How to Find the Best Baby Sleep Schedule
To set up the best baby sleep schedule, you need 2 ingredients:
- Typical average sleep schedules by age (shown below) - including wake up time, nap times and bedtime
- Your baby's own specific sleep needs (important! and these needs are often surprisingly different from the averages!) - easy to discover with my Baby Sleep Schedule Tool - aka the Sleepy Signs Journal (free download)
There's one very 'simple' goal to keep in mind: avoid over-tiredness for your baby. That's the golden rule that'll make your scheduling decisions so much easier and will help secure that best-fit schedule.
Remember, a sleep schedule is easy
to set up, and important. It helps your baby to tune in to a good circadian rhythm which makes it easier
asleep, take better
naps and helps with sleeping through the night.
Typical baby sleep schedules by age
These typical average schedules are helpful to give you an easy starting point when setting up your baby's schedule, or to reassure you that you're on the right track at any given time.
Use these set ups carefully though: trying to follow the averages too strictly, may conflict with what your baby truly needs and can cope with. Always factor in your baby's personal needs, as explained in the next section.
- 0-4 months: no real schedule, naps are on demand, typically 4-5 naps of 30-60' and with 45-90' wake windows
- 4-6 months: early schedule in sight, 4 naps reducing to 3 by 6 months, increasing in length from 30-60' to 60-90', with increasing wake windows to 2-2.5h. Last nap of the day usually shortest
- 6-12 months: schedule, 3 naps reducing to 2 naps toward 12 months, 2-2.5h wake windows increasing toward end of the day
- 12-15 months: schedule, transition to 1 nap, 4-6h wake windows
- 15 months+: schedule, 1 nap, 4-6h wake windows
Your baby's unique sleep schedule needs
Contrary to what many want you to believe, there is not a single pre-fab schedule that your baby should follow at a given age.
What should determine your baby's schedule is her precise needs in terms of when to sleep, how much to sleep and how many times a day.
- Start from your current schedule or from an example schedule as above
- Keep a journal for 3-5 days, with focus on behavioral sleepy signs (this is easy with my free template Sleepy Signs Journal - it comes with instructions too!)
- Finetune your baby's sleep schedule with what you've learned from the journal
Your journal will give you a ton of information about when your baby could, and should, sleep best. It's important to include behavioral sleepy signs: i.e. how your baby feels and acts at any given level of tiredness.
This'll make you a pro at reading your baby's sleepy signals and that's essential to setting up that perfect, best-fitted baby sleep schedule, at any age.
Why a sleep schedule?
A sleep schedule is nothing more than a simple 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.
To help you find out which type of schedule/routine best fits your
baby, I've developed a doable step-by-step program: see my No Tears Naps aka "Nap in a Snap"
guide for full details.
The circadian rhythm
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
babies do not have this well established
circadian rhythm yet. Their true day (= active) and night (= quiet)
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.
sleep is vital for good sleep, not just for babies but for
older children and adults too.
bedtimes are very recognisable and therefore comfortable for our
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 daytime sleep moments help toward longer
Last but not least, regular naps during the
day have shown to have a positive effect on nights. Optimal nap scheduling leads to sleeping longer stretches at night and eventually, help baby sleep through the night.
most babies thrive on a schedule, some do
not seem to need any. They will simply sleep at any time,
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 following articles discuss further specifics for a baby sleep schedule at different ages:
Newborn, 1-4 months and 4-12