deep
sleep during the night. Anyone who
boasts that her child sleeps
straight through really means that
when the child comes up into light
sleep, he can get himself back down
without crying or calling for a
parent. How can you help your child
reach that same milestone? Scroll
down to your child's age to find
to 3 months
A newborn's daily habits aren't
fully established yet, so in the
first weeks it's fine to let her
doze off while you're nursing or
rocking her. But by 8 to 10 weeks,
she can begin learning to fall
asleep on her own. Letting her fall
asleep while feeding can establish a
link between the two, making her
more likely to cry for more when she
wakes up later. If she starts to
look sleepy during a feeding, ease
her into her crib. Stay nearby as
she nods off, but don't hold her or
rock her to sleep. Babies this age
need to feed around the clock, so
don't expect an undisturbed night.
When your baby wakes up at night,
it's your job to teach her that it's
not playtime but feeding time. Don't
turn on the lights or carry on a
conversation. Just feed her, change
her if she's wet, and set her back
in her bed. The less interesting you
make nighttime awakenings, the
sooner she'll catch on.
to 6 months
By 4 months, a baby can sleep six to
12 hours straight through. Don't
rush to pick her up as soon as she
groans or whimpers, and chances are
she'll fall back asleep by herself.
If she does wake up and wants a
feeding, stiall a bit to be sure she
really needs it. If she's been fed
and changed and is still crying for
you, go in and let her know you're
there, but resist picking her up.
Pat her and speak softly. Let her
discover her own style of settling
herself back down into sleep.
to 12 months
Even if your baby "slept
through" before, she'll likely
start making a fuss at night again
due to her newfound thinking skills:
She can now really miss you when she
doesn't see you. A brief reassurance
when she awakens will help her
through this stage.
Babies' sleep patterns are often
disrupted while they're mastering a
new skill. For example, if your baby
is learning to pull herself up to a
standing position, expect her to
practice this in her crib at night,
If you've gone back to work and
find your milk supply decreasing, a
nighttime feeding can help you
maintain a good level of milk
supply. It's easiest to keep your
baby in your room if this is the
case, but make sure your spouse is
amenable to this arrangement.
year to 18 months
If your child is still waking up
during the night, this strategy may
help: Wake your toddler before she
wakes you. Before you go to bed at,
say, 11 p.m., wake her up to comfort
and even feed her. Say to her,
"Now you can manage for
yourself when you wake up
later." Then be sure you let
her. Comfort her, but don't take her
out of her crib. You may find that
she doesn't wake later on. For some
reason, rousing a child first often
breaks the cycle of waking in the
middle of the night.
Be aware that if you've had your
child sleeping with you all these
months, it will be increasingly
difficult to coax her back into her
own bed. Babies this age are
starting to have opinions of their
own, as well as a growing
inclination to voice them.
This is the age when many children
graduate from a crib to a bed, if
they haven't already moved. Toddlers
normally go through periods of
nighttime insecurity and may make
periodic trips to their parents'
bedroom. You might put a mattress or
sleeping bag near your bed and tell
your child that she's welcome to
come in and use her special bed, but
not to wake you. Or you can lead her
back to her own room. If you
regularly give in to her pleas to
sleep in your bed, she'll come to
expect it every night. You have a
choice, but you should be consistent
so she learns the rules.