Baby Sleep Schedule: Infant Sleeping Tips for New Parents

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A parent soothes an infant wrapped in a blanket.Following declining birth rates from 2015 through 2020, the U.S. may be on the verge of a baby boom. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the U.S. birth rate increased 1% in 2021, and preliminary data through the second quarter of 2022 suggests that trend could continue.

While babies can be bundles of joy, nurturing and caring for infants also brings challenges. This is particularly true when it comes to establishing a baby sleep schedule. Adhering to a sleep schedule is vital to an infant’s development. However, any new parent can attest that sleep schedules also allow parents to catch up on their own rest so they can be at their best.

Baby sleep training and sleep schedules are key elements of nurturing an infant’s progress in areas such as emotional regulation and language development. Practicing sleep training and sticking to a sleep schedule also can improve the parent-child attachment and benefit the overall functioning of a family. For those reasons and many others, it’s important for parents to understand the concepts of sleep training and baby sleep schedules so that everyone in the family can be well rested.

Sleep Training for Babies: Why Is It Important?

The concept of sleep training for babies is fairly straightforward. The Sleep Foundation describes baby sleep training as activities that can lead to a baby sleeping for several hours on their own during the night.

The Benefits of Baby Sleep Training

A report on the Pampers baby sleep blog notes numerous benefits of sleep training. For example, it can help babies:

  • Fall asleep faster
  • Wake up less during the night
  • Put themselves back to sleep if they awaken during the night
  • Adjust emotionally
  • Improve learning skills
  • Improve memory
  • Boost cognition
  • Reduced their risk of future health problems, such as obesity

Parents also benefit from sleep training their babies. Effective sleep training can help parents:

  • Get more sleep
  • Improve their mood
  • Reconnect with other family members
  • Experience less stress
  • Be more alert and safety-conscious

Basic Elements of Baby Sleep Training

The Cleveland Clinic has outlined the basic elements for successful sleep training. Those elements include:

  • Starting the process when babies have the ability to self-soothe
  • Establishing a plan and being consistent in adhering to it
  • Establishing a consistent bedtime routine (for example, bathing the baby, then reading aloud)
  • Finding a particular baby sleep training method that feels comfortable (no single sleep training method works for everyone)
  • Giving infants the time they need to learn new routines

Myths About Infant Sleep

When establishing a baby sleep schedule, parents can benefit from knowing the various myths and misconceptions about infant sleep. For example, according to a report in Today’s Parent on baby sleep:

  • Don’t assume that short naps will translate into rough nights for sleeping. This depends on the individual infant. If, for example, a baby sleeps for three to five hours at a time during the night, then they could be expected to take several short naps during the day.
  • If a baby is awake late at night, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will awaken later the next morning. Infants have their own internal clocks, and no matter how late they stay up, they will probably awaken at their usual time.
  • Even if babies get sleep training, they won’t always sleep through the night. Parents shouldn’t assume that sleep training will solve a baby’s sleep issues forever. Challenges like teething can interrupt a baby’s sleep no matter how well they were trained.

What Is a Baby Sleeping Schedule?

Understanding what constitutes a good baby sleeping schedule starts with examining the link between sleep and infant development. Combining that knowledge with expertise about how much sleep an infant needs can help parents create an effective sleep schedule.

The Connection Between Sleep and Development

To a large degree, a baby’s sleep schedule and their development go hand in hand. Nested Bean, a baby sleep wellness firm, noted several links between sleep schedules and development:

  • At the newborn stage, it’s difficult to establish any type of sleep schedule because, at this point in their development, a newborn baby has a small stomach and needs to wake often to eat.
  • Around ages 3 to 4 months, parents can start adhering to a more consistent sleep schedule. At this age, babies’ development has progressed to the point at which they can eat more at one time and don’t need to be fed as often. At this stage of development, babies also begin to self-soothe.
  • At around 9 months old, 70% to 80% of babies have developed to the point at which they can be on a sleep schedule with the goal of sleeping through the night.

Sleep is critical to brain development. A report by baby formula company Enfamil explained the link between sleep and development:

  • Sleep strengthens the connections between the left and right hemispheres of an infant’s brain.
  • Until 6 months of age, half of infant sleep is in the active phase (the rapid eye movement, or REM, phase), in which their brains make neuronal connections to prepare for what they will eventually learn.

How Much Sleep Do Babies Need?

