Books and bedtime
Our tips for a better night's sleep for little ones and parents alike.
Did you know that a regular nightly bedtime routine is associated with improved sleep in young children? We think there's nothing better than snuggling up and sharing a soothing bedtime story to send them off to the land of nod.
We also understand how exhausting the bedtime battles can be!
Read on for lots of tips, guides and advice from top experts, authors and illustrators - you'll find information about how to get your baby to sleep, how to keep the bedtime routine going to make sure your toddler is well rested, and recommendations of our favourite bedtime stories - or if you're in a hurry, click the dropdown menus below for quick tips on how to get children ready for sleep.
How to get your little ones to sleep
Newborn babies need feeding so regularly that they're unlikely to sleep for longer than 3-4 hours at a time between feeds, and frequently less.
Your time at this early stage will be pretty much taken up with feeding and winding your baby and settlng them to sleep, and then trying to get some sleep yourself.
Don't put any pressure on yourself to do things a particular way. People around you may have lots of theories about what you should be doing - but the main thing to do is get as much rest as you can, give your baby lots of cuddles, and do whatever your baby needs for now.
Until the umbilical cord dries up, give your baby a once-over with a warm sponge or cloth. Make sure the bathroom is warm, and that there aren't any draughts or fans on them. Remove jewellery to avoid scratching your baby.
Wash your baby in two stages: first their body and then their head. Wash their head last because it loses the most heat. Wipe them clean with a warm flannel and pat dry.
When it's time for a real bath, warm the bathroom and fill the baby bath with a couple of inches of warm water. Test with your elbow.
Hold your baby over the bath, supporting their neck with the thumb and index finger of one hand. With the other hand, wash their head with mild unscented liquid baby soap. Then place them in the bath, supporting their neck with your forearm, and cradle their body.
Babies love books. You can absolutely read to your newborn baby, even though they're too little to understand what you're saying. The experience of snuggling up and listening to your voice can help a baby relax. And it's great for bonding between the both of you.
Try black and white books with bold images as your baby will be able to pick these out better. BookTrust gives these out, as well as Bookstart Baby packs with free books; remember to pick one up from your health visitor, library or children's centre. And try soft books that your baby can touch and play with. You can also check out BookTrust's Best Bedtime Books list.
You could swaddle your baby - your health visitor or midwife should be able to show you how or follow guidance for correct and safe swaddling. Swaddling makes your baby feel secure and cosy. They're less likely to wake themselves up with involuntary movements.
Settling down a sleeping baby
When your baby falls asleep in your arms and you want to set them down without waking them up, move slowly. Gently lay their head down. Then put the rest of their body down so they're on their back with your hands still under them.
You should always put them to sleep on their back to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome - SIDS.
Place your baby with their feet at the bottom end of the cot to prevent them wriggling under the covers and secure the covers only to waist height. Make sure the room your baby's sleeping in isn't too hot or cold. A perfect temperature is around 18-19 degrees centigrade.
Your baby may start sleeping through the night sometime during this period. This will happen when they start eating solids - most likely around 4-6 months onwards. Or, at least, they'll certainly be sleeping for longer periods and waking less in the night. Here are some tips that will show you how to get your baby to sleep:
- Shut the blinds or curtains like you would at night time.
- Put them in loose attire so they are comfortable to sleep.
- Make sure they have their familiar blankies and cuddly companion they are used to when sleeping.
A good bedtime routine consists of regular and calming activities for your baby. Babies may find baths very relaxing and this can help your child before you put them to bed.
Before you bathe your baby you could place a scented candle in the bathroom so the calming scents are present during their bath. Remove the candle before bathtime and place your child's bedclothes on a warm radiator, if it's cold. Your baby will be nice and snuggly once they're dressed for bed.
Singing rhymes and lullabies with your baby in the bath will help too. Hearing rhyming words will help them later when they learn to read. Favourites like 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star' will soothe your baby ahead of bed.
Once you've finished in the bath gently dry your baby and rub their skin in a soothing, calming rhythm with some moisturising cream or natural oil.
