Building Better Bedtime Routines

Building Better Bedtime Routines

Hi, I’m Ashley. And I’m Rachel. Welcome to our series, CapitalMOM Real Life Conversations. This week, we’re going to be talking about bedtime routines—how they’re different for every family, but ultimately how we use this time to connect with our children in different ways. We’ll talk about different age ranges because we have ages from one to nine.

Glimmers & Dimmers in May

So, first is our glimmer and our dimmer. Today, we both have glimmers.

Ashlee’s Recent Glimmer

Mine’s super short and sweet. My three-year-old has had a really hard time staying in his bed—not a crib anymore—and sleeping through the night. I had a really long stretch of not good sleep. It was very interrupted, and I was always taking him back to his bed. I was having to take him back so many times a night that I eventually just gave up and let him sleep in my bed for a little while.

To fix this, my amazing husband has been sleeping on a pad in our hallway for the last three days to catch our son before he comes out of his room. That way, I can get some sleep. Both of us have been happier together because of it. So, thank you, John, and a huge thanks to all the parents that support their partners’ sleep. It makes a big difference.

Rachel’s Recent Glimmer

Mine is going to be short and sweet this week, too. My little one-year-old, who’s almost two in July, has just had an explosion of language recently. It’s the cutest thing ever. I love the one to two-and-a-half-year-old stage where they’re learning so much.

My daughter is very into Elsa in Frozen right now. We started with Moana, but our whole family got sick of it, so we transitioned. So now, she has three Elsa dresses, and she sings all the songs with big arm motions.

The new thing that she does is she’ll come up to us and say, “Question?” I’ll say, “Yes? What’s your question?” She’ll reply, “Snowman?” Like, “Do you want to build a snowman?” from Frozen. And then she starts singing, but she doesn’t know all the words, so she just kind of gets the last word of every line—play, anymore, door. And then she’ll go, “Yay!” and everyone will clap for her. I could just bottle that moment up forever and ever.

Sometimes if I need a little smile, I’ll ask Finley, “Do you have a question?” just to hear it again.

A Variety of Kids’ Bedtime Routines

First, we just want to acknowledge that bedtime routines can vary. All of them can look differently, and all of them can still work beautifully for your family. It just depends on what it is that you want.

But what we try to focus on ourselves is at least just having it be purposeful in how it looks and then trying to make it connecting with each of our kids individually.

Ashlee’s Family Bedtime Routine

I have three kiddos aged three, seven, and nine. So obviously, bedtime looks a little different with each of them. We’re constantly adjusting our routines to try to match the needs of our kiddos and us as parents. But disclaimer: both Rachel and my routines are long.

Basically, starting at a particular time is the best thing that helps for us. Getting started with bedtime is where we get tripped up the most. Wintertime is a little easier for bedtime because it gets darker earlier. But the sun comes out in the summertime, so I never want to go to bed, and the kids don’t want to go to bed. We all end up suffering afterwards, though. Without putting my kids to bed on time, I don’t get a moment to myself. I can’t clean or tidy the house. My husband and I don’t get any time together. So this summer, we’re working to get better with this.

After starting at the same time, we do the normal things like, getting PJs on and brushing teeth. Obviously, I have to brush some of my kiddos’ teeth, but my nine-year-old is doing it on her own now.

Then, I’ll have my nine-year-old start reading on her own, or sometimes she’ll work on mind puzzlers. My seven-year-old saw her do that and kind of started doing it, too. Anything to get them tired and slowing down.

My nine-year-old is the one that doesn’t slow down as easily, so a longer bedtime is helpful. Otherwise, I’m rushing her, and that makes it hard because I don’t feel connected with her when we do that. It’s always when we’re trying to speed up bedtimes that my kids start sharing something really meaningful. That’s when I have to pause and try to create space for anything that they want to share.

When time allows, we’ll go in and read a couple books with her. She’s just started reading chapter books on her own. My husband challenged her to read The Magic Tree House book in one day, and she did. So now she’s like, “Oh, I can do this!” and super into it. We’re really excited about her reading journey.

With Levi, my youngest, we read three books in the rocking chair. He picks them out. And then we hop in bed and sing a song. My husband will even pull out the guitar sometimes before lights out.

