How to Find the Right Baby Sleep Schedule

Latest update: September 28, 2018

Author: Heidi Holvoet, PhD

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 to fall 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.

Here's how:

  • 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?

Baby Sleep Schedule: Sleep Journal Diaries

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 mommy 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 given daily 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 children and adults too.

Regular bedtimes are very recognizable 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:

  1. Regular nap and night bed times make it easier for your baby to settle and start a good sleep.

  2. Well chosen daytime sleep moments help toward longer naps.

  3. 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.

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 following articles discuss further specifics for a baby sleep schedule at different ages: Newborn, 1-4 months and 4-12 months.