Do I need a strict schedule in order to get good sleep?Jan 13, 2023
Do you know what's just as scary to families as sleep training? A "strict schedule."
This is especially scary if you have other children. One of the biggest misunderstandings about sleep is understanding the how, the why, and the what about "schedules."
I will be upfront about what we preach. Schedules and routines are a good thing. There's too much evidence to back it. However, that doesn't mean you need to be on a strict, restrictive schedule that is not suitable for the family or NOT good for the baby. It is not a secret that many sleep experts discuss the relationship between day and nighttime sleep and encourage parents to take a close look at their baby's nap times and daytime sleep routines to improve the quality (as in uninterrupted length) of nighttime sleep. Many studies show a connection with consistent sleep patterns, leading to consistent nights. Thus, an excellent, consistent schedule leads to better nights.
Having consistent naps, however, is not the same as having strict schedules.
We HAVE to be flexible as parents, but the understanding that there is a balance of naps…
Getting the right amount of sleep…
With suitable flexibility and consistency…
That allows a child to be predictable, feel tired, fall asleep quickly…
While giving them all the freedom to experience things as they grow.
There's a lot to unpack in that list. This is where 'consistency' comes in. We recommend being consistent about things such as wake-up times, when you have your first nap of the day, and the wake times you use in different scenarios, but that is very different than being "strict." Being strict means, you forego any other factors for the sake of the naps rules, regardless of the environment or circumstances. That's not something you need to do to have a good sleep.
There is, however, one situation where we recommend having a strict schedule. When you are trying to change a schedule or a new schedule for the first time with your child, it is essential to stay 'strict' to that schedule for at least three days to allow a child to get used to that time. Once you've permitted a child to be on that schedule consistently for at least three days, we have found when you will discover how your child "reacts." Your child's "reactions" become a way for you to see patterns quickly and allow you to understand the boundaries and lines of flexibility that you do have!
For example, once you know your child's day time sleep quote, you have more leeway on your wake times, understanding when you cap them and what to expect the rest of the day. When you find your child sleepy near the same time, it allows you to plan for naps on the go or strollers on the go safely. When you understand your child's sleep patterns, you can navigate to 'consistent' nap rules to still retain nights WHILE allowing you to be consistent.
What are we trying to say here?
Being on a strict nap schedule (whether on wake times or on time based schedules) is essential when trying a new nap schedule and starting to sleep train for the first time to determine your child's sleep patterns.
But, retaining it, once you've understood your child's sleep patterns, the game's name is consistency, not strictness.
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1. Bruni O, Baumgartner E, Sette S, et al. Longitudinal study of sleep behavior in normal infants during the first year of life. J Clin Sleep Med. 2014;10(10):1119-27. doi:10.5664/jcsm.4114
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