Schedules: Finding the right one for your baby

Let’s talk about baby sleep schedules.  I am suggesting that instead of putting your baby on a schedule, you find your baby’s natural schedule.

Our bodies all have a body clock called our circadian rhythm and it is heavily influenced by the sun, our mealtimes and the timing of our daytime sleep cycles.  There isn’t one perfect schedule for each age group, but there may be a perfect schedule for each baby.  You just need to find it.  Finding the right schedule for your baby helps them to be happy and rested and ready to learn skills and self-regulate their bodies.  Getting enough day sleep is foundational for getting great night sleep.

When night sleep is less than perfect, one of the first places to look is at the day sleep (napping) and the schedule you are following, if you are following one at all.  If your baby doesn’t seem to be happy and rested, it’s time to maximize the day sleep.

There are a few goals when it comes to finding the perfect schedule. I want to discuss the most important one:  Catching the sleep Window (Avoiding Cortisol spikes).

Your body has a period of time that it can be awake before it begins to run out of energy.  Many call it the wakeful window.  At the end of the wakeful window is the sleep window.  This is when the natural awake cortisol hormone levels are dropping, and melatonin levels are on the rise, preparing the body to rest.  If you miss the sleep window, your cortisol levels will spike to help you manage the lack of energy.  This spike can be called getting a second wind or it can be called getting overtired.  To avoid missing the sleep window, you can watch the baby’s body language for their sleep cues.  These sleep cues can be subtle.

Early sleep cue are, for example; zoning out, glassy eyes, staring off into space, disinterest, disengaging, clumsy, dropping things, pulling their ears, pulling their hair, crawling over to you for a hug, resting their head on the floor or on your shoulder or other things unique to your child.

Later sleep cues may include; yawing, eye rubbing, slowing down, increasing irritability, etc.  Signs that you have missed the sleep window and the cortisol is spiking may include a burst of energy, either as giggling and happy energy or the opposite with temper tantrums and crying. Either way, you can see an increase in the child’s energy levels.  It would be fun if we all had Cortisol Gigglers as opposed to Cortisol Crankies.

When you are finding the perfect schedule for your child, following the early tired signs help you be successful.  If you need some sample schedules so you have a place to consider when to watch for the tired signs, I can give you some examples.  Use them as a starting place, not as a rule to follow.

6 months

Babies around 6 months often have about a 2 hour wakeful window all day and have 3 naps.  Sometimes the first and last windows are a little shorter.  Naps often organize into a more predictable schedule around 6 months but if you are getting short cat naps instead of full sleep cycle naps (40-60 minutes), it may take a little more time for it to get into a good rhythm or you may have the timing off and need to pay more attention to the sleep cues.  It’s better to have many cat naps if that means you continue to catch all the sleep window.

6-month Sample Schedules

6am Wake up
(awake 2 hours)
8-9am Nap 1 (45-60 minutes or more is great)
(awake 2 hours)
11am-1pm Nap 2 (1.5-2 hours or more is great)
(awake 2 hours)
3pm-4pm Nap 3 (20-60 minutes is great)
(awake 2 hours)
6pm Bedtime.
6am Wake up
(awake 2 hours)
8-10am Nap 1 (45minutes-2hours or more is great)
(awake 2 hours)
12-2pm Nap 2 (1.5-2 hours or more is great)
(awake 2 hours)
4pm-4:30pm Nap 3 (20-60 minutes is great)
(awake 1.5 hours)
6:00pm Bedtime.
6am Wake up
(awake 2 hours)
8-9am Nap 1 (45-60 minutes or more is great)
(awake 2 hours)
11am-1pm Nap 2 (1.5-2 hours or more is great)
(awake 2 hours)
3pm-4pm Nap 3 (20-60 minutes is great)
(awake 2 hours)
6pm Bedtime.
6:30am Wake up
(awake 1.5 hours)
8-9am Nap 1 (45-60 minutes or more is great)
(awake 2 hours)
11am-1pm Nap 2 (1.5-2 hours or more is great)
(awake 2 hours)
3pm-4pm Nap 3 (20-60 minutes is great)
(awake 2 hours)
6pm Bedtime.
7am Wake up
(awake 2 hours)
9-10am Nap 1 (45-60 minutes or more is great)
(awake 2 hours)
12-2pm Nap 2 (1.5-2 hours or more is great)
(awake 2 hours)
4-5pm Nap 3 (20-60 minutes is great)
(awake 2 hours)
7pm Bedtime.
7am Wake up
(awake 2 hours)
9-11am Nap 1 (45-60 minutes or more is great)
(awake 2 hours)
1-3pm Nap 2 (1.5-2 hours or more is great)
(awake 2 hours)
5-6pm Nap 3 (20-60 minutes is great)
(awake 2 hours)
8pm Bedtime.

