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Sleep routine for babies and young children

How to build a consistent bedtime routine that will help your child develop good sleep habits

A bedtime routine builds good sleep habits for your child and right into adulthood. You should introduce a bedtime routine around 3 months of age and it should take 30 to 45 minutes.

Newborn babies are too young to follow strict routines. Some sleep for long periods, others for short bursts.

It is important to make your child's bedtime routine as consistent as possible. The same steps should be followed by everyone caring for your child.

Make sure you have a safe sleep routine to help reduce the risk of cot death (sudden infant death syndrome)

Related topics:

Naps for babies and toddlers

How much sleep a newborn needs

Under 6 months

The amount of sleep your baby needs may change over the first 6 months

  1. Feed your baby after a bath or after you change them into sleeping clothes.
  2. Have half an hour between feeding and putting them to bed. Avoid dependence on feeding to sleep which can contribute to your child waking during the night.
  3. Use a dim light, so as not to overstimulate your baby. Avoid blue lights in the bedroom.
  4. Do not talk as it may encourage your baby to stay awake.
  5. Put the baby into the cot while awake so that they fall asleep where they will be waking up.

By 3 to 4 months of age babies begin to settle in to a bedtime routine.

6 months to 2 years

The amount of sleep your child needs between the age of 6 months and 2 years will change. You should change your child’s bedtime routine from 6 months.

From 6 months on, your child moves about during sleep.

To help your child sleep:

  • avoid large meals or sugar before bedtime. Carbohydrates like bread, rice or cereals, and milk are recommended - as they increase production of the sleep hormone melatonin
  • change their nappy
  • read them a short bedtime story - this helps your child relax before sleep
  • leave their bedroom door open so that they can hear soothing and familiar noises
  • leave a night light on so that they do not feel upset if they wake up in the dark. It also makes checking on your child during the night easier
    have quiet time for an hour before bedtime - avoid screens and television

2 to 5 years

It is natural for children to test boundaries at bedtime, particularly between 3 to 6 years.

To help keep your existing bedtime routine consistent:

  • make sure your child has had a good meal, a drink and has been to the toilet. This will avoid requests to get out of bed
  • if your child gets out of bed then return them to their own bed
  • don’t put your child to bed too early - they should fall asleep within 30 minutes of going to bed. 7pm to 8pm is a good time to
  • start a bedtime routine

The key to success is consistency. Keep going even if you meet resistance initially, it will get easier.

Page last reviewed: 14/11/2018
Next review due: 14/11/2021