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How a Too-Good Night Routine Can Ruin Baby Sleep

Photograph by Twenty20

Dear Heather,

What's a good bedtime routine for a 6-month-old? I hear so many different ideas from my friends, but what's the best routine for a baby?

Working through the mixed messages,

Anna

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Dear Anna,

It's so good that you're thinking about this. It's true, there are all kinds of ideas for bedtime routines, and most of them are good: feeding, reading, bath, massage, even playtime can be part of the nightly wind-down ritual.

One of the most common roadblocks to good sleep, though, is that the bedtime routine makes the baby too sleepy.

Sounds counterintuitive, right?

After a certain age, bedtime routines should be interesting and engaging, not very drowsy-making. We often see parents waiting too long to start the bedtime routine, or making their little ones too tired during the routine.

Why is this a problem? Because baby goes into bed nice and sleepy—eyes closing and drifting off—and then wakes up a few hours later confused or unclear about what to do to put herself back to sleep again.

Here's a nice and calm but not drowsy-making routine for 6-month-old:

  • Bath (optional, of course)
  • Pajamas
  • Feeding
  • Books
  • Say goodnight to things in the room
  • Sing a song
  • Kiss and into crib

If your baby's bedtime is 7 p.m., this routine could start anywhere between 6 and 6:30 p.m., depending on how long you spend on each step. Notice how the feeding part is separated from the falling asleep part. Over time, this helps your baby stay in charge of her sleep, so when she wakes in the night, she knows what to do (except if her tummy is telling her it's time for a regular feeding).

RELATED: Does My Baby Really Have Nightmares?

In general, if a routine is working there's no reason to change it (if it's not broken, don't fix it!). So if you like your bedtime routine and baby is sleeping well, you should keep right on doing it.

Just remember: Routines change and grow as our babies do, so keep adjusting it to fit her development and her little interests.

Sleep happy,

Heather

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Sleep expert Heather Turgeon, co-author of "The Happy Sleeper: The Science-Backed Guide to Helping Your Baby Get a Good Night's Sleep—Newborn to School Age," will fix your family's sleep problems in this space as she does in her Los Angeles-based sleep consultations. Turgeon's solutions are nonjudgmental, kind and—best of all—based on science.

No situation is too challenging. Leave your sleep problem in the comments. Let's all get a good night's sleep, finally.

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