As part of a bedtime routine your baby will love to cuddle and hear your voice. They will know that it's time to wind down ready for sleep.
Bright and touchy-feely books with different feels and colours work well. At this stage babies enjoy playing with their books - encourage them to touch the book as you read.
Follow on from rhymes in the bath by choosing books with rhythm and repetition. Say the words a little more slowly than you usually talk to help your baby hear the sounds you're making.
We have some perfect choices in our Best Bedtime Books list. Or read your baby's favourite books over and over again. Try to use funny voices and make silly noises.
Put your baby to bed at the same time every night. You should do this even if you know they're going to get up in the night. You're setting a routine that will help make regular bedtimes easier for yourself in the future.
Make sure your little ones are getting enough fresh air each day. A trip to the shops or the library is easy to fit into the day's routine.
Think about exercise too - is your baby sitting in a chair all day? Try to make sure they get lots of mat time/crawling time - or even soft play once they're a bit older. It'll tire them out and it's also really important for their development.
Daytime sleep is also important. Ironically, children who are overtired often find it hard to sleep well at night. Daytime naps will help a lot - if they're well rested, they won't be super charged with adrenaline. Bedtime should become much easier for everyone.
The bedtime ritual is a soothing and loving period of time that sets up a child to have a healthy night's sleep. Your toddler will enjoy having a time when they have you all to yourself in a way they don't during the day.
To make sure your toddler has a good night's sleep, stick to a consistent bedtime. Toddlers need 12-14 hours sleep in a 24 hour period, including naps. Make sure that bedtime is 12 hours before they tend to wake up. If they're usually up at 7am, they need to be in bed at 7pm.
Preparation for your bedtime ritual is key. Prep as much as you can beforehand: put out their pyjamas, get the nappy ready, and pour the milk. That way, nothing will break the smoothness of the transition and your focus on your child from bath to bed. These tips will be a key part of how you get your toddler to sleep.
Bathtime is the beginning of the bedtime routine. It helps your toddler get out the last ounce of energy before you start to create an environment that allows your child to relax.
After the bath create a peaceful and calm atmosphere by switching off all technology so there are no distractions. Ideally, there should be no TV in the bedroom. Or, if there is, ensure it's switched off.
Go into your child's bedroom and create a soft atmosphere. Pull the blinds, close the curtains, put the light on dim, put a night light on or a soft lamp and start to talk more softly and quietly.
Children may have a favourite bear or blankie that they want to cuddle. They might have bedtime milk at this stage as well. If they do, they can lean against you as they have it which makes it nice and snuggly.
Now, read a book or two - there are some perfect choices in BookTrust's Best Bedtime Books list. Or you can tell a story you make up and elaborate over time. Toddlers love stories that incorporate their names: 'There was a pirate ship, and Prince so-and-so was steering it...'
Don't worry if you don't feel confident making up stories - children will love listening to you anyway! If you can't think of what to say, just exaggerate what happened to you in the day. If you've played together outside, tell a story about going into a wonderful garden. Or, if you've been at work, maybe tell a story about how your train went into a safari park.
Tuck in your little ones and leave them with happy, peaceful thoughts. Answer any questions they have and ask them if there is anything they want to ask you. It's important they feel as secure, safe, protected and loved as possible before you leave the room. And now - onto some 'you' time!
Not quite going to plan? If you can get your toddler to sleep but it's getting them to stay in bed that's the problem, check out the answers to frequently asked questions.
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There's nothing quite like a lovely story before falling asleep. These books are sure to be a great bedtime read for any toddler or younger child will enjoy.
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Looking for a new favourite book to read at bedtime? This list is full of wonderful stories all published since 2019 and all perfect to snuggle up with before sleep.
Our Books and Bedtime tips and advice
You're not alone: whether it's getting up several times in the night or trying to deal with children who are not settling down, sleep is one of the top concerns for UK parents.
Have a look at our top tips for getting your newborn, baby, or toddler to sleep.
Expert answers to your frequently asked questions about reading with your child as part of the bedtime routine.
Find bedtime news and features
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