Is it bad to not have a consistent bedtime routine for baby?
Q: We have a 14-month-old. Her bedtime varies from 8:00 pm-9:30 pm, it just depends on if she is sleepy or maybe we were out a little later than usual. Is it bad to not have a set exact time for bedtime or is a little bit of varying okay?
When it comes to quality sleep in infants, whatever “schedule” works for the whole family is the best for you. In general, sticking to a consistent bedtime and bedtime routine works great for most families. Let me go into some helpful information you should know about promoting good sleep habits in your baby that can last all the way through childhood.
First, a baby naturally feels internal sleep prompts, which we call “neurochemical nags” (NCNs), which cause her to feel sleepy. It is best to watch for these sleepy signs (drooping eyes, rubbing eyes, quieting or fussing, yawning) and put her to bed then. Infants and children have the luxury of listening to these NCNs, while we adults, because of our busy evening activities, often don’t. Babies will often wake up more during the night or have some difficulty falling asleep if this window gets missed. These neurochemicals are known as adenosine and melatonin.
The Flexibility of Bedtime Routines for Baby
What is especially important, even more than having an exact set bedtime, and even more so in some children, is to have a set bedtime routine. You mention having a range of bedtime, between 8 and 9:30. In our busy home with a range of ages of our children, this was very practical. The younger children in a family can be a lot more flexible with the bedtime they need, and if an hour or two delays going to bed happens, they can make it up by sleeping a bit longer in the morning and then having a longer nap.
Setting a Bedtime Routine
In one of our earlier books, The Baby Sleep Book, we wrote about the importance of having a bedtime routine that sets up a child’s brain to think, “After I go through all of these steps (warm bath, stories, nursing, dimmed lights, rocking, lullaby and so on), sleep is sure to follow”, and it usually does. The more you stick to a set routine that works, the more likely your child is to enjoy quality sleep. This, by the way, is true for teens and adults, too. The setting events won’t be all that different – for me, a great way to fall asleep is to nod off with a good book after a shower, and quiet music has filled my mind rather than the late evening news or other screen time.
Written by: Martha Sears R.N.
Martha is the mother of Dr. Bill’s eight children, a registered nurse, a former childbirth educator, a La Leche League leader, and a lactation consultant. Martha is the co-author of 25 parenting books and is a popular lecturer and media guest drawing on her 18 years of breastfeeding experience with her eight children (including Stephen with Down Syndrome and Lauren, her adopted daughter). Martha speaks frequently at national parenting conferences and is noted for her advice on how to handle the most common problems facing today’s mothers with their changing lifestyles. Martha is able to connect with both full-time, stay-at-home mothers and working mothers because she herself has experienced both styles of parenting. Martha takes great pride in referring to herself as a “professional mother” and one of her favorite quips when someone voices their concern about her having eight children in an already populated world is: “The world needs my children.”