“Once upon a time” & Bedtime routines

Is a bedtime routine really necessary?

I know I’ve devoted a lot of blog space to sleeping issues so far. That’s been the center of my daughter’s and my world for the past 3 weeks. I mentioned in my last post that I’d talk more about bedtime routines… so here’s one more post about good sleeping habits I’ve come across.

All the sites and books I referenced about sleep training all mentioned the importance of a solid routine before putting the baby down in the crib. I actually blew off the advice the first couple of days of sleep training. You see, in Indian families, kids don’t generally sit in their parent’s lap in a rocking chair reading a book before going to sleep. I didn’t grow up with that. When friends around me would get nostalgic when hearing the words “Goodnight Moon,” I’d shrug my shoulders. (Actually, I still haven’t read that book.)

I may not have early memories of children’s picture books (or any memories, for that matter), but I do remember reading Nancy Drew in bed before nodding off. My parents instilled a love for reading, but I always read on my own. I was never really read to.

So, when the books mentioned a bedtime routine, I thought it was a pretty non-Indian thing to do. Instead, when sleep training, I’d close the door behind us, turn on the fan for white noise, close the curtains, plop her down in the crib with her blankie, and then walk out the door.

When she finally gave into sleep, my husband and I would go into our bedroom for the night. Once in bed, he’d spend time on his phone, browsing articles about cricket and I’d spend time (always less than the hubby because I have to get to sleep before the snoring begins and the world shakes) on my iPad. When we’d start to feel drowsy, we’d turn off the lights and drift off to sleep.

Two days into the sleep training, I made this observation to my husband… We give our bodies time to transition from an alert to a drowsy state before nodding off. We’re not giving our daughter that chance.  One minute, she’s bouncing in our arms, and the moment we see her rubbing her eyes, we plop her in the crib. She has no transition time.

And then it clicked…

So, that’s what the books were talking about. We really did need a bedtime routine, and it really did serve a purpose other than future moments of nostalgia for our baby.

I went back into my copy of Weisbluth’s Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child for a refresher:

Just as soothing helps your child feel safe and secure, bedtime routines help all children calm down before falling asleep, because both are associated with the natural state of relaxed drowsiness. As with soothing, bedtime routines should be started early, before sleep signs change into overtired fussy signs… In addition to being consistent in your bedtime routines, you must cultivate patience, because it may take time for your child to get the message that this is not the time to be playing.

He goes on to give a list of possible things to include in the routine:

  • less noise, dimmer lights, less activity
  • quiet, dark, and warm room
  • bath
  • massage
  • dress for sleep
  • swaddle, if it relaxes your baby
  • lullaby
  • favorite words, sounds, phrases
  • feed

Our Routine

About an hour after her last nap, I feed her solids, give her a bath and lotion massage,  change her into her pajamas, and then nurse her. I let her play as long as she wants after that (it’s generally about 15 minutes) until she gives me her sleeping cue: the classic rubbing of the eyes. That’s when I start our bedtime routine. I do the following:

  1. Hold her in my arms as I walk into her room
  2. Dim the lights
  3. Close the door
  4. Turn on the fan for white noise
  5. Walk to the window. I give her a chance to smile at the lights and touch the window before saying, “Bye, bye sun” and closing the curtains. (She doesn’t know that we live in freakin’ Minnesota where the sun’s said its goodbye at 4 pm – it’s just a matter of keeping things the same for nap time and bedtime)
  6. Sit down in the rocking chair and read a few books. If she’s still not drowsy, I play with her quietly, while staying in the chair.
  7. As soon as she rubs hers eyes again, I pace with her a couple times while saying, “Shhhh….”
  8. We walk over to the crib, where I give her the blankie to hold, and then lay her down.
  9. At that point, I hold my breath, walk out the door, and head towards the baby monitor.

Sometimes, the process takes less than 5 minutes (when she’s pretty tired) or it takes up to 15 minutes. I make it a point to only put her in the crib once she’s reached her drowsy state. It’s only fair. Also, then when she cries or fusses, at least I know through and through that she really is sleepy.

I can say that I truly feel that the sleep training succeeded so well because of the consistent sleep routine. I say that because now when I “shhhh” her at the end, she’s rubbing her eyes like crazy, as if she knows what’s coming. When I put her into the crib, it’s not a complete shock anymore.

Tonight, I didn’t hear a thing in the baby monitor. She played with her feet for a few minutes and was out. Though, I admit naps are more inconsistent. Usually, she doesn’t cry at all or just fusses. There are still times though that she’ll cry for up to 10 minutes. I don’t blame the routine – I feel starting the routine at the first sign of her sleep cue is key. If I start it too late, she’s overtired and it’s harder for her to settle into a drowsy state.

Some may say that she’ll get overdependent on the routine, but I think I’ll be able to truncate it after a while. Today, for a nap, for example, I dropped the reading portion, and she still rubbed her eyes during the “shhh-ing” and went off to sleep without a whimper.

For now, though, I’m enjoying the time with my baby girl. I love reading, and I love seeing her excitement when I pull out a book. Maybe our next one will be Goodnight Moon

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