Baby Bedtimes: Why Sleep Rituals are the Holy Grail of Sleep
Imagine sitting in your lounge minding your own business when someone drags you off to bed without prior warning when you're not even tired. You’d feel confused, rushed, and unlikely to fall asleep anytime soon.
This is how your baby feels if you expect them to go straight to sleep at bedtimes with no pre-sleep routine or prior warning.
Believe it or not babies are far more perceptive than we realise. They pick up on subtle cues from their environment and associate them with specific events. This happens surprisingly quickly and even with very young babies too.
If you are working on establishing a healthy sleep schedule for your baby, sleep rituals will really help set them up to sleep soundly and more consistently. Here’s how it works.
Why Sleep Rituals are the Holy Grail of Sleep
What Is A Sleep Ritual?
Every time you offer your baby a feed or a meal, you give them a bit of warning – sometimes without even knowing it. They may see or hear you preparing a meal, warming up their bottle, shaking it, and popping a bib on. Even the click of your bra strap when you're about to breastfeed signals to your baby it’s time for a feed.
Babies that are bathed every night will quickly become familiar with the sound of running water and get excited in anticipation of what is about to happen.
How does this happen? These are rituals you have adopted naturally over time without even thinking about it, but they are critical warning cues to your baby to help them make sense of their world.
The same applies to bedtimes. Babies need to be guided towards sleep with a bit of prior warning. This is what a sleep ritual offers: a set of repeated activities that occur before every nap or bedtime. These cues help your baby relax and wind down in preparation for sleep.
The Benefits Of Sleep Routines For Bedtimes
Research has shown that babies and children with set routines for bedtimes are more likely to sleep earlier, fall asleep faster, and wake up less frequently.
But the benefits go far beyond a good night’s rest (for babies and the rest of the family!)
According to a report compiling a range of studies on the subject, a robust sleep routine “can contribute to an array of positive developmental outcomes beyond improved sleep, including language development, literacy, child emotional and behavioural regulation, parent-child attachment, and family functioning.”
That’s a lot of power packed into a relatively straightforward ritual!
How To Create Sleep Rituals
Make sleep a sensory experience (I like to refer to it as a saturation of their senses). You can do this by darkening the room (sight), turning on white noise, singing a song,or reading a story (sound), using a swaddle or sleep sack or giving baby a massage (touch) and perhaps a few drops of essential oil or a dedicated lotion (smells).
All these things together become sleep rituals that will prime your baby for sleep. The more tangible the rituals are, the better. Remember, you don’t have to adopt lengthy, drawn-out routines each time you pop your baby down. Sometimes even five minutes of the same cues and rituals is all that’s needed.
Here are some examples of activities you might choose to include in your sleep routine
● Giving a bottle/breastfeeding or providing a healthy snack
● Bathing your baby or putting on a fresh nappy
● Brushing their teeth
● Reading a book or singing a song
● Turning on white noise
● Dimming the lights
● Massaging, cuddling, or rocking
If you offer the same rituals at all sleep times for a few days, you will notice a big difference. Your baby may start to yawn when they enter their darkened room or lunge towards the cot in anticipation of sleep. Some babies may begin to grizzle, stretch, and fuss just before sleep times as the cues are a reminder of how tired they are.
Sleep rituals are simple to initiate but hugely effective. With just a little consistency, you can create sleep routines with positive benefits that ripple throughout your child’s life. If you would like help or support in coming up with a sleep routine for your baby, contact us here at Serene Sleep today.