What Are Some Good Bedtime Habits to Develop in My Child?

By Nicole Gorton, MD, Pediatrician

Depending on the child, bedtime can be a blessing or a curse. Some will hate getting into bed; others will dive for the crib the moment you enter the bedroom.

Don’t wait

Here is the first rule: don’t wait. If it looks like your baby is tired, it’s time for bed. The last thing you want to do is allow young ones to get overtired, which can make them overly sensitive to light, noise and other stimuli. Signs of sleepiness aren’t that different in babies than they are in adults: eye rubbing, grouchiness.

Develop a routine

Set up a bedtime routine. Change their diaper, take them on a walk, sing to them, give them a bath or any combination of these. In time, the baby will learn that this means they are getting close to bedtime. Be careful, though. An overly elaborate routine might back you into a corner later on. The child will expect — and possibly demand — the full treatment.

After six months of age, most babies should not need to feed after bedtime. After that, don’t let your child fall asleep with breast milk or a bottle. Otherwise, your little one may wake up throughout the night needing to be fed again to transition back to sleep.

Overall, make sure you’ve set up a routine that’s sustainable.

Decide how to handle wake ups

At some point, your baby will wake up and cry out for you. How you deal with this is an individual choice. Some parents let the baby “cry it out.” Others pick the child up and help him or her get back to sleep. Keep in mind, your child eventually will have to learn to self-soothe and go back to sleep on their own. Figure out your best family strategy to get them there.

As best you can, put your child on a schedule. This is especially true for older children. Regular sleep times help set their biological clock. That means waking them at a consistent and appropriate time. Late sleeping can throw them off.

Later, especially after your child has learned to talk, they may resist bedtime, devising elaborate stalls. Be gentle but firm. They know they are tired.

This Scripps Health and Wellness tip was provided by Nicole Gorton, MD, a pediatrician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center in San Diego.