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The Bedtime Routine

April 4, 2011

If you were to ask me and B what our biggest challenge in parenting has been thus far, we would easily answer:  Sleep! O will be two this June and most nights he still does not sleep through the night.  Do you want to know a secret?  He isn’t the only one.  Most toddlers wake at least once during the night.

In our sleep seeking adventures, we’ve found a couple of things to be most important:  rhythm and environment.

I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s worth saying again…  O’s room is a  calm space primarily for resting and dressing.  Note that I say resting and not necessarily sleeping.  Though we keep O’s toys in the main living space rather than his room, this does not mean his room is off limits during waking hours.  On the contrary, the door is left open and this space gladly serves as a quiet retreat for a little down time to look out a window or rock and read a book.

Some aspects of O’s room that give it this calm feeling are the decor as well as the lack of clutter.  We have intentionally chosen neutrals and blues for a soothing almost spa like palette.  The white curtains diffuse the light coming in through the windows to provide the room with a soft glow.  The lack of clutter applies not only to the physical space but the other senses as well.  One of our best investments for O’s room has been a quality sound machine.  It blocks out noise from the outside world while providing a soothing “white noise” sound.

O’s book sling can be found in our living room

In the book Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne says that a successful night’s sleep begins the minute you wake up in the morning.  This couldn’t be more true, especially for little ones!  Our bedtime routine begins with a predictable rhythm throughout the entire day, including a solid nap.  Our evening routine begins when B gets home from work and then procedes a little something like this:

4:00:  B arrives home and settles in.  The evening meal is prepared.

5:00:  Evening meal at the table together.

6:00:  B does potty and bathtime with O while I wash the dishes and putter around.

6:30:   PJs, 2 books, snack, brush teeth, bedtime book.

7:15:  Say goodnight, hugs & kisses, B rocks O to sleep and sings to him while mama retreats for some mama-time.

Of course, all these times are approximate but it’s amazing how even without looking at the clock it all still seems to fall into place at about the same time each day!  Giving O this predictable rhythm to his day, particularly at bedtime, provides him with an invaluable sense of security.  It also eases our role as the parents of a busy toddler.

What is the bedtime routine like in your home?


  • O sleeps with his Snoedel every night!  (It really does help!)
  • A tutorial for the book sling can be found on Penny Carnival.
  • We have found having a lambskin helps to create a very welcoming sleep environment.
  • If you are looking for gentle sleep resources, we have found both Elizabeth Pantley‘s No Cry Sleep Solution books to be wonderful.
18 Comments leave one →
  1. April 4, 2011 2:04 pm

    We’re kind of all of the place with my daughter’s sleep schedule, sometimes 8:30, sometimes 9:45, sometimes 11:00….maybe it’s because she (almost) 9 months and is a little more adaptable?? However, it has to be pretty dark and we use a sound machine too. Some people scoff at us that our baby won’t sleep wherever, but she is who she is. Has O always been like this or was he like my daughter at that age?

    I think it’s really good for people to hear that many toddlers still wake through the night! Thanks for sharing! And O’s bedroom looks like a place I’d love to take a nap! :)

    • April 4, 2011 7:18 pm

      O has never been a “sleep anywhere” child. He was actually a pretty good sleeper as a young baby. Then at about 7 months, for whatever reason (teething, seperation anxiety, etc…), his sleep habits changed. I’d say that is when we really started to focus on being consistent with his bedtime and the routine has evolved over time as his needs have changed.

  2. April 4, 2011 2:29 pm

    awesome post….like your family, we have always had a very strict no cry-it-out policy. Wesley is 20 months and we still cosleep, but I am sure the time will come when he is ready to transition to a bed. I love the environment you have set up for baby O… calming and lovely. Thanks for the great resources….we have a knot doll similar to a snodele…I might try infusing it and offering it:) xoxoxoxox
    ps- let me know if you’d be interested in a knitted board short swap…they are soooo cute. I could trade for playscapes, needle felted figures (I just made a set of ‘Little bear” characters for a trade..they turned out very sweet), or a rainbow or toadstool stacker:):):)

    • April 4, 2011 8:31 pm

      We still cosleep part-time :) O naps and starts each night in his bed. Sometimes he sleeps through ’til morning. Most nights, he wakes up and then moves into our bed. :)
      I’d love to have another swap, mama! I’ll email you soon♥

  3. April 4, 2011 2:49 pm

    Thanks for posting this – as a new mom, with a now 2 year old, I found that talk of sleep is always a delicate issue with parents, for so many reasons. I read books, we co-slept, we didn’t co-sleep, we tried CIO for about 5 minutes and then I decided to just trust that we would all sleep at some point or another. And, I found my now favorite sleep book, Bed Timing: The “When-to” guide to helping your child to sleep. It is my favorite because it explains what is happening when, when it is appropriate to add structure and when it is necessary to just go with the flow.

