Sleep is essential for the health and well-being of all living creatures. But did you know a baby sleep schedule is especially important for newborns and infants?
We have three kids; each baby had a different sleep routine because we learned along the way!
I’ll admit for our first baby, we had no idea what we were doing. He broke out of the swaddle, I gave in to nursing during the middle of the night, and he wasn’t given the opportunity to self-soothe. Oy. Talk about one sleep-deprived Mama for the first year.
Our second little one, we had swaddling on point (well, my husband did). Our daughter was tightly wrapped correctly, we turned on the white noise, and she learned to soothe herself.
For the most recent baby, our sleep game got even stronger. We invested in an amazing sleep sack, kept the room cool and dark, and played lullabies on the iPad. Most importantly, we made the routine identical every, single time—even for naps.
Can I just say, last night we got a 12-hour stretch of sleep from a 5-year old, a 3-year old, and a 10-month old? SUCCESS!
Now, a typical sleep schedule for newborns can be anywhere from 10 to 18 hours per day. Brain development occurs during this sleep time, which is important for the emotional and behavioral health of your child as he or she grows.
Therefore, setting sleep schedules for baby is important, as they help your child to begin to develop natural circadian rhythms that teach them to distinguish night and day.
In addition to promoting good development, having your baby used to a specific routine makes it much easier to leave him with a babysitter if that becomes necessary.
In this article, we dive into whether getting a baby on a sleep schedule a good idea. (Spoiler alert: IT IS.)
You might be wondering:
When Can I Start a Sleep Routine for a Baby?
Contrary to popular belief, there is little you can do to coax a brand-new baby into a schedule.
Not to fret; this is normal.
For the first month of life, newborns will wake and sleep according to hunger signals — and they should be allowed to do this.
Around one month to six weeks of age, however, is the right time to think about implementing an infant sleep schedule.
Routines like sleep schedules help a child feel secure and help them negotiate the big developmental changes that are waiting just ahead.
Getting Baby on a Sleep Schedule
So, how do you get a baby on a sleep schedule?
There are a lot of different scheduling styles, including parent-led, child-led, and a combination of the two.
While there are pros and cons to each, we’re going to concentrate more on the “when” of scheduling rather than the style you choose.
Let’s look at a simple way to ease your child into a baby schedule with the least amount of fuss.
One Month to Six Weeks Old
Beginning around six weeks after birth, you can begin to introduce a routine the precedes your child’s sleep time.
Your newborn will sleep anywhere from 16 to 20 hours a day, including the naps taken between feedings. When your baby has been fed, let him stay awake for a short while and then put him down before he becomes overstimulated.
You’ll probably start to see your baby’s cues for sleep:
- Staring away
- Rubbing eyes
You may even hear a different sound, or coo from your baby. I call this the “sleepy sound”, and once identified, it will be the clue that helps you immediately get them started on their sleep routine.
During the evening prior to an overnight sleep schedule, set the scene. You want to establish cues for baby to understand its “night-night” time.
An effective baby sleep routine can include the following steps:
- Dim the lights (or draw the blackout curtains)
- A warm bath
- Give a feeding
- Read the same book
- Sing or play lullaby songs
- Rock baby for a few minutes
- Pop in the pacifier (if you give one)
- Place them in the crib gently
Learn to swaddle like a pro (baby burrito, anyone?). If baby rejects bring wrapped then try a sleep sack. Babies love to feel the comfort of a tight space, especially after being in Mom’s cozy tummy for so long.
You can do this exact same thing for nap time, except eliminate the bath.
Establishing this little routine is the foundation of a good infant nap schedule and bedtime sleep schedule.
Get this part down, so that you can turn the baby monitor on and ease into a glass of wine!
Three Months to Six Months Old
Your baby is growing quickly and learning to understand the difference between daytime and nighttime activities.
This is a good time to start keeping track of your baby’s daily schedule — her normal sleep/wake cycles — to see if you can determine a pattern.
