Why you don’t need a routine

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.

>tumbleweed<

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”.

don't need a routine

More of the same: We don’t have a schedule…or a routineWhy I nurse my baby to sleep

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!

11 Comments

  1. I know people who have had success both ways. I think no matter how much we read, we’re going to parent according to our values, personalities, and lifestyles. As long as it’s working for you and your bub, that’s what matters! #fromtheheart

  2. This is great. Routines are slim round here. But we have enough to work for us and our children are great at flexibility which I think is a great thing. Whatever works for your own family I think!

  3. We don’t really have any routine, I know roughly when they need to sleep and try to get them to sleep. Bedtime follows the same thing every night. I’m a believer that babies will set their own routine and a little guidance so they know what is coming helps, saying that they need to be in bed by 7:01 isn’t really for me!

  4. I think with parenting, you do what works for you and the baby. Don’t force something if it’s not working or stressful. My first was not a baby that fitted into a routine and as someone who is very routine orientated, I had to learn to relax and let her find us a pattern that worked. My son slipped us into a “routine” feeding and sleep wise almost naturally and I went with that and it worked. I think not getting stressed is key and too fixated on what the books say. After all babies don’t read the books, do they?
    #effitfriday

  5. You choose how to parent your child, and scientific studies come and go (to swaddle/not to swaddle, to co-sleep/not to co-sleep etc etc). You just got to follow your own path. I do follow a routine (dude, I got twins!), but we recently took them to a party in the evening. It took my son a week to recover from going to bed at 9pm, which made me think maybe he was ‘over’ routined! #effitfriday

  6. You’ve just got to do what’s right for your family. We’ve been in lucky in that Marianna’s ready to go to bed by 7pm, but it’s not like we never diverge from it if we’re visiting relatives or whatever. It just depends on what’s happening. x #fromtheheart

  7. I have to admit that we are very much fans of a routine. But really more for me than the toddler. I just don’t work well if I don’t have a vague idea of when he will eat and sleep. But every family is different and you have clearly found something that works for yours. Thanks for hosting #fromtheheart

  8. Really interesting! I put myself through it when I first had my boy desperately trying to find a routine but you’re right you don’t always need one. It is whatever suits you and your family best! #fromtheheart xx

  9. We don’t have a routine at all with Little B either and I have to say I’m enjoying things much more this time round without times/routines to adhere to! #fromtheheart

  10. Yes, yes and yes! I always find it bizarre that people feel they have the right to comment on the way we parent our children. We’d never go up to them and say “you look a bit tired, I suggest you go to bed earlier”…

  11. Thanks for the post! I often feel bad -no, some people make me feel bad about not having a routine, usually after asking about my baby’s habits, or rather, our habits as a family. When did people began feeling entitled to ask such questions and give uncalled-for advice?

    Having a baby, and raising it, is nothing compared to the amount of explanations you owe to society for it, at the risk of passing as a total jerk for not responding or acting accordingly.

    Routine or no routine, it’s your night sleep, you are the one who needs to wake up, not anyone else. My long face is not to do with tending to my baby’s needs, it’s to do with everyone else’s intermission.

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