Getting Your Baby on a Sleep Schedule
Establishing a sleep schedule is one of the most important things new parents can do for their baby. When a baby has a consistent bedtime routine and gets enough daytime sleep, it promotes healthy development and makes life easier for the entire family.
In this blog post, we will cover why sleep schedules matter, when to start, and how to successfully create a schedule that works for your unique baby.
Why Sleep Schedules Matter
Getting infants and young children onto a consistent sleep schedule provides immense benefits that impact the whole family. Though it may take effort initially, establishing regular naps and bedtimes pays off hugely in the long run. Some of the key reasons include:
Promotes Better Nighttime Sleep
Sleep begets sleep, especially for little ones. When babies consistently go to bed around the same time each night, and have a predictable pre-bed routine, they learn over time to become sleepy and transition to sleep more smoothly at that hour. Disrupted sleep cycles result in fragmented night sleep. A schedule helps regulate the body clock.
Supports Daytime Alertness
Babies who get adequate nighttime sleep and properly timed daytime naps tend to be more alert, active and engaged during their waking hours. Sleep is critical for development, so awake babies get more out of time spent playing, bonding and exploring their worlds when well-rested. insufficient sleep can make babies fussy and dull during daylight hours.
Babies thrive on consistent routines. Human infants are born without an innate sense of time and cycles. By repeating set nap times and bedtimes, babies become able to predict and expect when they will sleep. This facilitates cooperation when it’s time to unwind. Erratic schedules undermine this sense of anticipation.
Allows for Adult Time
An early, predictable bedtime for infants and toddlers means parents get their evenings back for adult activities. Once children are asleep, parents can relax, enjoy leisure time with a partner, get chores done, and recharge for the next day. Late, inconsistent bedtimes eat into that time.
Sleep is essential for babies’ rapidly growing bodies and brains. Lack of sleep hampers the development of motor skills, cognition, behavior, and immunity. Short sleep duration is even linked to problems like obesity later in childhood. With a schedule promoting healthy sleep, babies wake up primed to reach developmental milestones.
The multitude of ways a sleep schedule benefits babies makes the effort to implement one well worth it. When infants get used to a rhythm of waking, napping, and sleeping at consistent times, the whole family feels the positive effects.
When to Start a Baby Sleep Schedule
The 4-6 month mark is the prime time to begin easing your baby into more of a sleep schedule, but pay attention to cues to know if your particular child is ready earlier or later. By 4-6 months, most babies have developed sleep cycles more akin to older children and adults, making scheduling more feasible.
Changes Around 4-6 Months
There are key developments happening in infants around 4-6 months that prime them for beginning a sleep schedule:
1- Sleeping longer stretches at night – Between 4-6 months, babies generally start being able to sleep for extended 5-6 hour periods overnight as their nutritional needs change. This consolidate nighttime sleep into a predictable window.
2- Going longer between feedings – Babies around this age begin needing night feedings less frequently, making it easier to distinguish between night sleep and feeding time.
3- Circadian rhythm maturation – The circadian process that regulates wake/sleep times starts to develop between 4-6 months. Babies become more receptive to an external schedule.
4- Decreased need to sleep in motion – The startle reflex fades, and babies sleep more soundly flat in a crib without needing to be rocked or swung.
Looking for Readiness Signs
As always, every child develops on their own timeline. If your baby seems ready for more scheduling earlier than 4 months, look for signs like:
– Sleeping through significant stretches overnight (5-6 hours)
– Easily falling asleep outside of motion (like swings, strollers, car rides)
– Napping somewhat predictably for 1-2 hours during the day
– Settling down well at a consistent bedtime hour
Alternatively, some babies need a little more time before scheduling than others. There are no hard rules. Stay flexible and attune yourself to what your baby needs, following their cues while gently encouraging healthy habits. With time, you’ll find a rhythm.
