If you’re living in the reality of caring for a baby at bedtime, the sleep schedule of your child is nothing less than erratic and somewhat confusing for all concerned. You’re exhausted, why aren’t they?
We all have a sleep cycle, set by our internal clocks, recognizing when we should be awake and when our bodies need to sleep.
However, this circadian rhythm or sleep/wake cycle, like many skills we hope to impart on our children, needs cultivating and nurturing to develop.
Meanwhile, caregivers themselves can grow more sleep-deprived, waiting, and hoping for their baby’s sleep schedule to find some normalcy.
Have no fear! With some insights about sleep milestones and growth cycles, you will be one step closer to cracking the sleep schedule code.
Newborn Sleep Schedule
You might be desperate for a sleep schedule, but newborns aren’t there yet.
It can take about 3 to 6 months (aka eternity to new parents) for a baby to figure out the relationship between light and awake, and dark and asleep. As far as sleep patterns go, newborns are doing what they are supposed to do.
They have basic needs for food, changing, and love, which they are trying to fulfill by the only means they know- taking 3 to 5 naps a day and crying. A method leaving most caregivers wondering exactly how to help. You are not alone.
Research shows that parents feel particularly inadequate during this early period of childcare as they try to figure out how and when a baby will sleep.
However, it is perfectly normal for newborns to sleep about 10 ½ to 18 hours a day and be awake for 1 to 3-hour intervals round the clock, asking for you to meet their needs.
Their stomachs are small, so they wake up to have them filled with an always welcomed quick change and some love thrown in.
Newborns have sleep phases, and just like adults, babies can get hangry. So timing the feedings around bedtime at 9 to 11 pm is another key to appreciating their sleep schedule.
Keep in mind that at first, we have to cater to the needs and timing of a newborn, but eventually, a healthy and regular sleep cycle will soon develop.
Start to look for signs that your baby is becoming drowsy and put them in the crib then. Don’t wait until they fall asleep with a bottle, rocking in your arms or at the breast.
If put to bed while still slightly awake, they will train themselves to fall asleep. More importantly (for your mental and physical health), they will begin to find ways to fall back asleep in the middle of the night. Yay!
Infant Sleeping Schedule
When you thought you and the neighbor’s cat were the only ones up and moving at 3 am- babies enter a more pronounced sleep cycle.
At the age of 9 months, naps decrease to about four a day, and 70 to 80 percent of our little cherubs are sleeping through the night. Infants are beginning to set their internal sleep schedules efficiently, and as caregivers, we can support their efforts with a consistent, calm bedtime routine.
This is a challenging, but a significant, hurdle to jump when trying to get your infant to regulate a sleep schedule. But is the necessity to quickly and quietly get in and get out during that late-night feeding.
Even though there might be an overwhelming temptation to scoop them up and flip on the light or watch Netflix together- these are all stimuli and send the message that they are waking up for fun, and who doesn’t like fun?
Remember, light means day and awake, and dark means night and asleep. Instead of excitement when entering the room, experts encourage keeping things quiet, dark, and to not make eye contact.
It’s ok if they are awake, but keep them calm and dreamy. They should be down to 2 naps a day and wanting almost 13 hours of sleep a night. Remember, we want them to become self-soothers and gain the skill of getting themselves back to sleep.
So even waiting a minute or two to see if they quiet themselves before rushing in might save you a trip all together and support their internal schedule.
If you have to turn on the light in the nursery, try replacing your white light bulbs with amber bulbs.
Pediatricians recommend dim, warm amber bulbs, over white lights that decrease the production of the sleep hormone melatonin and disrupt the sleep cycle.
The switch to a small night light is also efficient light for that quick late-night check-in.
Toddler Sleep Schedule
Your toddler is more active during the day now and beginning to implement their schedule by resting at the appropriate time- night.
However, even sleeping 11 to 14 hours a day and bedtime routines staring earlier between 7 and 8 pm, a 12 to 18-month-old still welcomes a late morning nap.
Beware of putting them down too close to bedtime, as this can upset their developing circadian rhythm. After exploring the world by day, disruptions to their sleep cycle are typical at this age.
For this reason, security objects and bedtime routines are crucial to supporting their natural sleep schedule.
When separation anxiety sets in at bedtime, don’t freak, but do remember to stick to your schedule and provide some safe comfort objects.
Kids that have an attachment to their caregivers often find bedtime separation difficult, but pat yourself on the back because these same children can sleep better through the night and develop stronger, more lasting sleep schedules.
Every Parent’s Schedule Will Be a Little Different
Beyond documented developmental stages, babies are unique little creatures. Their sleep patterns and schedules may be different from the average child’s milestones for several reasons.
Always consult your pediatrician if you have concerns, but growth spurts, teething, room temperature, and even sleepwear can all disrupt and alter sleep schedules.
Keep in mind that babies will soon be on their way to setting a lasting and age-appropriate sleep schedule with some diligence from their parents and a secure, loving environment at the end of the day in which to sleep.