You could use a simple notebook to keep track of changes, but there are lots of great apps to help you do this, like:
Using these apps will help you envision the emerging patterns of your child’s schedule so you can follow them, improve on them, or modify them as necessary.
Once you have a good idea of her schedule, you can start incorporating play times during your child’s most wakeful moments and implement your nap-time routine right before she gets sleepy.
This daytime/playtime activity will further reinforce your baby’s nap schedule and help her look forward to the natural rhythm of your days together.
At this age, your child should be allowed to try to self-soothe during naptimes and bedtime. Crying is normal when you put your baby down, but it is okay. If he cries for longer than 10-15 minutes, then go in and check on him. Don’t get him up, but pat his bottom or lightly rub his back until he calms down.
Seven Months and Older
If you’ve been consistent with your routines, your baby will have fallen into a regular schedule of:
This will help him be well-adjusted, fully rested, and ready to learn and grow.
Having this kind of regular schedule also helps tired parents get much-needed restorative sleep so they’re better able to cope with the rigors of having young children.
Most babies can sleep through the night by seven months, if they’ve been used to a schedule.
That is, until you hit a dreaded sleep regression! All of a sudden, your little bub that was sleeping like angel starts waking up at all hours of the night, refusing naps and crying at bedtime.
Sometimes, a baby sleep schedule can get disrupted because of teething. If this is the case, check out our effective remedies to help baby teething.
Other times it may be:
- Physical developments (like sitting, crawling or walking)
- Brain developments
- Potty training
Keep calm and carry on, Mom. Try to understand if any of these causes may be contributing to a baby sleep regression. And remember, this too shall pass (and there’s coffee just around the corner)!
Tips for Establishing a Sleep Schedule
Now that you know when your baby is ready for a routine, let’s examine ways to make it easier for you — and your baby — to get to sleep on schedule.
Tip #1: Set the Stage
The best way to help your baby learn to anticipate sleep time is to set the stage for sleep — no matter which scheduling option you prefer.
Give her a warm bath, keep the lights low, and rock or sing quietly in advance of bedtime. Of most importance is to put her to bed while she’s sleepy — but still awake. This helps her to put herself back to sleep if she wakes up, because she’ll remember the routine.
Tip #2: Be a Calm at Night, Play During the Day
If you must feed or change your baby at night, keep the lights low and don’t play with him.
In the daytime however, you can feel free to play, laugh, and giggle with your baby.
Expose him to bright light while you’re playing so he understands that bright light and lots of play means it’s time to be awake.
Follow playtime with a feeding and then begin the slow, wind-down to sleep time. Remember to begin your sleep-time routine, even if it’s for a daytime nap.
Tip #3: Wait and See
It’s normal for babies to cry when they awaken at night. To keep your baby on a schedule, she needs to learn how to self-soothe.
You can help her by waiting a few minutes before you check on a fussing infant. If she’s still crying, check on her without turning on a light, picking her up, or playing with her.
If she’s still frantic after that, consider that she might be wet, feeling unwell, or hungry and attend to those needs if necessary.
Even though you might need to change or feed him, remember Tip #2. Stay calm and quiet and try to manage the diaper or bottle with the minimum of fuss. Keep the lights low.
When you’re finished, put her back to bed and darken the room.
Baby Sleep Schedule: The Right Thing for Baby — And You
Having a baby sleep schedule is not only necessary for helping your baby develop good emotional and behavioral skills, it’s also essential to help you get the rest you need.
Introducing your baby to a routine in a gradual way that aligns with her ability to understand and comply makes developing a schedule as fuss-free and drama-free as possible.
Allowing your child to develop her own natural circadian rhythm is critical to good sleep habits later.
Just as some people are “morning people” or “night owls,” your baby may also exhibit these tendencies early on.
No matter what the schedule, babies need rest for proper growth and development.
Developing a baby nap schedule not only promotes good health for your baby — it allows busy parents time to rest, work, or take care of essential chores that are set aside while baby is awake.
What methods have you tried for implementing a baby sleep schedule with your little one?
Share with us in the comments below!