After everyone is settled, we try to give an extra quick snuggle or something and tell them we love them before leaving. Levi likes to be snuggled until he falls asleep, though. Usually, I don’t lay with my kids until they fall asleep, but lately he’s been waking up in fits and terrors. I have a hard time not responding when they’re crying, and I can’t tell if it’s a hurt cry or a sad cry or something else. I at least want to let them know that I’m there. So right now, I do lie next to him until he falls asleep, which he does fairly quickly. I’m actually kind of enjoying that right now, especially because I know it won’t last forever.

The other day I asked Levi, “What is it you like about me being here?” And he said, “You make me happy.” So I know that this moment is an important connection and that it won’t be forever but that it is valuable.

For a little while, he didn’t allow John to be there. Rachel and I talked about advice that we read and ways we could help with that issue instead of just saying, “No, stop. You’re going to Dad.” That reaction almost made it worse. We taught our husbands how to respond, framing it as something like, “I know you really want mom right now, but you get me right now. And this is how it’s going to be great!” Fortunately, we’ve passed through that phase.

Rachel’s Family Bedtime Routine

Ashlee’s routine is very similar to mine. Recently, my husband and I have really found our rhythm with the kids’ bedtime. My husband goes with my son every night, and I stay with the girls. We went through trial and error, trying different things. For a while, we would alternate nights. It just didn’t work. So we just stopped trying new things.

Now, we try to go up to bed between 7:30 and 8:00, but this can change depending on when we get home from gymnastics. On nights when we’ve got dinner and baths done on time, we really enjoy our relaxing bedtime routine. It’s pretty much the same thing as Ashlee—teeth, take the hair out, and then reading time.

Reading is very important to me, which is funny because I never liked reading on my own as a kid. So I didn’t think that I would be reading to my kids. But I love it. It happens so organically. We go to the library once a week. We get a big load of books and haul it upstairs. I don’t set a number of books to read with them. I go by time. I usually snuggle up and read to all three of my kids for about 45 minutes.

My one-year-old will sit there and listen to all these stories that are definitely highly above her level. Sometimes I think I’m doing her a disservice by not reading her baby books all the time, but I did the same thing with Brecken, who’s my four-year-old, and she’s now in first grade and excelling in reading at school. I just feel like the kids will rise to that level and that they actually will develop those vocabulary skills earlier. To be clear, I see so many benefits to reading that are more than just vocabulary. It’s stories and getting immersed in your imagination. I’m bad at this. My kids will ask me to tell them stories and I can’t think of anything.

When we’re done with reading time, that’s when my husband takes my son and I stay with the girls. At that point, we read a chapter book or a more challenging book for my oldest. And then I will take my one-year-old with me to co-sleep. I know there’s opinions about co-sleeping, but it works for us so that’s what we do. I’m going to move her to her room very soon when she turns two.

A Friend’s Family Bedtime Routine

One of our best friends, Barbara, and her husband do bedtime a little differently. They each are able to take turns. Obviously, this is dependent on both parents being available in the evening times, which is not always the case. But it works for them, where they trade off evenings with their three kiddos. She puts the baby down first and then spends time with her two older girls.

That way, one of them puts everybody to bed one night, and the other person gets a complete night off. We think this can be a great strategy if you want to prioritize meeting some of your needs individually, all while still having time to connect with your kiddos. I think it’s important to remember that you and your partner are a couple and worth investing time into that relationship.

For Ashlee and I, we just genuinely love that time with our kids too much to give it up. So even though we don’t always have a chance to talk to our husbands in the evening, we still think it’s worthwhile to connect with our kids at bedtime. It’s all about finding a balance.

An Instagram Mom’s Bedtime Routine

A person we follow on Instagram shared that her bedtime routine looks very different. Her kids are, I think, a little bit older than ours. What I love about hers is she does everything in 20 minutes with each kid.

She starts with the youngest, which I think in her case is a six-year-old, and just gives that child 20 minutes of super intentional time. But it’s not reading, which is why for me right now, I don’t feel like I’m at a point where I want to do what she does. Reading for our families is too important currently and they can’t read independently yet.

But I think that when my kids get older and they’re reading on their own, they can do their reading time while I do my one-on-one time with my other kids. I also like that this is kind of a tiered system, where your oldest gets the reward of being up the latest.

I remember when she said that, I thought “Whoa, that’s an hour every night. You’re committing.” But then I remembered that I give my kids an hour or an hour and a half every night already. So it’s very doable.

