Sleep schedules and routine
Figuring out your baby’s sleep schedule can feel overwhelming. It’s difficult to know when and how much your baby should be sleeping. In this article, we’re going to look at how much sleep your baby needs at various ages, how you can help them get into good routines, and what might be going wrong if you’re experiencing long-term sleep disruption!
Does my baby need a sleep schedule?
Yes and no. A sleep schedule will help ensure your baby is getting enough rest across their daytime and night-time sleeps – and also allow you some predictability in your days and evenings. However, your baby’s sleep schedule doesn’t need to be something rigid that you cannot stray from. In fact, it’s important to be flexible with the schedules day- to- day and as your baby grows to ensure you are meeting their ever- changing needs.
When your baby is a new-born, there is no need to try to create a schedule. New-born babies’ circadian rhythms don’t mature until around 4 months of age, meaning they won’t begin to have somewhat predictable sleep patterns until that time. After 4 months, it can be really helpful to start establishing a loose schedule for your little one.
One of the key reasons parents may choose to try to create some schedules and rhythms to their day is to ensure their child’s sleep needs are met in the right way, so that they do not become over tired and so that their daytime sleep isn’t impacting their night sleep.
Overtired or under-tired?
Under tiredness can cause a problem because your baby is simply not tired enough to sleep, or they don’t have enough sleep pressure to enable them to sleep for a long stretch. Considering how much day time sleep your child has had and how long their wake windows are will help to ensure your baby is ready for sleep.
I like to imagine that babies have a ‘sleepiness’ tank and this needs to be full enough to ensure they are able to fall and stay asleep; therefore if baby has had more sleep than needed or had a long sleep close to bedtime, they may not have enough ‘sleepiness’ or sleep pressure to sustain them to sleep a good 11 – 12-hour stretch overnight.
On the other hand, not being rested enough can also cause challenges with your little one’s sleep, if they find themselves in a sleep deficit or they are awake for longer than they are able for their age and stage. What happens here is the brain releases the stress hormone cortisol to keep them going. You may then experience either a child who appears ‘wired’, very distressed or who simply crashes into sleep through sheer exhaustion. Night sleep will likely also be impacted as the cortisol is still present and much like they have crashed into sleep they can also be startled out of sleep cycles and wake crying and distressed.
As well as a rough schedule ensuring your baby’s sleep needs are met it can be really handy for parents in order to be able to have some level of predictability to their day. It can help with planning activities like baby classes or appointments. There is nothing worse than trying to take an over tired baby swimming!
Every baby is going to need a slightly different schedule and it is important to follow their cues and find a schedule that suits your family’s lifestyle.
Below you will find a chart that outlines average sleep needs by age.
How many naps per day?
The chart outlines how many naps a baby of each age is likely to take per day, this will vary from child to child. For example if your baby only takes very short naps you may find you need more naps than the table suggests until your baby is able to extend their naps. Your baby will also go through three major nap transitions throughout their first few years. Typically, the third afternoon nap drops sometime between 7 – 9 months, the morning nap will then drop sometime between 15 – 18 months of age and finally your toddler may be ready to reduce and drop their final lunchtime nap sometime between 2.5 – 3 years (although some children still need a short nap until 4 years!)
How much day time sleep?
Also in the chart, you will find suggestions for how many hours of sleep your baby might need in total during the day for their age. This is a range and so a baby on the younger side of the range is likely to need the higher end of the scale, likewise a child on the older side of the range is likely to need the lesser end of the scale. Also consider other factors such as how sleep has been historically;, a baby who has not been sleeping well recently may need more sleep for a while to restore their sleep deficit.
The chart also shows the average wake windows per age. Awake window is the length of time your baby will manage to stay awake between sleeps. There is a range within these windows for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, the wake window will typically extend throughout the day, meaning your baby’s first wake window between waking in the morning and going down for their first nap of the day will be shortest; their final window between waking from their last night and going to sleep at bedtime will be longest.
Secondly, the wake windows give a range within an age group and so if your baby is on the younger side of the age range you will be looking at the shorter end of the scale for wake windows, whilst babies on the older end of the scale will have the longer wake windows.
Another key thing to consider is how restorative the previous sleep was. If the previous sleep was disturbed or much shorter than normal, the next wake window is likely to be shorter.
When you are creating a schedule for your baby based on these wake windows, remember that you are aiming for your baby to be asleep by the end of the window so you need to build in time prior to this for your nap or bedtime routine and some time to settle baby to sleep.
Average sleep needs by age
You can start a bedtime routine from as early as you would like, but if you haven’t already I would definitely recommend creating one from 4 months old. When it comes to creating your baby’s bedtime routine the main focus is on carrying out the same routine every night. Completing the same steps in the same order at around the same time each evening will create positive and strong sleep associations for your baby, helping them to settle to sleep more soundly.
Here are some things to consider including;
A bath is often recommended in the bedtime routine. This is because it raises the body temperature and the subsequent drop in temperature helps us relax and be ready for sleep. Don’t worry if you cannot include a bath every night!
- 3-6 Months: Baby Massage and the same sleepy song every night
- 6-12 Months: Consider introducing a bedtime story, just 1-2 short board books is ideal
- 12 months+: Consider introducing 1:1 playtime, set a timer for 10-15 minutes and let your toddler lead the play – ensure they have your undivided attention!
- 18 months+: Try adding choices to your bedtime routine to give your toddler autonomy. Offer a choice of just two options. ‘Would you like the whale or the fish in the bath?’, ‘Green or yellow PJs?’, ‘Car book or Bear book?’ Start off just adding one choice in the bedtime routine and build up to adding more as you see how your toddler responds.
- 2 years+: Try introducing a bedtime routine chart or story with pictures to show your toddler the routine and what is happening next. You can make it interactive by allowing them to take the picture off or tick a box once the task is complete. A timer can also be a helpful tool here to show your toddler how long they have before moving on.
Remember that the above is simply a guide and things will change as your baby grows, but also based on each day’s circumstances. Your baby will go through sleep regressions, developmental leaps, teething and illness, and these will all impact schedules, meaning your baby may need more or less sleep than usual for a time.