8  Months

Sometimes a baby has a natural schedule that doesn’t look anything like any of these, but the mother is following the tired signs, the baby is happy and rested, and the baby is sleeping through the night with or without a feeding or two.  In that case, that baby is unique and healthy. Nothing to worry about.

8 months can be a tricky month as the baby may be getting ready to drop the 3rd nap.  As this happens, the wakeful window between the first 2 naps may start to lengthen and the 3rd nap may get shorter, harder to get and drop intermittently through the week until it drops all together.  The wake windows may go from 2-2-2-2 into something like the following schedule where the 2nd wake window is 2.5 hours.

 

8-month Sample Schedules

6am Wake up
(awake 2 hours)
8-9am Nap 1 (45-60 minutes or more is great)
(awake 2.5 hours)
11:30am-1:30pm Nap 2 (1.5-2 hours is great)
(awake 2 hours)
3:30-4pm Nap 3 (20-60 minutes is great)
(awake 2 hours)
6pm Bedtime.

6am Wake up
(awake 2 hours)
8-9am Nap 1 (45-60 minutes or more is great)
(awake 2.5 hours)
11:30am-1:30pm Nap 2 (1.5-2 hours or more)
(awake 2 hours)
No nap success, just a quiet rest
(awake 2 hours)
5:30pm Bedtime.

Some days may have the 3rd nap dropped  and the bedtime is a little earlier as a result.

It’s often important that the 2nd nap is a double sleep cycle (80-90 minutes).  If you ever notice a pattern  that when; the am nap is long (80+), then the pm nap is short and visa versa; when the am nap is short (45-60), then the pm nap is long (80+), that would be a scenario when it’s actually helpful to limit the am nap to 60 minutes in order to ensure the double sleep cycle of the afternoon nap.  This helps the baby have their longest wakeful window at the end of the day.  Around 9 months, the 3rd nap gets dropped completely and the last wakeful window is 4 hours.

9-month Sample Schedules

 6am Wake up
(awake 2 hours)
8-9am Nap 1 (45-60 minutes or more is great)
(awake 3 hours)
12-2pm Nap 2 (1.5-2 hours or more)
(awake 4 hours)
6pm Bedtime.
7am Wake up
(awake 2 hours)
9-10am Nap 1 (45-60 minutes or more is great)
(awake 3 hours)
1-3pm Nap 2 (1.5-2 hours or more)
(awake 4 hours)
7pm Bedtime.
7am Wake up
(awake 2 hours)
9-11am Nap 1 (45-60 minutes or more is great)
(awake 3 hours)
2-4pm Nap 2 (1.5-2 hours or more)
(awake 4 hours)
8pm Bedtime.

7am Wake up
(awake 2 hours)
9-10:30am Nap 1 (45-60 minutes or more)
(awake 3 hours)
1:30-3:30pm Nap 2 (1.5-2 hours or more)
(awake 4 hours)
7:30pm Bedtime.

Sometimes babies have a longer wakeful window in the morning of 2.5-3 hours.  I don’t see it as often as  the 2-3-4 pattern but I do see it occationally.  When I do, I try to watch the morning carefully,  just to make sure we are not missing the first sleep window.  When you do miss a sleep window, the next one will likely show up 30-60 minutes later. Try to catch that one as your back up plan.

6am Wake up
(awake 2.5 hours)
8:30-9:30am Nap 1 (45-60 minutes)
(awake 3 hours)
12:30-2pm Nap 2 (1.5-2 hours or more)
(awake 4 hours)
6pm Bedtime.
6am Wake up
(awake 2.5 hours)
8:30-9:30am Nap 1 (45-60 minutes)
(awake 3 hours)
12:30-2:30pm Nap 2 (1.5-2 hours or more)
(awake 4 hours)
6:30pm Bedtime.
7am Wake up
(awake 2.5 hours)
9:30-10:30am Nap 1 (45-60 minutes)
(awake 3 hours)
1:30-3pm Nap 2 (1.5-2 hours or more)
(awake 4 hours)
7pm Bedtime.
6am Wake up
(awake 3 hours)
9-10am Nap 1 (45-60 minutes)
(awake 3 hours)
1-3pm Nap 2 (1.5-2 hours or more)
(awake 4 hours)
7pm Bedtime.
7am Wake up
(awake 3 hours)
10-11am Nap 1 (45-60 minutes)
(awake 3 hours)
2-3:30pm Nap 2 (1.5-2 hours or more)
(awake 4 hours)
7:30pm Bedtime.
7:30am Wake up
(awake 3 hours)
10:30-11:30am Nap 1 (45-60 minutes)
(awake 3 hours)
2:30-4:30pm Nap 2 (1.5-2 hours or more)
(awake 4 hours)
8:30pm Bedtime.