Besides, this is your window time into their souls. This is when you’re going to get those deep, heartfelt moments that maybe you’re not going to get during the day because you’re busy in a chaotic household with three kids. But bedtime is a special time where they can slow down and connect with your hearts.

Advice for Parents Struggling with Bedtime

Nothing lasts forever in bedtime. So if you’re going through a hard time where your kid is not falling asleep, is coming to your room every night, and you’re exhausted—or if you’re tired and not wanting to do bedtime on bad days—or you have a baby who’s waking up crying wanting to nurse every night, just recognize it’s a season.

Yes, it might be a hard season, but knowing that it’s a season is bittersweet. It’s realizing that this is not going to last forever. Your child is not always going to come to your room. Eventually, he’ll get to the point where he’s a big boy and he doesn’t need to be in your room anymore.

Just recognize that their childhood goes so fast and that the season will pass, and you will get through it. Remember that you’re doing a great job. If you’re trying, you’re doing great. Your bedtime can look however it needs to look. We got your back.

Ashlee Hendricks

Ashlee Hendricks

Real Life Conversations Host

I am a mom to three awesome kids: Ellie, Anna, and Levi. My husband Jon works as a professor at the UNL Business College. While we are not natives to Lincoln (this year marks five years in Nebraska), I did grow up on a dairy farm in southwest Missouri and feel quite at home here. I work as a full-time mom and a part-time nurse at a clinic here in town.

As a family, we are happiest outside and having adventures. We lived in South Carolina before moving here so we’ve had to toughen up quite a bit! We love biking, camping and anything involving water. I have been supported and inspired by so many amazing women and men along my parenting journey. Rachel and I have talked a lot about our shortcomings and wins as moms. I hope as we share some of our story that you’ll find some relatable information that can nurture and inspire you wherever you are on your journey as a parent. We are all in this together!

Rachel Robinson

Rachel Robinson

Real Life Conversations Host

I was born and raised in Lincoln. I am a stay-at-home-mom to three amazing kids named Ellie, Brecken, and Finley. I worked as a PE teacher at Scott Middle School for 8.5 years and turned into a SAHM when my second kiddo was born. I love being home with my kids. It is so fulfilling to me to be home with them through each stage, to care for them and to be a part of the little details and the big moments in their lives.

My husband, John, is a men’s gymnastics coach at the University of Nebraska. Our kids love to go to the gym and play. We love that they now have a relationship with the college athletes. It is really fun. Go Big Red! I am very excited to be chatting about things motherhood here on CapitalMom. I hope you enjoy and are able to relate as we share our motherhood journeys.

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A Parent’s Guide to Infant, Baby & Toddler Sleep

A Parent’s Guide to Infant, Baby & Toddler Sleep

Sleep—the one thing new parents are always deprived of themselves. But what about our little ones? How can we keep them safe and ensure they are getting enough sleep in the optimal environment? It starts when you bring your baby home.

What to Expect After Bringing Your Baby Home

Newborns sleep a significant amount when they are first born. I often joke that babies eat, sleep, pee and poop with new parents who are worried about how much their newborn is snoozing. And, I assure them this will change. Newborns sleep 16-18 hours a day, and then from ages 4-12 months, most babies need only 12-16 hours of sleep a day, including naps. That will leave plenty of time for all those other first milestones.

Creating the Optimal Sleep Environment for Your Baby

Where should babies be while they are sleeping? There are some key points all parents should follow.

Babies need to sleep alone, in their own space and on a firm mattress on their backs.

Many parents want to co-sleep with the baby in their bed. But, most beds adults sleep on are too soft, with too many extras like pillows and blankets that are suffocation risks for our little ones. It is recommended that babies sleep in their own crib, bassinet or portable pack ‘n play. The mattress should be firm and flat, and a fitted sheet may be used on top to keep it clean. If you are concerned about your baby being alone, it is okay to place their crib, bassinet or pack ‘n play right next to your bed so you can reach out and touch your baby.

I recommend parents always check the product they are using (crib, bassinet, etc.) with the Consumer Product Safety Commission to ensure it meets safety standards. This is especially important if buying second-hand items. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends babies sleep in their parents’ room for the first six months before moving to their own room.