How to Create a Baby Sleep Schedule
When you have a basic framework in mind for your baby’s nap and bedtimes, tailoring the specifics to your child is easier. Use these steps:
- Observe Natural Rhythms
Spend a few days just paying close attention to when your baby gets sleepy and seems most alert. Make notes on when naps happen and their durations. See if any natural patterns emerge that you can build around. Avoid interfering and letting your own schedule hopes to influence things.
- Choose Appropriate Wake Windows
The windows between naps are called “wake windows.” Average duration windows by baby age are:
– Newborns – 45 mins – 2 hours
– 3 months – 1-2 hours
– 6 months – 2-3 hours
– 9 months – 3-4 hours
Choose windows fitting with your baby’s demonstrated stamina for awake time. This will prevent overtiredness.
- Develop a Bedtime Routine
A calming bedtime routine is key for signaling sleep time. Activities can include a bath, massage, reading, singing lullabies, etc. Keep it brief, calm, and consistent. The routine conditions your baby to unwind.
- Stick to the Schedule
Once you’ve set nap and bedtimes, persistently stick to the schedule as much as possible. Babies thrive on consistency. Maintain the schedule even if wakings occur at first.
- Adjust as Needed
It’s normal to adjust the schedule over time around developmental changes and growth. Flexibility is key. You might need to temporarily revert to meeting the baby’s needs until they are ready again for scheduling.
Additional Tips for Sleep Scheduling Success:
Implementing some additional best practices can help your sleep scheduling efforts go more smoothly:
1- Make daytime feeds and naps happen at the same times daily. Consistency in timing is key.
2- Limit total daytime sleep to age-appropriate amounts. Too much day sleep reduces night sleep. Cap naps at:
– Newborns – 16 hours
– 3-6 months – 15 hours
– 6-12 months – 14 hours
3- Make the hour before bed calm. Avoid high-stimulation play, TV, or anything else over-arousing before bed.
4- Use white noise, blackout curtains and other sleep signals during naps/bedtime. These cues tell the brain it’s time to sleep.
5- Follow the same naptime and bedtime rituals daily. Regular rituals get babies into “sleep mode.”
6- Avoid nursing or feeding right to sleep. Use calming activities so babies learn to self-soothe.
7- Know schedule disruptions will happen! When illnesses, travel or disruptions occur, get back on track ASAP.
8- Be patient and persistent. It can take 2-3 weeks for scheduling to stick. Hang in there!
9- Watch wake windows. Adjust if the baby is overly tired or wide awake when intended to sleep.
10- Consider keeping a diary noting the baby’s schedule successes and challenges. Review it weekly.
11- Be flexible about minor timing; don’t stress over 10-15 minute deviations.
Staying consistent, observant and flexible will help make instituting a sleep schedule a smooth process resulting in a well-rested, happy baby – and family!
With a thoughtful sleep schedule tailored to your baby, both parents and children reap the many benefits of healthy, robust sleep during the critical early years. Stick with it through ups and downs, and your baby will be on the path to happy bedtimes and naptimes for life. Learn here more about Bay Care tips and habits.
Q.At what age should I start a sleep schedule for my baby?
Most experts recommend starting a loose sleep schedule around 4-6 months when babies have started consolidating night sleep and dropping night feedings. But pay attention to your baby’s cues, as some are ready earlier or later.
Q.How much should a baby sleep?
On average, babies need 14-17 hours of total sleep in a 24-hour period. Newborns sleep as much as 16-18 hours broken into small chunks, decreasing to 14-15 hours consolidated by 6 months old.
Q.How long can a newborn stay awake between naps?
Newborns need frequent naps, staying awake only 1-2 hours at most before getting tired and fussy. The duration between naps increases as babies age.
Q.What should I do if my baby won’t nap or sleep?
If a baby is resisting naps, try soothing techniques like swaddling, shushing, swinging, or going for walks until they fall asleep. Ensure the sleep environment is optimal and double-check that wake windows aren’t too long.
Q.Why does my baby keep waking at night on a schedule?
Night wakings are normal even with a good schedule. But make sure the schedule isn’t causing undue bedtime resistance. Check that total day and night sleep amounts are age-appropriate and consider sleep training if needed.