As 12 months come along, the schedules often stay the same.  There is often a sleep regression that makes the naps a lot harder to get but if you can push through it, keep offering both naps, then the naps usually come back just the way they were.  All you need to do is offer both naps at the regular times that had been working before.  If the nap fails, just do distracting activities and offer the next nap at its regular time.  Don’t be fooled into thinking your baby is ready to drop down to one nap.  Taking only one nap is more common at 18 months old.

12-month sample schedules

6am Wake up
(awake 2 hours)
8-9am Nap 1 (45-60 minutes or more is great)
(awake 3 hours)
12-2pm Nap 2 (1.5-2 hours or more)
(awake 4 hours)
6pm Bedtime.
7am Wake up
(awake 2 hours)
9-10am Nap 1 (45-60 minutes or more is great)
(awake 3 hours)
1-3pm Nap 2 (1.5-2 hours or more)
(awake 4 hours)
7pm Bedtime.
7am Wake up
(awake 2 hours)
9-11am Nap 1 (45-60 minutes or more is great)
(awake 3 hours)
2-4pm Nap 2 (1.5-2 hours or more)
(awake 4 hours)
8pm Bedtime.
7am Wake up
(awake 2 hours)
9-10:30am Nap 1 (45-60 minutes or more)
(awake 3 hours)
1:30-3:30pm Nap 2 (1.5-2 hours or more)
(awake 4 hours)
7:30pm Bedtime.
6am Wake up
(awake 2.5 hours)
8:30-9:30am Nap 1 (45-60 minutes)
(awake 3 hours)
12:30-2pm Nap 2 (1.5-2 hours or more)
(awake 4 hours)
6pm Bedtime.
6am Wake up
(awake 2.5 hours)
8:30-9:30am Nap 1 (45-60 minutes)
(awake 3 hours)
12:30-2:30pm Nap 2 (1.5-2 hours or more)
(awake 4 hours)
6:30pm Bedtime.
7am Wake up
(awake 2.5 hours)
9:30-10:30am Nap 1 (45-60 minutes)
(awake 3 hours)
1:30-3pm Nap 2 (1.5-2 hours or more)
(awake 4 hours)
7pm Bedtime.
6am Wake up
(awake 3 hours)
9-10am Nap 1 (45-60 minutes)
(awake 3 hours)
1-3pm Nap 2 (1.5-2 hours or more)
(awake 4 hours)
7pm Bedtime.
7am Wake up
(awake 3 hours)
10-11am Nap 1 (45-60 minutes)
(awake 3 hours)
2-3:30pm Nap 2 (1.5-2 hours or more)
(awake 4 hours)
7:30pm Bedtime.
7:30am Wake up
(awake 3 hours)
10:30-11:30am Nap 1 (45-60 minutes)
(awake 3 hours)
2:30-4:30pm Nap 2 (1.5-2 hours or more)
(awake 4 hours)
8:30pm Bedtime.

Around 15 months, some babies start to get ready for the transition to 1 nap.  The naps start to  struggles again.  It may be helpful to limit the am nap to 30 minutes.  Especially if your baby just can’t seem to handle it when you skip the am nap all together but if you do the am nap, the pm nap is too much of a struggle.  This 30 minute am nap limit helps many babies get through the transition to 1 nap more smoothly.

Around 18 months, many babies are transitioning to 1 nap.  Keep the afternoon nap.  That will likely give you the most rested day.  Some babies don’t drop the am nap for a couple more months but that is less common.  When you have dropped the am nap, that wakeful window is around 6 hours.  The wakeful window after the pm nap is still often just 4 hours.

18-month Schedule Samples

6am Wake up
(awake 6 hours)
12-2pm Nap 2 (1.5-2 hours or more)
(awake 4 hours)
6pm Bedtime.
7am Wake up
(awake 6 hours)
1-3pm Nap 2 (1.5-2 hours or more)
(awake 4 hours)
7pm Bedtime.
6am Wake up
(awake 6 hours)
12-3pm Nap 2 (1.5-2 hours or more)
(awake 4 hours)
7pm Bedtime.
7am Wake up
(awake 6 hours)
1-4pm Nap 2 (1.5-2 hours or more)
(awake 4 hours)
8pm Bedtime.

Just a few short months later, your baby approaches the infamous 2 year old schedule.  The thing about  2-year old’s is that with their increasing cognitive development, they become less predictable.  The 6 hour wakeful window after waking in the morning is still common the wakeful window after the nap is often somewhere between 3.5-6.5 hours so I hope you are well practiced in reading their sleep cues because it all changes.  You need to find their new normal to help prevent it feeling like the terrible twos from overtiredness.

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