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? It is important to learn how to establish a good sleep schedule for your baby. Your baby’s health and your own sleep depend on getting into a good routine.
We have three kids; each baby had a different sleep routine because we learned along the way! We would have loved to have the wealth of resources that are now available for first-time parents. I imagine our sleep would have benefited greatly!
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. Days and nights blended into one long sleep-deprived experience and we couldn’t provide the care we wanted.
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. It was far more reassuring and rewarding to have a reliable routine that utilized effective techniques. We paid more attention and focus on honing our sleep schedule so that everyone got the rest they needed.
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. Obviously, you have to be realistic. There will be times where it is more difficult for your baby to sleep and you will have to adapt to the sleep schedule.
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. It is an area of your baby’s life that is relatively easy to prepare for and control. And that is rare!
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?
There is no right and wrong answer as to when you should start a sleep routine for your baby, but it would be advised to do so between the ages of 2-4 months. This is due to the fact that their sleeping and feeding habits are much more regular and therefore, are likely to sleep better during the night. It is also an age where their irregular sleep can be most disruptive to new parents.
It would also be a good idea to log how many hours of sleep your baby is getting per night – whether it be just jotting it down on a notepad to keep a record, or you could even download a few apps that you’ll come across within the blog. Being able to compare the hours your baby has slept throughout the week is a good way of tracking health and development.
Contrary to popular belief, there is little you can do to coax a brand-new baby into a schedule.They have a will of their own and take a while to learn that you are in charge!
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. It is a natural process that shouldn’t be disturbed even though this may seem inconvenient for new mothers and fathers. It is a vital time that you are just going to have to power through.
During the newborn period however, it’s even more difficult to get your child to sleep and one of the main reasons for this may be that they’re constantly hungry. Even if you believe they don’t need to eat just yet- always follow your baby’s signals.It should be pretty clear when they need to sleep and when they need to eat. A newborn baby’s signals are rarely discreet!
If they don’t get milk when they need it, it could lead to health issues such as dehydration or even weight loss. Quite simply, no sleep schedule should come in the way of your baby’s needs. Always prioritize their health needs over your own sleep schedule. As you develop a greater connection with your baby your sleep patterns should align somewhat and care may become easier.
Around one month to six weeks of age, however, is the right time to think about implementing an infant sleep schedule. Your baby’s first-year calendar will be full of milestones. Sorting out the sleep patterns will be one of the most significant and rewarding. As you tick off certain targets new hurdles will arise but your experience dealing with the stressful first few weeks will stand you in good stead.
Routines like sleep schedules help a child feel secure and help them negotiate the big developmental changes that are waiting just ahead. They also help the parent feel more confident and rested. It is vital that both the parent and child are able to rest properly and develop a relationship.
Getting Baby on a Sleep Schedule
So, you may be wondering how to establish a sleep schedule for baby.
There are a lot of different scheduling styles, including parent-led, child-led, and a combination of the two. They are all designed to develop a sleep schedule that is convenient, occurs smoothly and lasts a while. The amount of sleep will change as the baby grows. Your baby might be sleeping 12 hours by 12 weeks and by 7 months this will probably be completely different.
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. Timing is integral to developing a reliable sleep schedule that gets you the results you need.
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 to your brand-new baby.
Having a newborn is terrifying and one of your main concerns is the right time to put the baby down, so it doesn’t wake at inconvenient times. I remember those days oh-so-well, but it’s just about finding what works for you. After all, you need to get your sleep too. It is common for new parents to be tired all the time so it is important to try anything that helps to mitigate tiredness.
If you’re breastfeeding, it’s likely that your baby will nod off after or even during the feed. Continue to do so until their eyes start to close and are on the verge of fully asleep. As a new mom, you need to try and get as much sleep as you can – I always felt drained when I didn’t get my sleep and can therefore, leave you feeling emotional and stressy.
I also remember worrying about making noise when they did eventually drop off, but don’t feel the need to tread carefully. It’s important your baby gets used to different sounds and noises so they will ultimately learn to sleep through anything. Obviously, it is natural to be delicate and quiet around a sleeping newborn baby so it may take some time getting used to.
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.
16 to 20 hours give you plenty of time to relax. When your baby is sleeping it is vital that you also take some time to yourself. This is a valuable time! Getting your baby into a proper sleep schedule also requires you to take care of your body and mind. This is the best way to have a happy baby and a happy parent.
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.
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. A 17-week old baby will have different needs than a newborn child. The sleep schedule will need to be adapted. If you haven’t made one already this would be a good time to write out a sleeping timetable. Let’s think about daytime and nighttime activities!
It would be a good idea to try and differentiate the two, so they learn when they should be sleeping. During the daytime, keep the curtains opened, stimulate them with play and don’t worry too much about making noises if they do happen to nod off. After a period of time, they’ll learn that night time is the correct time to sleep.
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. This is the best way to get control of your baby’s sleeping times.
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. This will also help you create a bond between you and your baby that is both rewarding and productive.
A sleep schedule for 3 month olds should include allowing them to self-soothe during nap times 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.
By the age of 6 months, your baby should be getting at least 14 hours per sleep each day and fingers crossed, should not be sleeping in seven-hour slots. Then, it would be wise if they take a nap both in the morning and the afternoon for around an hour at a time.
A 6 months old baby schedule should play out like this:
- Play a relaxed game
- Give them a bath
- Change them into their pyjamas
- Read a bedtime story
- Give a gentle massage
- Kiss them goodnight and tuck them in
Be sure you do each of the steps above in the same order every night, so they get used to the consistency and understand that this is the time they need to get into a relaxed state for bedtime.
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. You and your baby can develop together so that your waking hours can be rewarding rather than tiresome.
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. If your baby is able to get good sleep then it will be easier to take care of them when they are awake.
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. Through the first few years of your baby’s life, their patterns will change naturally and you need to make sure you can adapt. Being prepared for these changes will make them easier to deal with and your baby will benefit too!
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.