Although babies often fall asleep in car seats, swings and bouncers, expert recommend moving them to their crib once asleep. Additionally, newborns are often held while sleeping. This is great and totally fine if the person holding the baby is awake, but if they begin to feel drowsy, they should lay the baby down to avoid an accident.

Babies who sleep on their backs are much less likely to die suddenly in their sleep versus babies who sleep on their tummies. I always tell parents to make sure the baby’s pelvis is flat when they lay them down. Babies who are laid on their sides can more easily roll to their tummies by accident, increasing their risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Flat on the back is safest! Once babies learn to roll themselves from back to front and front to back, it is safe to allow them to roll during sleep. Even so, it is best to start them on their backs.

A few more tips…

  • Babies should never have pillows, stuffed animals, crib bumpers or blankets in bed with them, as these items increase their risk of suffocation.
  • Newborns often like to be swaddled. Typically, we should stop swaddling babies by 2-3 months and switch to using a sleep sack with their arms out for safe sleep.
    • Avoid weighted sleep sacks as the extra weight on your baby could mimic the same scenario as a baby sleeping on their tummies, resulting in crib death.
  • We never want babies to be too cold or too hot. I recommend keeping the thermostat between 68-72 degrees year-round to keep infants comfortable. You can always adjust the number of layers the baby is wearing to help regulate their temperature.
  • We do not recommend wearing a hat inside since the head is often how babies thermoregulate and they can easily get too warm.

How to Help Your Baby Know Day from Night

After birth, babies often have their days and nights mixed up. They do not have regular sleep cycles until around four months of age. There are a few tricks you can try to help your baby (and you) get a better night’s sleep.

At night when you want your baby to sleep, avoid overstimulation:

  • Always be as quiet as possible, speaking in soft, quiet tones and keeping other noise low
  • Keep the lights dim with only enough light for you to safely see your baby for things like diaper changes.
  • This will teach your baby that night is when we sleep.

Conversely, during the day, we want to be awake and play! To encourage this:

  • Have the lights on
  • Speak at normal volumes
  • Do things like vacuum and make noise
  • This will teach your baby that day is when we play, read books, sing songs and talk.

When to Begin Teaching Your Baby to Fall Asleep on Their Own

Starting at about four months of age, I suggest trying to have babies learn to fall asleep on their own. Prior to four months, we are used to putting them down when they fall asleep eating or being held. However, normal sleep/wake cycles have us all waking up several times throughout the night. If we wake up in a different scenario than where we fell asleep, it is startling. Teaching them to fall asleep on their own allows them to be able to fall back to sleep without needing to be held or fed by a parent.

Often parents will feed babies when they wake up at night to help them go back to sleep. This will cause your baby to become more of a trained nighttime eater. As babies get older, they should be able to sleep through the night without eating. Especially when they have teeth, feeding at night increases their risk of cavities.

Sleep Training

Deciding when to sleep train your infant is a hard decision. Often parents worry they are harming their child by letting them cry and not attending to them right away. Many infants, if allowed to cry for a few minutes at night, will fall right back to sleep on their own.

There are many different techniques for sleep training and all of them are equally effective. I suggest parents research the various techniques to determine which one is most comfortable for you. The key takeaway is that your child will not be psychologically damaged by learning how to fall asleep and stay asleep on their own. In fact, it is one of the first self-soothing skills that they will learn to better handle life’s many obstacles.

Bedtime Routines

Establishing a good bedtime routine will help your child learn it is time to wind down, go to bed and sleep. Here’s a few tips to get started:

  • It is best to avoid any naps in the late afternoon as those often recharge your toddlers’ batteries and bedtime will be a challenge.
  • Bedtime is an excellent time to have snuggle time while you read books to your child.
  • Have the lights dim and use a quiet voice to further encourage them to settle down and relax.
  • Although TV is not recommended for kids under two, if they are watching screens, be sure to discontinue use at least one hour before bedtime.
  • A comfort item can help a toddler with their bedtime routine.
  • Try to use a consistent sleep environment with a dark, cool and quiet bedroom. White noise with a consistent sound can be helpful at drowning out household background noise.
  • Don’t let those cuties convince you that they need one more book. Set expectations for when snuggle and book time is going to be over and lights are going to be turned off, before you get started on the routine.


Sleep is a fluid issue. It is always okay to comfort a waking child when they are ill or if they need a diaper change, etc. There will be good nights and there will be sleepless ones. But hopefully these suggestions will help your family with getting the best night’s sleep for all.

