A good bedtime routine isn’t just a routine; it’s a work of art. And, being an artsy soul, I love sitting down with a pair of scissors, a bottle of glue and a good A&C project to make. (Yes, I’m being metaphorical - hang in there with me!)
Of course, everyone’s is going to turn out different - but let’s go through some of the basics, and some model bedtime routines by age for you to use as a foundation for your family.
As with every good A&C project, we’ll start off with the components: what your bedtime routine is made out of.
So the first thing is: length. In order for the routine to cue your baby’s or child’s body and brain that it’s time that it’s time to go to sleep, your routine should be long - but not too long. About 20-30 minutes is the ideal length of time for a good bedtime routine.
When thinking about length, it’s also important to keep in mind start and end times. You’ll want to aim to end your bedtime routine by the time your baby needs to go to bed (based on her awake time limit), and work backwards from there.
The length and timing of your routine is the frame that you’ll put all those other pieces in: the fun part!
Here are some ideas of things you can include in a bedtime routine:
Bath ◦ clean up toys ◦ massage ◦ nursing/bottle ◦ lotion ◦ putting on PJs ◦ new diaper ◦ sing song ◦ read book ◦ say shema and hamalach ◦ brush teeth ◦ brush hair ◦ wash face ◦ use bathroom ◦ family lullaby ◦ say ◦ good night to everyone in the family ◦ put on sleep sack ◦ cuddle ◦ close shades ◦ turn off lights ◦ tuck in ◦ share 5 good things or hashgacha pratis, etc. that happened that day ◦ relaxation and/or yoga
That list is not all encompassing, just some ideas of some things that some children find helpful. The main thing is that you and your child should enjoy doing these bedtime activities together.
The last component is the glue that holds it all together: Consistency. Once you make your bedtime routine, keep things boring by having the same steps in the same order every single night. This will be the key to helping your child fall asleep easily night after night.
(Of course, as your child grows older there will be slight shifts in the routine, but overall, on a night-to-night basis, you should aim to keep things pretty much the same.)
All right, we’ve got the components down pat - so let’s move into some model bedtime routines.
If I’m going to be literal - I’d actually say “age .5-3 months.” I’m not such a fan of new mothers doing anything taxing, and a bedtime routine definitely falls into that category. For those first two weeks, don’t worry so much about a bedtime routine.
Once you and your baby are ready for it, though, here’s a sample for a baby 0-3 months:
7:18 PJs + shema
7:30 in crib
*Please keep in mind - timing is approximate! I’ve not done any scientific studies that measure this down to the last minute; this is a SAMPLE. I've included timing so you can see how all the components could fit together into a 20-30 minute period.
A couple things to note about the newborn bedtime routine:
First, I LOVE having a bath as part of the bedtime routine - for a newborn more than any other age. Newborns are pretty much doing the same thing all day long (eat, sleep, diaper change, etc.), but having a bath really differentiates this time of day, and is a great cue. I haven’t found the Shabbos/Yom Tov bathlessness, or only giving a bath every other night to confuse babies all that much, so don’t worry if that bath comes and goes.
Also, the newborn routine is usually on the shorter side - 20, or sometimes even just 15, minutes, depending on how long it takes them to nurse/take a bottle after the last nap of the day.
At 3 months, a baby’s awake time limit is getting longer, which means more time for a routine! During this age, the routine starts becoming more… well… routine. It is easier to do, and usually more enjoyable for moms too, as their babies start to enjoy it more.
Here’s a sample routine for the early infant stage:
6:40 Massage + PJs
6:47 Shema + song + book
7:00 in crib
As they’re getting older, those awake time limits are getting longer, and I like to move the bedtime nursing or bottle farther away from when the baby is in bed.
Here’s a sample routine for the late infant stage:
6:45 Massage + PJs
6:50 read book
6:55 Shema + hamalach + lullaby
6:58 good night to everyone in family
6:59 Put in crib and tuck in with blanky
7:00 turn off lights and leave the room
No, your baby is not technically a toddler yet, at 12 months, but they’re sure starting to act like one… During this stage, most babies/toddlers start to realize that they can say “no” and protest during the bedtime routine.
At 12 months, your baby should no longer be getting any bottles; if you’re still nursing, move that up and out of the routine entirely (usually some time shortly after supper is ideal). Your baby is more aware, more active, and able to participate in the bedtime activity by brushing his own teeth (after you do!), choosing PJs, and even working together to put them on.
Here’s a sample bedtime routine for a pre-toddler:
6:40 brush teeth + PJs
6:45 Read book
6:50 Shema + hamalach
6:52 lullaby + cuddle
6:58 In crib, tuck in
6:59 Say good night to everyone in family
7:00 turn off light and leave room
As your child’s cognitive abilities and physical skills develop, you can start handing pieces of the bedtime routine over to them. Allowing them to choose more and do more when they’re ready will help them feel better about the bedtime routine and be more on board.
I’ve built the routine for a child who’s toilet trained (because my 2.5 year olds are ;) ), and have also crafted this routine for a child in a bed (though I recommend keeping your child in a crib until about age 3).
6:40 Brush teeth + use bathroom
6:46 read book
6:50 into bed + tuck in
6:52 shema + Hamalach
6:54 lullaby + back rubs
7:00 turn off light and leave room
Once your child gets a bit older, you can add some self-relaxation pieces to the mix: some yoga or guided relaxation, as well as some more interaction - talking about their day.
Bedtime is always a special time of day, and having a bedtime routine can make it even more special, helping weed out a lot of the inevitable protest. The best part, though, is that it's an ART, not a science. I have some timings here so you can see how all the pieces can fit together into the 20-30 minutes, but having a bedtime routine shouldn't be something that feels stilted or unnatural - it should be something that feels comfy and cozy and becomes a regular part of yours and your child's evening.
What is your go-to bedtime routine for your children?