When should babies be sleeping? When should they be awake? Figuring out your infant’s sleep schedule sometimes isn’t easy. There are two schools of thought on this topic. One is that your baby won’t have a sleep schedule, that you should let him or her sleep and eat and do anything without structure at all (a sort of “attachment parenting” view). The other school of thought, the one I support, is that encouraging a somewhat regular sleep schedule for babies helps them sleep longer and more consistently.
Newborn Sleep Schedule (0-3 months)
If your baby is still a newborn — less than 3 months old — there’s good and bad news. The good news is that you have more control over your little one’s sleeping and eating schedule. The bad news is that they generally wake up to eat every 3-4 hours (2-3 hours for breastfed babies). The best thing you can do is try to match your baby’s sleep schedule to hours of the clock.
When our twins came home, we were on 3-hour cycles, so they ate at 3, 6, 9, and 12. Gradually they switched to 4-hour cycles (4, 8, 12). At this newborn stage, babies don’t spend a lot of time awake… generally they get a diaper change, eat, burp, and then go back to sleep. It’ll be hard on your own sleep patterns, but you must try to sleep when they sleep.
For many babies, the period between three and six months is one of transition. They begin spending more time awake, growing and eating more than seems humanly possible. They might begin to sleep for longer stretches as well. If you’re really lucky, they could be sleeping through the night at this age as my daughter did. If not, you might see no real change or get only the occasional longer sleep stretch.
One challenge here is that your baby’s still on a completely liquid diet of breast milk and/or formula. Simply put, it’s hard to sleep for a super long time without any solid food. All you can do is fill that belly and hope for the best. If you’re supplementing with formula, you can make sure that your baby gets enough by offering a couple more ounces at a time until he’s full. See our article on nighttime feeding for sleep.
Don’t be frustrated if your baby still keeps a newborn schedule (eating and sleeping in 3-4 hour cycles) at this stage. At around 6 months your baby will turn a corner.
Baby Sleep Schedule After 6 Months
For many parents, there’s a significant change in baby sleep habits at around six months. This is often accompanied with your baby’s introduction to solid food. A belly filled with baby food and/or single-grain cereal tends to provide that “slow burn” that babies need to sleep for longer. It’s not a guarantee, but at around 6 months, you might start seeing these differences:
- Your baby sleeps in longer stretches, 5-7 hours or more
- Sleep duration gets longer at night
- Fewer naps are necessary
At around this point, your baby should settle into a nap schedule that will persist over 3-6 months or longer. For my little ones, this was something like:
- 8:00 a.m. wake up
- 10:00 a.m. morning nap
- 12:00 p.m. wake up, eat lunch
- 3:00 p.m. afternoon nap
- 5:30 p.m. wake up for dinner
- 7:30 p.m. bedtime
Note how there are two daytime naps (morning and afternoon). Our daughter also had a phase where she took an evening nap (7:30 until 11:30), and then slept through the night. That wasn’t too bad, because we’d put her to bed and then go right to bed ourselves.
Eventually (after the age of 12 months), your little one will transition to taking one nap per day, usually in the afternoon.
All babies are different. These rules, while they generally applied to my own children and others I know, may not apply to yours. The most important thing you can do is find a schedule that works for your baby, and try to stick to it as long as it keeps working.