Optimizing Your Child's Schedule for Good Sleep
Updated: Aug 1, 2022
When we talk about schedules, I want you to know that these are general guides and as your baby gets older, there can be more flexibility around when you time naps/bedtime based on their ability to tolerate longer periods of wakefulness. The reason why we want to optimize our daily schedule is to align our child’s sleep at times when they are biologically ready. This gives our babies the best chance of getting high quality sleep. As our babies and children get to a stage of being overtired (i.e. they have past their peak of tiredness), a hormonal reaction kicks into gear which releases adrenaline. This gives them a second wind and makes it harder for them to fall asleep and stay asleep. There will be times that your child gets overtired, and that’s ok. We just want to avoid having our child perpetually overtried. As their sleep debt builds up, it has a direct impact on their sleep and behavior (even their appetite), which can cause more frustration and exhaustion as a parent.
When we talk about schedules, there are a number of variable factors, but there are two things we want to time well:
When our child wakes up
When our child goes to sleep
For babies over 4 months old, we want to shift to an earlier bedtime and aim for a total of 11-12 hours of nighttime sleep. That gives us 12-13 hours during the day to balance awake time and naps.
Morning Wake Time
The ideal wake-up time for a child is between 6-7a. If your child is waking before 6a,
do your best to leave them in their crib/bed until at least 6a. For a baby 6 months and younger, you can try to pop in and feed quickly, keeping the room dark with minimal interaction. As our babies get older, going in will likely be more distracting than calming. Make sure that there’s no early morning light creeping in! We also don’t want our children sleeping too late in the morning as it can throw off the timing of naps based on when our children are generally biologically ready for sleep. So I recommend waking your baby by 7a to start the day.
In my opinion, an ideal bedtime is anytime between 6:30-7:30p. Children get their deepest most restorative sleep in the first half of the night. I always recommend getting children to bed earlier, rather than having a late cat nap or a nap running later into the afternoon. By getting our children to bed on the early side, it ensures they are getting all of that high quality sleep to fill their sleep tank. It also helps to set up the second half of the night for consistent sleep. If your child’s bedtime is pushing past 8p, that is a good sign that something is off with the daytime schedule - a nap is happening too late, they’re getting too much daytime sleep, or their last wake window is too long pushing them to be overtired.
Wake Windows & Naps
Once we have the wake up time and bedtime in place (of course with some variability), we then want to look at breaking up the day so that our child has enough awake time and also enough sleep with naps. If your baby has more than one nap, you want to gradually extend the wake windows during the day. The shortest wake window is before nap #1, and the longest wake window is before bedtime. While wake windows are a great clue to try and time your child’s sleep, please make sure that you are paying close attention to their sleepy cues. If they are starting to zone out, losing interest, rubbing their eyes, that’s a good sign it’s time to transition to a nap. If they’re fussing and crying, have a tense body and arching their back, it’s likely that they are past the point of being tired and now in an overtired state. So use wake windows to guide you as to when to really tune into your baby’s sleepy cues, and time sleep around sleepy cues first and foremost.
0-2 months: 45-60 mins
2-4 months: 60-90 mins
5-7 months: 1.5-2.5 hrs
7-14 months: 3-4 hrs
14-24 months: 4-6 hrs
Appropriate # Naps
4-5 months → transition to 3 naps
7-9 months → transition 2 naps
14-18 months → transition to 1 nap
Another question that a lot of parents ask me is whether to wake their sleeping baby. The answer is, yes there are times when we want to wake our baby to optimize our daytime schedule. My basic rule is that if your child is taking more than one nap, then we want to cap naps at 2 hours. Also, your child is having a later nap, we want to cap that nap to give enough of a wake window that we can get them to bed by 7:30p, if not earlier.
While I hope that this information is helpful, I understand that working through our baby's schedules can be a lot and it may seem like just as you’re getting into a good groove, there’s something that’s disrupting the schedule. If you need help with your baby’s sleep and schedule, let’s connect! I’ll be happy to work 1:1 to understand your child’s routines and schedules to optimize the schedule and get sleep on track.