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Routine is KING!




I was recently on the radio discussing my top tips for adult and my number one tip? Routine. Routine is routinely my number 1 top sleep tip (see what I did there? lol).


Humans of all ages thrive on predictability. Predictability helps us feel safe and secure - knowing what comes next grounds us and we feel in control. I am sure you can think of a time when you felt panicked and I can bet it was because you felt out of control and there was certainly a level of unpredictability there as well. Am I right? Now take a second to think about your own bedtime routine. We all have them even if they were established subconsciously. Can you think about what happens when you miss a step in your routine? I know I feel off like something’s missing and it can be a bit unsettling! 


Routines offer us a chance to be predictable and to set the stage for feeling the warm and fuzzies (i.e. safe and secure). And it doesn’t have to be just about sleep. When I work with newborn families, we spend a lot of time really focusing on routines for many things - feeding, bathing, outings, and of course sleep. You can have a routine for anything and everything! 


Today’s post is going to go through my typical recommended routine by the ages. It is important to note that your routine doesn’t have to look exactly like mine!! What is overall the most important part of a routine is that you are consistent with it! Make it work for you and stick with it. 


Routines by the ages


Routines typically take about 20-40 minutes. A good routine will not only happen in the same order every time, but it will not be too short or too long. You are going for a Goldilocks effect here - you want the timing to be jussssst right! I find that 30 minutes is perfect. Routines that are too short don’t allow for brains to process the fact that a routine is taking place. Routines too long, the elements of routines take too long and the idea of routine gets lost. Having said that, when you are trying a new routine, give yourself grace as new routines may take a bit longer to figure out. It also depends on the age, so just keep that in mind!


Newborn Routines 0 - 3 months


Newborn wake windows are short, usually about 45-60 minutes (growing to about 90 minutes at 3 months). So you will find that your final wake window of the day may in fact be the entire routine. Find something that works for you and make it manageable.



  • Bath/Wipe Down (optional)

  • Diaper, Lotion Massage, PJs

  • Final feeding - keep baby awake during the feed if possible

  • Cuddle/Sing

  • Swaddle directly in the crib/bassinet

  • Say a consistent good night phrase (such as “Good night, baby’s name. I love you!”)

  • Lights off and white noise machine on


Infant 3 months to about 18 months or so


The biggest change here is the placement of the final feeding. Putting it FIRST in the routine before anything else does a few things: it allows for better digestion which helps baby be more comfortable when laid to sleep (especially for reflux babies!) and works to separate the feed to sleep association.


  • Final Feeding NOT in the nursery, rather, in a common space like the kitchen or living room

  • Bath/wipe down (I recommend a bath when possible because it helps bring down the body temperature, is super fun, and is a huge sleep cue for babies!)

  • Diaper, Lotion Massage, PJs

  • 1-3 short books (I recommend the last book be the same for a few weeks at a time to serve as a trigger book!)

  • Short cuddle (keep baby awake!)

  • Put directly into sleep sack in the crib (move out of a bassinet by 4ish months)

  • Say your consistent goodnight phrase

  • Lights off and white noise on



Toddler Routine 18ish months - 36 months or so


I recommend that toddler stay in the crib as long as possible and at least til they are 3 years old. IF POSSIBLE. This will eliminate some challenges with getting out of the bed and seeking you out during the night time. However, there are some behaviors that usually pop up here and I have extra added components to the routine if these are a challenge for you.



  • Bedtime Snack (if you are still nursing or offering formula/breast milk, great!) 

  • Bath/wipe down/Brush Teeth

  • Make a Pizza: this is a great tool to use if your child is having a harder time separating from you when you leave the room. 

  • 1-3 short books

  • Last Orders: This is a great tool if your child continuously calls for you or asks for thing after thing at bedtime (i.e. stalling bedtime).

  • Into the sleep sack in the crib OR tuck in with a blanket and pillow (I say keep in the sleep sack for as long as possible!)

  • Say your consistent goodnight phrase

  • Lights off and white noise on



Pre-School Routine 3 years - 6ish years


As you can see, not much really changes from age to age. A few things here and there, but the thread is all the same through the ages. As your kiddo grows, taking some time and folding in opportunities for choice and independence is super important. Let them choose the PJs, the books, etc. Keep your parameters, but give them agency. 


Kiddos this age usually make the transition to a toddler bed or big kid bed. A consistent routine is really helpful when making them feel safe. Establishing a routine way to respond to your child if they struggle (i.e. gets out of bed) is also a routine to think about!


  • Bedtime Snack (I recommend staying away from sugar and sometimes dairy, opt for a protein heavy snack vs carbs)

  • Bath/wipe down/Brush teeth

  • Lotion, Pull Up/Underwear, PJs

  • Make a Pizza: this is a great tool to use if your child is having a harder time separating from you when you leave the room. 

  • 1-3 short books

  • Last Orders: This is a great tool if your child continuously calls for you or asks for thing after thing at bedtime (i.e. stalling bedtime).

  • Tuck in with a blanket and pillow (at some point when making this transition, I recommend practicing during the daytime how to pull the blanket back on to themselves so they can do it at night too)

  • Say your consistent goodnight phrase

  • Lights off and white noise on. A night light at this point is just fine, have it on low. Changing to non lyrical lullabies is also great, keep volume on low. 


School Aged Routines


A big turning point for me and my eldest was when she became a super reader - she wanted to do the reading which was super great! Now we are finding a balance between she reads on her own and us reading to her. As a former classroom teacher, I do still think it is important to maintain a level of parental reading to your kids to offer opportunities to talk about the books (check for comprehension, model how to solve for tricky words, retell the story, summarize the story, etc.), to take the load off your kid (they will be tired and tapped out!), AND, most importantly,  it offers a time to build connection. Bedtime is where I get all the 411 of what is happening at school, socially, etc. with my 2nd grader. 


  • Bath/Wipedown/Brush Teeth

  • PJs

  • Books/Talk

  • Tuck in, Say your good nights.

  • Optional independent reading/drawing - Using an OK to Wake clock here can be really helpful! Just use it in reverse. Have it on and when it goes off, it is time for lights out and sleep.



Where else can you make routines?


You can make a routine for so many things - not to get carried away, but routines are life saving for my family, especially as kids grow and they have so many activities to keep track of!


Here are some other places you can consider having routines:


  • Feeding Routines

  • Nap routine

  • Wake window routine

  • Wake up routine

  • Coming home from daycare/school routines

  • Dinner routines

  • How to respond to your child when they wake in the night routines

Conclusion


Establishing a routine should not be difficult. The most important thing is that it is manageable for you and you stick with it. If you need help establishing a routine, send me an email (susan@susanssleepsolutions.com)! I love helping make routines 🙂

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