Parenting is tough. Getting your baby to sleep-even tougher. Want to make the sleep process a little easier? Try using a wind down routine before each sleep period!
Children are always on the go-moving, exploring, learning. This can make getting ready to sleep, a challenge.
But a wind down routine can help your child switch from the intensity of daytime, to the relaxing period of sleep time.
Ultimately, this means your job, as the parent becomes easier! Why is this? Let’s take a quick look deeper…
The Science of The Wind Down:
There are two biological factors at play that influence sleep; circadian rhythms and the homeostatic sleep drive (also called sleep pressure).
Circadian rhythms can be thought of as internal clocks that run throughout a 24 hour period and the sleep/wake cycle in particular. Sleep pressure, on the other hand, starts to build from the moment your child wakes up and is relieved after a restorative sleep period.
When your child is getting close to nap time, a wind down routine can work with both the circadian rhythm and the sleep pressure.
This happens due to the repetition and your child’s ability to recognize patterns. Since the routine is repeated, over time, it begins to trigger a biological response in your little one.
Melatonin, the natural sleep hormone is released, core body temperature is lowered to help start the sleep process.
With a long, deep sleep, the sleep pressure is then relieved and the process begins again.
When To Start a Wind Down Routine:
You can begin implementing a pre-sleep routine anytime around 6-8 weeks of age. This is often around the same time when your baby is beginning to smile at you.
Smiles, especially in response to when you smile at them, signals that your baby is beginning to recognize cues and patterns.
It’s a perfect time to begin implementing a wind down routine before all naps and bedtime.
But don’t worry if your baby is older and you haven’t started one yet-it’s never too late, whether they are 6 weeks, 6 months or 6 years!
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Four Key Elements of a Perfect Wind Down Routine:
The perfect pre-sleep routine is short, simple and consistent.
We don’t want a routine that has so many steps, that it’s difficult or confusing for an alternate caregiver to do.
Or, even worse, a routine that is too long and your child becomes overtired during the process.
Short and simple is best!
Here are the 4 key components to include…
Feed Separate from Sleep:
Aim to keep the time from the end of the feed and placing your child into their crib by 10-15 minutes. If you are offering a bottle or nursing before a nap or bedtime, do this at the beginning of the routine.
If your child is prone to falling asleep during this feed, then you will want to consider doing this feed in another room other than their bedroom.
This alternative space should be bright, well-lit, but have no distractions such as a TV on, or other people around.
If you are not offering a feed, or it’s complete, go into your child’s bedroom and darken it.
You can say “goodnight” to the sun, street, trees, the window, etc., while you do this.
Any light that you do have on in the room, should be very low wattage. Avoid LED lights if possible as these have a blue-based light that can interfere with your baby trying to settle.
You can do a few short and simple relaxing activities here. Diaper change, massage, into pjs/sleep sack, read a book, sing a song.
Any of these are great options, but you don’t need to do all of them.
Pick a few so that the wind down is kept under 15 minutes.
Repeat this wind down routine before every nap and bedtime. Generally the one at night may be slightly longer if it includes a bath.
Overall, your child will pick up on the repetitive nature of this pre-sleep routine over time. This is why you want it to be short and simple; any caregiver can do it.
If you are wanting to lengthen naps and night sleep, then the goal of the wind down routine is that it ends with your child still completely awake.
This allows them to practice transitioning between eyes open to eyes closed without extra help. Overtime, when repeated, your child then learns the skill of falling asleep with greater independence.
That skill will translate to night sleep and naps as well.
Please note, your baby should be at least 4 months and a few night feeds may still be needed.
If you are working towards having your child learn to fall asleep more independently, then you can choose to shorten or reduce the amount of help you are offering during the wind down each day, or every second day.
You can go as fast or slow as you would like with this step! Tailor it to your comfort level.
A wind down routine is a simple and easy way to help your little one to get ready to sleep. It allows them some one-on-one quiet time with their caregiver, while also acting a biological cue to initiate the sleep process.
With time and repetition, this pre-sleep routine can be a special time everyone looks forward to while also helping to foster great sleep habits.
If you need more help with your child’s sleep, book a private consultation here.