    And our solution to sleeping from 7-7, almost every night: routine, routine, routine, his own bed, in his own room and a very predictable and almost military nap time from 1-3pm, everyday.

    • April 4, 2011 8:35 pm

      The “just trusting we would all sleep at some point or another” has gotten B and I through some of the longer nights! And you’re right, sleep *is* such a delicate issue with a lot of parents… What isn’t though? ;) I’m glad to hear you’ve found a solution that works well for your family. :) Thanks for sharing.

  4. Kelli permalink
    April 4, 2011 10:45 pm

    That sound machine….best. purchase. ever! We started out in a VERY small home when Huck was first born. It was the only thing that helped him stay asleep once we got him there, I think. Like, O, he still wakes. Thankfully, my lovely husband is ok with staying in there with him (sometimes falling asleep on the floor!) till he goes back to bed. (He just cannot sleep in bed with us. He likes to sprawl and chatter with Mama and Dada). Anyway…it’s good to know most toddlers still wake, and encouraging that we will all find our own rhythms if we stick to it.

    • April 5, 2011 8:04 pm

      Oh, Kelli! B could probably relate to your husband! He does much of the nighttime snuggling back to sleep. You just have to love dedicated papas!♥

  5. Heidi permalink
    April 5, 2011 3:35 pm

    Glad it’s not just us! Our sweet girl rarely sleeps through the night. And to be fair, since her bedtime is around 7 PM, if she sleeps until 4 AM, that’s still 9 hours. I read the No Cry Sleep Solution, too, and I really liked it, because I’ve never been one to close the door and let a baby scream it out. It might work for some moms, but I couldn’t handle it. One time recently, for 3 days, Isabella wouldn’t go to sleep until I rocked her to sleep and put her down completely out. I did this when she was a baby, and I didn’t care that the ped. suggested I didn’t do that, and Babywise moms crawled my case for it… it worked for me at the time, and I’d do it again that way. She’s a pretty good sleeper and like O, with a routine, goes down pretty easily. That 3rd night, I finally made sure she was dry, fed, not too hot/cold, in pain, etc. and snuggled her for a good 30 minutes… then I plugged in a nightlight with her, which we stopped using because I thought it bothered her for a while (she would point at it and say “no! no!” :) Can you guess what she heard when she got down every morning and ripped it out of the wall?), told her it was time to sleep, kissed her and put her in her crib. She immediately jumped up and started screaming, but I stood outside her door, torturing myself, and within 5 minutes she was asleep. It hasn’t happened since, and that’s the extent of the screaming that I can take before she goes to sleep. I feel like it’s the end of the day, and I want it to be peaceful for her. Again, this is not my expert advice, and I was so frustrated when my friends with 3 month olds would talk about how they were sleeping through the night already while our daughter was still waking up twice at 10 months; but honestly, I like cuddling at bedtime and I feel like as long as she generally knows how to get in bed and go to sleep on her own, a few hiccups here and there aren’t a big deal. Can you tell I’ve spent plenty of time agonizing over this, and have finally just surrendered to the fact that this is what we chose and it’s good for us? :) Just to point out, I’m not criticizing moms and dads who choose to do the cry it out method, it’s just not for us.