Alicia Cruce, MD

Alicia Cruce, MD

Pediatrician at Pediatrics PC in Lincoln, NE

Dr. Alicia Cruce has been proudly serving the Lincoln community since 2003. She is originally from Blue Hill, Nebraska, and graduated from the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) in 2000. She finished her training with a pediatric residency in the joint UNMC/Creighton program in Omaha and is board certified. For most of her career, she has been teaching infant care classes to expectant parents at both St Elizabeth’s and at Bryan Medical Center.

Currently, she serves on the Lincoln Pediatric Quality improvement committee and has previously served on the Nebraska chapter for the American Academy of Pediatrics and as the Chief of Pediatrics at CHI/St Elizabeth’s Hospital. She is also a volunteer faculty member at UNMC and has taught many Physician Assistant, Nurse Practitioner, and medical students through the years.

Dr. Cruce is married to Dr. Mike Cruce, a school psychologist. They have three children and three dogs. Dr. Cruce enjoys reading, cooking, travel, and spending time with her family.

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What Can I Do to Improve My Sleep?

What Can I Do to Improve My Sleep?

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

  • It’s Sunday afternoon and while sitting in my recliner watching television, I end up taking a nap over two hours. Why am I not able to fall asleep at my normal bedtime hour?
  • I had to work late and ended up eating later than normal, then watched TV and browsed on my iPhone. Why am I not able to fall asleep?
  • I had a cup of coffee or a caffeinated product during an evening meeting. Why am I not able to sleep?

It can be very frustrating when you can’t get sleep. And often, the more you worry about not being able to get to sleep the worse it is! Most people don’t realize that simple changes in your daily habits can have a big impact on your sleep.

3 Ways to Improve Your Sleep

Sleep is a vital human function just as important as the oxygen we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. Here are some helpful hints on how to improve your sleep:

Keep a Consistent Sleep Schedule and Make Sleep a Priority

    • Find the amount of sleep you need to help you feel refreshed and energized during the day. Sleep needs vary for each person; there is no magic number.
    • Get up at the same time each day.
    • Avoid naps if possible. If you need a nap, limit the nap to less than an hour and no napping after 3 p.m. A nap longer than an hour or after 3 p.m. will alter your sleep-wake schedule and make it more difficult to fall asleep at night.

Develop Healthy Habits

    • Exercising regularly will help you sleep more soundly.
    • Eat regular meals and do not go to bed hungry. If you are hungry before you go to bed, eat something that is easily digestible, such as a piece of toast (carbohydrate).
    • Avoid excessive liquids before bedtime. This will reduce the number of times you wake up to go the bathroom at night.
    • Decrease caffeine products. Caffeinated beverages and foods (such as coffee, tea, cola, and chocolate) can make it difficult to fall asleep. Caffeine will affect your sleep for up to eight hours after consumption.
    • Avoid alcohol, especially before bedtime. Alcohol may help you fall asleep more easily but will wear off, causing you to wake up more.
    • Smoking may disturb sleep. Nicotine is a stimulant that could interfere with falling asleep.

Create the Right Sleep Environment

    • Make your bedroom comfortable and free from light and noise. Room-darkening shades, earplugs, and/or white noise may help.
    • Have a comfortable mattress and pillow.
    • Find a bedroom temperature that works for you. Cooler rooms often promote better sleep.
    • Stop using your electronic devices 30-60 minutes before your bedtime. The screens on the devices emit a blue light that suppresses the production of melatonin. Melatonin is a natural hormone produced to regulate our 24-hour sleep-wake cycle. Think of it this way: lights off=melatonin on, lights on=melatonin off
    • Do not take your problems to bed. Plan time earlier in the day to work on problems or plan your next day activities.

Take Steps for a Good Night’s Sleep – ZZZs, please!

When you get a good night’s sleep, it’s amazing how much better you feel the next day. It also improves your overall health.

In some cases, there are health conditions that can prevent you from getting the sleep you need, even when you adjust your daily habits to improve your sleep. If this is the case for you, it’s important to talk to your doctor to determine what might be impacting your sleep.

Cindy Dahl

Cindy Dahl

Registered Sleep Technologist

Registered Sleep Technologist, Bryan Center for Sleep Medicine

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