Our Sleep Routine
Ok Friends, let's talk about setting up a sleep routine!
Wait... did you say 'routine'?
No no, that's not for me. I'm simply not a routine person and have never been able commit to one.
Those words echo in my ears as I type this, said by me as I sat contemplating the sleep struggles I was going through with Totes at the time. I had come across others saying how babies thrived on routine, but I thought if that was the case, we were both just doomed. I am not a routine person. Never have been and as much as I've tried, never will be. I love change! Love variety and to constantly mix it up. I'm the person that looks forward to moving and am always planning our next vacation to somewhere we've never been before. Give me all the new feels!
So my point is, this post is not telling you that in order to improve your baby's sleep, you have to do the same exact thing every day at the same time. No way man, I could never commit to that. But can you commit 15 to 30 minutes a day of predictability to help get your baby down for a nap or bedtime?
I think you can.
If I can, you can, trust me! So get the idea out of your head that the word routine has to mean you'll be doing the same mundane thing every day for the rest of your life... having children is the most unpredictable and erratically changing event you'll ever experience after all!
As I reflect on my own two children, Totes was born a bad sleeper and through my lack of knowledge and experience, I created bad sleep habits in him that made him a worse sleeper. In contrast, Apple was born a good sleeper and by learning from the mistakes I made the first go around, I helped push her into a being better sleeper for the long term.
With Totes, I always waited until he was over-tired before attempting to get him to sleep and I also nursed him to a deep-sleep state every night and for every nap. I got so far down the rabbit hole with him that I had to nurse him back to sleep with every night-time wake up. At its worst, he was waking every 45 minutes in the night, expecting to be nursed back to sleep. I slept in the guest bed with him to make it easier on myself and my husband, but I was so exhausted from lack of a solid chunk of sleep, I couldn't see straight. I kept making excusing as to why he was nursing so much in the middle of the night. He was, after all, in the first percentile in weight... maybe he was just needing extra calories?
Finally, one day when he was close to a year old, I realized the only reason he was demanding to nurse was because it was the only way he knew how to get back to sleep. I was his pacifier. A human pacifier.
So after that realization, I made small and gentle steps to reverse the process but he has always remained dependent on me for sleep and we still struggle this day, at his age of four years old, to get him to sleep in a bed all by himself. I feel that because I never followed a sleep routine, he never knew when and how to put himself to sleep. Our naps were always horrible, short and hard to achieve and he stopped napping by age two and a half. Just nursing alone wasn't the cue to him to sleep since we nursed on demand practically all day and all night.
When Apple was born, I was terrified of making the same mistakes. From the start, I made sure to not nurse her to deep-sleep and to lay her in the crib sleepy but awake. But I've got to admit, I love nursing my babies to sleep so it's not one that I was able to give up completely, despite all the literature from the 'professionals' saying how detrimental it is for teaching a baby to sleep independently.
I found a middle ground that I could handle that involved a solid bedtime and nap-time routine that included nursing as the final component before being laid down in her crib in a sleepy/groggy state but not yet fully asleep.
I learned of the 2+3+4 schedule only after Apple was a few months old. It made so much sense to me.
Apple really thrived on the schedule from months six through eleven, after which time she dropped to one nap.
What I loved most about this schedule was the flexibility but yet predictability around it. I could count down the minutes from the time she woke up and have an accurate idea of when she would be ready for her next nap or bedtime. If you have a baby in that age range or approaching it, I highly recommend you do some research on it and try it!
The other key component for us was creating a solid nap-time and bedtime routine. By doing so, Apple knew immediately that it was time for sleep when we started our routine and by the end of it, she was ready and out quickly.
The sleep specialist that I followed recommended a 15 minute nap-time routine and a 30 minute bedtime routine. When Apple was around 3 months old, I was looking to stretch out our routine and make it more consistent so I needed a bit of inspiration myself on some sleep-friendly activities. I turned to Google for help and checked out what other moms were doing. Having done this routine now for almost a full year, I can confidently say that it has been a key in getting my baby to sleep and helping her sleep longer. I have found the old saying, sleep begets sleep, to be very true.
While I never intend to create posts that give parenting advice as I simply do not feel qualified to do so, I do want to reflect back on my own experiences with two very different children in hopes that it may inspire others to learn from my mistakes and successes.
