Another hot topic for sleep usually revolves around schedules. There are so many schools of thought around whether to put your child on a schedule or not, and it can be so confusing. Here's my school of thought and recommendations of schedules versus routines, and what has made my clients more successful in their sleep journey.
First, it's important to understand the difference between routines and schedule. Routines allow you to drive your day based on activities, instead of time. For example, eat-play-sleep is very common suggestions, but may only be driven by activities and waketimes. A schedule is based on time, which means that activities fall into a specific range of time, where each nap is at the same time without much variance every day.
So, what's better?
Routines and schedules are usually appropriate for children based on development and sleep maturity, and these are some recommendations by age:
Newborn (0-8 weeks)
As a newborn, especially in these first 2 months, very little patterns emerge as your child is just getting used to this big new world! Allowing them to get the rest they need, when they need it, and focusing on waketimes of about 35-50 minutes will be key to decreasing fussiness and allowing them to start developing their sleep cycles.
- Allow them to sleep as long as they want at night and through the morning.
- Later bedtimes are okay (9-11 pm)
- All naps will vary and follow waketimes
Mid-newborn to infancy (8 weeks -5 months)
Around 8 weeks of age, most children will start showing you their sleep cycles. This means they start to wake up in the morning at the same time and start settling into a bedtime. You will notice their increased awareness, and maybe start to get a better sense of waketimes. During this time might be a great time to start incorporating your transition schedule, which is a little of a routine and a little of a schedule. This includes:
- Based on when they usually wake up, keep wake up time at the same time every day (so if its 7:00 am, wake them at that same time every day, even if they are still sleeping).
- Keep the first nap of the day at the same time, even if they wake a little earlier.
- Cap the last nap of the day to the waketime before bedtime.
- Keep Bedtime the same every night.
- All nights in between will be on waketimes (not on a schedule)
- This allows you to get some predictability for the day and also help your child prepare for a schedule!
Infants 6+ months (or on 2 nap)
By this time, most children start to develop strong sleep cycles and rhythms. Once your child has shown this and you are down to 2 naps - which can happen anywhere from 6-9 months, a strict time based schedule might be best!
- Wake up at the same time every day
- Naps are at the same time everyday based on their appropriate wake time.
- Bedtime is at the same time every day
Implementing a schedule might feel difficult or restrictive, but there truly are many benefits to implementing a schedule, when it's appropriate that help with all those feelings of 'inflexibility."
- Implementing a schedule can actually create predictability which helps navigate through the day a bit better. This means, while there are times you are going to want to "protect," for nap time, you know the times you will be out will not have as much fuss because your child is rested! It also helps take the detective work out of trying to figure out whether your child is hungry or sleepy. Being aligned to their sleep cycles and creating a schedule that supports that is key to having a happy child. I cannot tell you how many times, after working with my families, they have told me car rides have become so much better because their babies were not fussy, upset, or overtired.
- A schedule has shown to actually help a child sleep better - at night. We all have natural sleep cycles, and the more we can align to them, the better sleep they get for naps and nights. I have found when some families stick to a pure waketime routine for longer than their child might need them, what was once a really great string of nights, start to become broken. Naps shorten and night wakings start to creep up. The inconsistent timings do not allow a child to realign to the same cycles, making it a like being a few beats off to catching a wave - sorry, surfing analogy!
- Babies LOVE to be on a routine and schedule. They learn the best when they have a predictable day that provides a safe place to learn. This helps with their temperament before nap and bedtime, but it also helps with sleep training! Creating a predictable schedule with the same activities, allows for them to thrive and learn new skills such as independent sleep skills.
So before you disregard schedules, check out all these benefits! And if you need a little support, you know we're here! Our Newborn and Infant sleep courses help with all things naps (and nights), including how to nap train and how to nail your schedule that's right for your child.
Let's get a little sleepy!
Rested Mama, Happy Baby Founder
I'm your certified pediatric sleep coach and new parent educator, Mica Deshaw. I help families on their journey to establish healthy sleep habits and get the whole family sleeping again, working with children ages 0-4 years old.
P.S - Looking for a waketime chart? Check out our free download! CLICK HERE
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