To establish an effective baby sleep schedule, parents need to know how much sleep a baby requires. Pregnancy and parenting website What to Expect suggests that babies need less sleep and fewer naps as they age. Specifically:

  • From birth to 3 months: Babies need about 14 to 17 hours of sleep per day, with longer periods of sleep at night and between two and five naps during the day.
  • From 4 to 6 months: Babies need about 12 to 16 hours of sleep per day, with longer periods of sleep at night and about three naps during the day.
  • From 7 to 11 months: Babies need about 12 to 16 hours of sleep per day, with longer periods of sleep at night and about two naps during the day.

Several factors can affect the amount of sleep babies need. For example, babies who are born prematurely may require 22 hours of sleep per day, and may be unable to sleep for long periods of time at night until they’re around 10 months old.

What Does a Baby Sleep Schedule Look Like?

Baby sleep guidance organization Huckleberry Labs offers a few examples of baby sleep schedules (noting that sleep needs vary by child):

  • Schedule for a 3-month-old baby
    • 7 a.m.: Awaken
    • 8:15 to 9:30 a.m.: First nap
    • 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Second nap
    • 2:15 to 3:45 p.m.: Third nap
    • 5:30 to 6 p.m.: Fourth nap
    • 7:30 p.m.: Bedtime routine
    • 8 p.m.: Go to sleep
  • Schedule for a 6-month-old baby
    • 6:30 a.m.: Awaken
    • 8:30 to 9:45 a.m.: First nap
    • 12 to 1:30 p.m.: Second nap
    • 4 to 4:30 p.m.: Third nap
    • 6:30 p.m.: Bedtime routine
    • 7:15 p.m.: Go to sleep
  • Schedule for an 11-month-old baby
    • 6:30 a.m.: Awaken
    • 9:30 to 10:45 a.m.: First nap
    • 2:15 to 3:30 p.m.: Second nap
    • 6:30 p.m.: Bedtime routine
    • 7:15 p.m.: Go to sleep

Examples of Baby Sleep Training Methods

After developing a sleep schedule, the next challenge is training the infant to fall asleep on schedule. Parents can try several different baby sleep training methods to determine which one works best for their family.

The Ferber Method

According to a report in Parents, the Ferber method aims to teach infants to self-soothe and go to sleep on their own. Using this method, a parent places their drowsy baby in their crib and then exits the room.

If their baby cries, the parent waits for a period of time (initially three minutes) before they reenter the room, where they comfort the infant but do not pick them up. After one or two minutes, the parent leaves the room again. If their baby cries again, they wait for a longer period of time (around 10 minutes), then reenter to comfort the baby, and exit as before. They keep repeating this process, progressively extending the length of time they wait before reentering the room.

The Ferber method may be a good option for parents who aren’t comfortable trying the traditional cry-it-out method.

The Cry-It-Out Method

What to Expect explains that the goal of the cry-it-out (CIO) method is to train babies to fall asleep on their own (rather than while they are held). Using the CIO method, a parent places their fully awake infant in their crib and allows them to cry or be fussy until they fall asleep. The parent does not reenter the room to soothe them.

The CIO method can be an effective option for parents who are comfortable with this somewhat challenging approach. Parents can use devices such as video monitors if they have concerns about their child’s well-being during the process.

The Chair Method

The chair method has the parent sit in a chair next to the baby’s crib and soothe but not pick up the baby, according to What to Expect. After each period of soothing, the parent moves the chair closer to the door until, eventually, the parent is outside the room. As with other sleep training methods, the goal of the chair method is to train an infant to fall asleep without crying to be picked up.

The chair method is a good option for parents who want to stay near their babies. However, this approach may take longer to be fully effective than other methods. Therefore, employing this method might mean it could take longer to fully adhere to a baby’s sleep schedule.

The Fading Method

According to the parenting website BabyCenter, the purpose of the fading method is to adjust a baby’s natural sleep cycle to a preferred bedtime. Using this method, the parent identifies what time their baby naturally falls asleep and begins placing them in their crib 30 minutes after that time. On each subsequent night, the parent puts their baby to bed 15 minutes earlier than the previous night until they’ve reached the preferred bedtime.

The fading method works best with infants who can go to sleep consistently without being held.