So here it is:
Apple's Nap-Time Routine:
- Walking Wind-down: This is our time to walk around the house together as I hold her, talking softly and moving slowly. I ask her if she's ready to go to sleep and she acknowledges with the ASL sign and repeats, Sleep! We end in her room and I shut the door.
- Diaper Change
- Quiet Game/Activity: I have a rotation of Melissa and Doug wooden puzzles that we play with on the floor
- Books: Here I also rotate a selection of books that I read to Apple, usually two or three but depending on how tired she is, I sometimes just skip straight to one and always end with the same one for nap-time; The Very Hungry Caterpillar
- Nurse: We nurse in the rocking chair in her room with the blinds pulled down (which are blackout shades). When she slows down sucking, I pull her off and bring her up to my shoulder as I stand up and walk over the crib, patting her back softly to bring up any air. I lay her down with her favorite Minky Couture blanket and she pulls it close to her face and settles into sleep.
Our Bedtime Routine is similar, but each activity is stretched out a bit longer. Most nights we eat dinner as a family. When my husband is home to cook, he sits with the kids after dinner while I clean up and do the dishes.
Apple's Bedtime Routine:
- Quieting the house. The noise level, be it the TV, music, or just voices, comes down a few notches
- Walking Wind-Down: As we do for naps, we take the time to slowly walk around the house and talk quietly. I ask her if she's ready to go to sleep and she acknowledges with the ASL sign and repeats, Sleep!
- Saying Goodnight to Papa and Totes. I reinforce the verbal cues a lot with Apple because she is speaking and understanding so well and this started young. We head into her room and close the door, dimming the lights and closing the blinds.
- Quiet Game/Activity: We pull out the same rotation of Melissa and Doug wooden puzzles that we play with on the floor
- Diaper Change and Pajamas: During the diaper change, I take the time to give her a massage while I sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. This massage balm is awesome for this purpose! It's also at this time that I put her into the sleep sack that we've been using since she was a newborn, the Zen Sleep Sack by Nested Bean.
- Books: Again, I rotate a selection of books that I read to her, but for bedtime, I always end with Goodnight Moon.
- Nurse: We nurse in the rocking chair again with the white noise machine on. And same moves as with the naps... when she slows down sucking, I pull her off and bring her up to my shoulder as I stand up and walk over the crib, patting her back softly to bring up any air. I lay her down with her Minky Couture blanket and she pulls it close to her face and settles into sleep. Lights completely off.
We continue this routine today. At sixteen months old, she naps once per day between 11/11:30am - 1/1:30pm. Her bedtime is at 7:30pm and she wakes around 6:30/7am.
I know the main question you all want to know is... does she sleep through the night?
She wakes, on average, once per night, expects to nurse for a few minutes, then goes right back to sleep in her crib. That middle of the night wake up is not perfect but I'm happy with it and overall, feel well rested myself.
We still have had plenty of rough nights. Usually when she's teething, or when we travel and change up her environment, but after a few days she adjusts back in to her norm quite well. I do believe without a doubt that the routine has helped her sleep, especially falling asleep really fast (I usually only have to nurse her for under five minutes before she drifts off).
A few more words on the routine here... what I love about having the routine set is that even when we are on the go, which if you know us or follow us on Instagram, you'll know that we are on the go A LOT, the routine, modified, still gives her the mental cues that it's time for sleep. You can bring some of the physical items with you if you know you'll be out of the house, like the final book in your routine. We always bring her blanket and sleep sack with us when we travel. You can do the walking-wind down if you're out too.
We've repeated our routine for long enough that her internal clock is a driving enough factor to get her to fall asleep in the stroller, car seat or carrier when we are on the go. I now plan all our travel times (driving long distance in the car, booking airfare/departure times or when we'll be underway on the boat) around her nap time when I can so she's as well rested as possible, which equals a happier baby!
It's also been possible to tell other caregivers to follow the routine and even though they won't be able to go through the nursing step, they can easily rock or bounce her and she falls asleep quickly and without much fuss with them.
I hope this post will help you in your search for better sleep and you'll give the routine a try. I think it's never too late to start introducing good habits.
There are so many resources out there claiming to get your baby to sleep better, I know it's so overwhelming. I was there, glazed eyes, reading any piece of information regarding sleep improvement that came across my screen, refusing to give in to the advice to just let my baby cry it out alone.
It does get better.
They will figure it out.
Now put the phone down and go (try to) get some sleep!
Additional reading sources I recommend: Sleep Consultant Rebecca Michi's Blog
*this post contains some Amazon Affiliate links*