    • Heidi permalink
      April 5, 2011 3:36 pm

      Whoa, that was long… sorry…

    • April 5, 2011 7:59 pm

      Thanks for sharing, Heidi! O actually was one of those babies “sleeping through the night” at 3 months… It didn’t last though! ;) (He was also sleeping in our room at that time. I’m sure that made a difference.)
      Good for you for sticking with what works for you! It can be so hard, especially when outside pressures are telling us we’re doing it all “wrong”. Honestly, I think some mamas exaggerate how well their children sleep through the night, eat, play, count to ten, potty learn, etc due to their own insecurities. They’re likely responding to a lot of the same pressures in their own way.
      I *do* have a problem with the CIO method. I hate to criticize another person’s parenting method because I really do believe most of us are truly do the best we can. However, there are some very good articles out there detailing what happens when you let a baby CIO, including the physiological response. It’s so sad. What I feel in my own body when I hear O cry, even as a toddler, is enough to tell me that it just isn’t natural or healthy to ignore a child that obviously needs attention. Babies don’t manipulate, I think people forget that sometimes. As far as I’m concerned getting up in the night with babies is part of having them!
      (Oh, and I do recognize there is a difference between a baby crying and an older child being just plain disagreeable… ;) )

  6. April 5, 2011 7:18 pm

    O’s room is so calm and inviting! Both kids wander into our room sometimes. Noah, has always been the type to just go to sleep automatically. He does wander into our room and sleep with us quite often, but its not bad. Camille is at the age where we tried a sleep chart with her, rewarding her for staying in her bed, not through the night but at the beginning of the night where she found a million reasons that she didn’t need to go to sleep. I love that your hubby rocks and sings to little O. Cami was up sick last night and when I came back to bed I saw Noah arm around Chris’ neck snuggled close, melt my heart.

    I’ve found flexibility during these years is good. Its also made our roadtrip easy since we’ve never had a strict policy on sleeping in their beds or separate rooms so sharing a room and the kids sharing a bed hasn’t been a big deal. They curl up at the time we tell them to sleep.

    • April 5, 2011 8:11 pm

      Yes! Flexibility is why I’m always careful to use the words “rhythm” and “routine” as opposed to (the dreaded) “schedule”. I think there is an inherent flexibility when things follow a natural order as opposed to the clock on the wall. Though, it is amazing how a good rhythm tends to lead to things happening at about the same time everyday! There is something almost magical about the way if something out of the ordinary happens, the inherent flexibility in rhythm allows us to just pick our day up and carry on! Hooray! ;)
      I nearly swoon every night listening to B sing O to sleep. So very sweet. What a lovely image it must have been for you to find your two guys snuggled up!♥
      I hope your move is going well and you find some delicious cups of coffee along the way!

  7. delishmagtamara permalink
    April 21, 2011 11:21 pm

    Hi Carrie,

    Our little guy Finn is now 18 months old and for the past few weeks he’s been transitioning from two naps to one. It’s tough! It’s the classic vicious cycle. He’s up pretty early, sometimes as early as 5am, and then can’t make it much past 11/11:30am for the one nap. One a rare good day he’ll nap for two and a half hours, but most of the time it’s one and a half. That has him up before 1pm. Then for bedtime he can barely make it til 6/6:30, but then to bed that early means he’s up at 5 again! So we’re getting kind of weary.

    I still nurse before naps and bed, and in the morning after he wakes up. I have been going in every few days and nursing him from one side, pretty quickly, and then he’ll sleep again until about 7 or so. I keep hoping that will get us to a later nap, then a later bedtime, then up later the next morning so he is better rested…but then something usually wakes him up very early from his nap, like the construction zone next door! Argh!

    I have been wondering if he’s waking that early because he is maybe hungry by then…so I’m wondering what you have as O’s bedtime snack…

    Finn finishes dinner by 5:30, and perhaps he’s just getting hungry! Poor love. I hate to think about that, breaks my heart!

    Thank you…


    • April 23, 2011 8:51 pm

      Hi Tamara,

      Oy. It can be so tough when little ones are transitioning!
      O’s betime snack is usually something with whole grains and fruit in it along with some milk. He typically will have a homemade granola bar (sugar-free) with his milk while we’re reading a story at night,before brushing his teeth. We sometimes warm the milk up a bit, but not always. (Though if you’re nursing, you don’t need to worry about that!) :)
      A friend of mine gives her son a bowl of warm oatmeal shortly before bed.
      Hope that helps and good luck!

  8. Tara W. permalink
    May 28, 2011 8:38 pm

    I know it is a bit off topic, but I LOVE O’s book sling! I’ve never seen one made this way before! I have only ever seen them made out of gutters!


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