The Pick-Up-Put-Down Method

Parenting website WonderBaby describes the pick-up-put-down method as a gentle process in which a parent picks up their infant when they cry, soothes them, then puts them back down in their crib. This method is most successful with a baby who is younger than 8 months old because, after that age, development has progressed to the point where the baby may be able to stand, making the pick-up-put-down method less effective.

The pick-up-put-down method is particularly useful for training babies who can fall asleep only when they are being held, those who are reliant on pacifiers, and those who don’t have a set routine. Parents who use this method need to be ready to pick their babies up and put them down dozens of times each night before they see results.

What Is a Baby Sleep Consultant?

If parents encounter difficulty in establishing a baby’s sleep schedule or implementing a baby sleep training method, they can enlist the help of a baby sleep consultant. According to the pregnancy and parenting website The Bump, baby sleep consultants assess infants to determine why they are not sleeping well. They offer services such as:

  • Creating a customized sleep plan
  • Conducting periodic consulting sessions with parents
  • Addressing parents’ concerns and questions

Qualifications for Baby Sleep Consultants

Parents who aren’t familiar with the work of baby sleep consultants may be curious about their qualifications. The Center for Pediatric Sleep Management explains that baby sleep consultants become certified in the field by completing a course in pediatric sleep consulting.

Baby sleep consultants can earn certifications from a number of organizations, such as the following:

The certification courses differ, and parents can review the content of those courses before hiring a consultant. Certification courses cover topics such as:

  • Child development
  • Coaching families about sleep
  • Creating sleep plans
  • Safe sleep
  • Sleep science
  • Sleep training methods

Considerations in Hiring a Baby Sleep Consultant

Pediatric sleep consulting firm Tiny Transitions suggests that parents should consider certain factors before hiring a baby sleep consultant, including:

  • Age: Consulting is typically effective after a baby is 4 months old.
  • Nap schedule: If a baby is not napping on a consistent schedule, this may be something to try implementing before hiring a consultant.
  • Environment before bedtime: Is the infant getting enough sunlight to regulate their body clock? Do they have an established bedtime routine? Do parents use a sound machine to help the baby fall asleep?
  • Frequency of waking up during the night: Parents need to remember that it’s typical for babies to wake up during the night and need soothing. This is not necessarily a sign that it’s time to hire a consultant.

Getting Some Rest: Tips for New Parents

It’s natural for new parents to want to learn about tools like baby sleep schedules and how to access advice and tips for newborns. But parents also need to consider their own sleep quality. Practicing good sleep hygiene and eating certain foods are among several tips for new parents that can help them get the rest they need.

Practice Sleep Hygiene

Sleep website Sleepopolis offers these tips for parents of newborns to practice good sleep hygiene and get the best sleep possible:

  • Try to exercise regularly and remain active during the day.
  • Avoid alcohol, sugary foods, caffeine, and nicotine late in the day or at nighttime.
  • Restrict the use of screens and electronic devices before bedtime.
  • Create a quiet, dark, and cool environment for sleep.

Eat Certain Foods

The Cleveland Clinic recommends certain snacks that can induce sleep, such as:

  • Low-fat yogurt with a banana
  • Mozzarella string cheese and an apple
  • Tart cherry juice
  • Whole-grain crackers with peanut butter
  • Whole-grain pita chips with low-fat cottage cheese

Parenting website MomJunction suggests that mothers who are breastfeeding can eat certain foods to ward off fatigue. For example:

  • Bananas contain potassium that can convert sugar into energy.
  • Oatmeal can help mothers feel energized and aid their digestive health.
  • Yogurt contains proteins that can help mothers fight off fatigue.

Employ Sleep-Related Strategies

Michigan health system Beaumont Health recommends that new parents employ a range of strategies to improve their sleep, such as:

  • Dividing nighttime baby duties, if the baby has more than one caregiver
  • Taking shifts during the night, if the baby has more than one caregiver, so that each person can get at least four hours of sleep
  • Making household chores a low priority, going to bed when the baby goes to bed, and sleeping when the baby sleeps
  • Using relaxation techniques, such as meditation or white noise, to decrease stress
  • Asking for help when needed

Additional Sleep-Related Resources for Parents

In addition to learning about baby sleep schedules and sleep training, parents can access these resources on sleep:

Becoming a Well-Rested Family

Getting quality sleep is critical for the health and happiness of infants and parents. It’s known to reduce stress and improve moods, and learning to use tools such as baby sleep schedules and sleep training can empower parents to foster their child’s development and help them forge stronger bonds.