Plenty of sleep and a consistent bedtime routine are recommended as one of the best things that new parents can do to help their babies grow and thrive. The right amount of overnight sleep and a set nap schedule not only helps with your baby’s brain development, which doubles in size in the first year but also provides a reliable structure for baby and reduces instances of being overtired and cranky.
There are several good reasons for establishing a sleep routine for infants. If you aren’t sure how to start, don’t worry; we’ve got some tips and tricks for that too.
Sleep routines help your baby learn to develop their circadian rhythms, making it easier for them to sleep and wake naturally. While newborns typically set their own schedules starting around two months, you can begin to train your baby to go to bed at certain times, which can help them learn to sleep through the night and wake up at a consistent time.
Around the three to six month mark, you’ll notice that your baby’s sleep and nap times begin to fall around the same time every day.
Establishing a sleep routine for your baby helps them learn to fall asleep on their own. A predictable routine also builds trust between you and your baby. Once the routine begins, your baby can learn to anticipate what comes next. Plus, many elements of an infant’s sleep routine enhance the bond between you and your baby. Cuddles, reading, singing and a gentle bath are all affectionate, loving gestures that comfort your baby.
In the first year, babies need 12 to 16 hours of sleep per day. This is a mix of overnight sleep, typically 10 to 12 hours, and one to two naps. Younger babies up to six months may take two to three naps per day because their feeding intervals are shorts. But as babies begin eating solid foods, around the six-month mark, their naps gradually drop to just one per day of about two to four hours.
Some babies are early risers, falling asleep around your dinnertime but waking up with the dawn. Others naturally stay up later but want to sleep in the morning. The best sleep schedule should work for both you and your baby.
The sleep schedule ensures that your baby gets enough rest. Expect your baby to sleep 10 to 12 hours through the night. Babies need naps too, although each child is different. Some may like one long nap, while others may catnap throughout the day. Follow your baby’s cues for napping, and build the rest of your day around that.
For working parents, a baby’s natural sleep schedule might not work for their obligations. If you have a baby who loves to sleep in, but you need to go to work early, or you get off work late but want time with your baby before bed, you may need to adjust the sleep schedule.
If you’ve already established a sleep routine with your baby, you can start to wake them up earlier by making small adjustments. Gradually move the timing of the beginning of your baby’s bedtime routine, getting them in bed sooner. This strategy helps make it easier to wake them up earlier in the morning, while still ensuring that they get the right amount of sleep.
Some elements of your sleep routine may come naturally. For example, many babies become drowsy after feeding, especially when they’re nestled closely to mom or dad. This makes it easy to put the baby in bed. Pay attention to your baby’s sleep cues, such as yawning, rubbing their eyes or fussing. These indicate that they’re ready for bed.
However, many pediatricians caution against feeding a baby to sleep and instead suggest feeding the baby and then starting a separate bedtime routine.
A typical nighttime bedtime may begin with a warm bath, relaxing your baby and making them more comfortable for sleep. Then, putting your baby in warm jammies and giving them cuddles, followed by reading a book, singing a lullaby and rocking or both. Dim the lights in your nursery as you prepare your baby for bed.
While it may be tempting to wait to put your baby in their bed when they’re fully asleep, it’s better to lay them down as they’re just falling asleep. This way, they begin to associate falling asleep with being put in bed, setting a pattern that makes it easier for them to fall asleep when they’re more awake.
Each baby is different, and you might need a bit of trial and error to establish what works best for both of you. Follow your baby’s cues, noting what seems to relax them and what makes them more stimulated to adjust your sleep routine as needed.
A sleep routine is easier to establish if you have your baby on a consistent schedule throughout the day as well. Feeding them at certain times, having an outdoor walk at the same time each day and doing different types of play and activities at the same time each day help your baby begin to anticipate their day and respond accordingly. When your baby is used to events leading to eating, playing and sleeping, it’s easier for them to cooperate.
Getting your baby into a good sleep routine helps them prepare to fall asleep and stay asleep longer. Structuring your day to give you enough time to complete a regular sleep routine for your new baby is one of the most important things you can do for their health and mental development.
© 2021 American Sleep Association.