I’m pretty sure all parents would love if they could pick a set schedule to depend on each day for their baby’s naps and bedtime!
If you have tried implementing set times for naps, feeding and bedtime with your young baby and it failed you’re probably wondering why that is?
Whether or not your baby will respond to a set schedule really depends on their age, temperament, and current sleep habits. The body clock of a young baby (let’s say 8 months and younger) is still adjusting and regulating to be able to adhere to any kind of set schedule. So, at this younger age the “schedule” should really be thought of as more flexible and fluid.
Over time, as your baby grows and get’s older their circadian rhythm becomes more developed and they are able to consolidate their sleep into longer periods of time at night and for naps. Along with these developments their schedule may start to shape up into a more reliable pattern.
Given this reality, when I work with clients I always help them to implement a Wake Window schedule to start with. Adhering to Wake Windows along with watching your baby’s cues is a wonderful way to help shape their sleep patterns and encourage a “By the Clock” schedule to emerge.
A wake window schedule means that you base your baby’s sleep times on:
- How long they have been awake
- How long their previous sleep period lasted
- The time of the day, morning vs. afternoon vs. before bedtime
So, the time your baby wakes up in the morning will determine how long they should be awake before their first nap of the day. The duration of the first nap determines how long they stay awake until the second nap should occur and so on until it is bedtime. This means that their day-to-day sleep schedule will shift slightly for the obvious reason that they won’t take the exact same length of naps or wake up at the exact same time each morning. The shortest wake window of the day is typically in the morning and the longest wake window of the day is typically before bedtime.
Benefits to using Wake Windows:
- Easier nap transitions when dropping from 3-2-1-0 naps per day due to flexibility
- Dropping the last nap of the day when the time comes isn’t as abrupt
- Helps prevent overtiredness, if your baby wakes up early from Nap 1 of the day they won’t be pushed too far to make it to Nap 2 because you base the time of Nap 2 on how long they slept during Nap 1
- Staying consistent with sleep routines while using wake window approach you’ll usually find the daily difference in timing is pretty minimal
- Wake windows can be used for older babies who are sensitive sleepers or have inconsistent nap lengths
BY THE CLOCK SCHEDULE
A “by the clock” schedule means that your baby’s sleep and wake times stay mostly consistent on a day-to-day basis. It is an alternative to following age appropriate Wake Windows. But, in order for it to work, it means your baby has a clearly developed night and napping sleep pattern. Some babies develop into this type of pattern naturally by the time they around 8-9 months old. Every baby is so unique and while some will flourish using a by the clock schedule, for others it might actually disrupt good sleep patterns because they do not respond well to the rigid boundaries it creates.
Benefits of using by the clock:
- Some baby’s really benefit because they get their most restorative sleep at the same time each day
- Knowing when naps will happen allows you to plan your day more easily
Keep in mind as your baby gets older their sleep needs will change and you will have to shift their naps and likely bedtime as a result. If your baby’s nap length tends to vary each day using strict clock times might lead to problems because they will either be overtired or not tired enough when it’s time for their next nap or bedtime.
How to know what schedule is right for your baby…
For baby’s under 8 months old I do not recommend using a by the clock schedule. Most baby’s truly take over 6 months to more fully develop their internal body clock and circadian rhythm. Following wake windows will almost always give you better results with young babies and that is always my first course action when working with clients. A great way to figure out if your older aged baby can start following a by the clock schedule is to chart their sleep and see if a consistent pattern emerges.
Once baby is 8 months or older and you are consistently seeing more regulated patterns emerging for sleep and wake times it might be appropriate to switch to a by the clock schedule. I suggest using the timings you see emerge from their daily sleep habits as well as observing their cues for sleep. The morning nap will most likely be the easiest to pin down to a specific time.
One thing to keep in mind is that during nap transitions as baby gets older when dropping from 2 naps to 1 and 1 to none their nap times will obviously have to shift.
In my opinion, it’s always a good idea to allow for some flexibility of up to 1 hour in bedtime until your baby is consistently on a 1 or none nap schedule. During the first 12-14 months your baby is doing a lot of growing and their sleep schedule will be shifting every few months as a result of naps tapering off to 1 nap and then eventually no naps by around age 4. Especially during the first year you will need to allow for an earlier bedtime on some days while going through these nap transitions.
The wake time just before bed is highly sensitive and effected by the nap or naps that took place before it. For example, if baby took two great naps that day then they will likely need more awake time before bed. Conversely, if baby did not have a great nap day, their wake time before bed will need to be shortened to prevent overtiredness.
Need help with your baby's schedule?
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