I’ve already confessed that we don’t have a routine, however you might define the term. I mean, we do give the baby a bath every evening and go to bed some time after that, but that is only a routine in the sense that getting up every morning and eating breakfast is a routine. The bath and bedtime might be minutes or hours apart and might happen earlier or later on in the day, depending on what else we are all doing.
It’s not that I am anti-routines, just that they don’t really fit into our work-at-home/no-real-schedule lifestyle. Unfortunately, many parenting websites would make you believe that a bedtime routine is absolutely necessary or doom will rain down upon you and all your descendents.
Now maybe routines do work for you and your family. That’s fine. But if they don’t it can often feel a bit daunting to fly in the face of parenting convention. Never more so when there appears to be scientific research proving that kids with consistent bedtime routines sleep longer, better and go to sleep easier than their routine-free counterparts. Cue the guilt from any parent who has ever allowed their kids’ bedtime to be disrupted by normal life. Even I began questioning my lackadaisical approach to bedtime every time baby boy took just a bit longer to settle or had a restless night…
And then I read the actual study, which you can find here.
It turns out the study doesn’t actually tell us that children with consistent bedtime routines sleep better. It tells us that parents who THINK their children have consistent bedtime routines have children who sleep better.
You see, in their questionnaire, the researchers forgot to define what a bedtime routine actually consists of. It’s a pretty loose concept, right? It could mean a strict sequence of activities starting at 6 pm and ending with lights out at 9. It could be an informal idea that the kid should eat, then bath, then sleep. To make it worse, this was an international study questioning mothers from several different countries! It seems pretty unlikely that all these different cultures would have the same concept of “routine” that you or I have.
The parents were asked to log their children’s sleep habits and how many times a week they stuck to a routine. Again I question the wisdom of putting the kids who never had a routine in one group and those who had a routine once a week into another – I mean, does once a week really constitute a routine?
But okay, let’s imagine that you could simply believe you have a regular routine and suddenly solve all your babies sleep issues. Turns out, switching from no routine to every day will have totally groundbreaking results: your routine baby will fall asleep 5 minutes faster, wake 2 instead of 3 times and sleep for just over an hour more at night.
A bit disappointing, right? Here I was expecting my routine baby to wake up after 12 hours of uninterrupted rest and bring me breakfast in bed…
The one worthwhile piece of information I could glean from the study is that for all children total sleep time was about the same. The only difference is that the children without a routine sleep less at night. Now in my books this is kind of a good thing, since baby boy’s long afternoon naps give me time to faff, write posts and drink tea. It also means that routine-free babies are not sleep-deprived zombies as some parenting sites like to imply.
So if you have a routine and love it, good for you. If you don’t, you’re doing fine as well. File the study under “just one more thing parents didn’t really need to know and where doing anyway”.
This time last year: What kind of tired are you?
* Yes, yes, if you’ve read the study you will see there is quite a significant difference in the time babies without routines were awake at night compared to their routine peers. But I’m on a roll here, okay?! Also, the same general research issues still apply and I can think of many reasons why the routine-less babies appeared to wake for longer. If you wish, we can discuss this in the comments!