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A baby sleep schedule is easy to set up at any age and it is very effective at getting your baby into an all important healthy rhythm. Tuning into the circadian rhythm makes it easier to fall asleep, take better naps and helps with sleeping through the night.
It's a day-night planning you set up for your little one. It's like a daily agenda for sleeping times, set around the feeding schedule, playing, bathing and other activities (like giving mummy the cutest smile ever ...).
Of course - and luckily! - babies are no machines so do not think of this schedule as a rigid time regime. While providing your child with a predictable rhythm, it will always need to be flexible enough to adapt to her, and your (!) needs of the day.A sleep schedule may involve timed moments (like "1.15pm is bed time"), or it may be built on a regular set of cyclic events ("eat, play, then sleep"). Which option you choose depends on your own personality and, most of all, on what is best for your little boy or girl.
We are all on a
cycle, the circadian rhythm. That means that,
naturally, we have "high points" and "low points" of activity in each
day. At the low points (night time and siesta time) our body will be
very happy to sleep.
A well suited regular sleep schedule helps reinforce this process.
Newborn babies do not have this well established circadian rhythm yet. Their true day (= active) and night (= quiet) rhythm usually does not develop until the age of three or four months.
Developing this day/night rhythm similar to ours is one of the crucial early baby milestones. A sleep schedule helps support this development. See the newborn schedule page for how-to info.
Regular sleep is vital for good sleep, not just for babies but for older childrens and adults too.
Regular bedtimes are very recognisable and therefore comfortable for our body.
As we get used to sleeping at these given times, we will feel drowsy at these times and find sleep easily.
This is true as much for babies and children as for adults.
Three good reasons why an infant sleep schedule helps your baby sleep well:
Regular nap and night bed times make it easier for your baby to settle and start a good sleep.
Well chosen bedtimes help her take longer
naps, sleep longer stretches at night and eventually, help baby sleep through
the night. A well-fitting schedule is one of the absolute basics which
must be in place before improving your nights with the specific
techniques (as discussed in my No-Tears
Sleeping Through the Night guide).
Last but not least, regular naps during the day have shown to have a good effect on the nights. Rather than "resting her too much so she's not tired enough at night", regular naps ensure that your baby is not overtired by night time. And that leads to easier settling into longer nights.
Although most babies thrive on a schedule, some do not seem to need any. They will simply sleep at any time, usually also in any place. If that is your baby, and it suits you well, by all means there is no need to install a schedule.
But if sleep does become an issue
at some point, then more regularity can help.
The best baby sleep schedules suit both you and your baby well. That means you combine her needs - when does she feel sleepy, when is she active and enjoying her surroundings - with your own - your activities, older children to be taken to school, ...
the younger the baby, the more the schedule comes from her. As she gets older, you set the timing more
also, many parents find that a first baby has quite a lot of "influence" on her own schedule. Once there are older children, baby's sleep schedule will just fit into the family's day.
In any case, the best sleep schedule depends on your baby's age.