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How Schedules and Routines Support Good Sleep Habits for Babies

This post originally appeared on Big Dreams Sleep Coaching.

A happy baby is one that has their basic needs met- a clean diaper, a full belly, and a rested body and mind. It’s as simple as that. Easier said than done, right!?

The truth is, it is that simple. When your baby cries, the hard part is knowing why and being able to respond appropriately. And, the ultimate goal, is to keep those cries at bay, and your growing baby content.

Knowing why your baby is crying can be difficult. But, if you can eliminate reasons quickly, you can more easily and readily respond to the needs of your baby. Schedules and routines can help you do just that. The use of a good schedule coupled with solid routines, will help you when troubleshooting your baby’s cries. You will have a much better sense of where your baby is on the hunger scale, and tired scale.

What is a schedule versus a routine?

Schedules are much different than routines. Both are extremely helpful when it comes to promoting good sleep habits for your baby.

Schedules promote specific feeding times and nap times throughout the day. It ensures that your baby gets the right amount of feedings, and the right number of naps. It can have built in flexibility, and it should be catered to YOUR child. Building your child’s perfect schedule takes time, and a lot of observation. When you watch your baby’s cues, they will actually play a vital part in building their own schedule!

You can find a list of all of our schedules by month at this link– these provide a great starting point for building your own schedules. 

Routines provide a basic flow to the day and give your baby a sense of what to expect next. There are many different types of routines that you can incorporate throughout the day.

These are the two most important types of routines when it comes to sleep:

1. Eat, wake, sleep:

Throughout the day, follow a basic flow of having your baby eat, then have wake time (or play time), and then sleep. Repeat this throughout the day (based on the schedule you’ve set for your child).

When your baby eats, and then immediately falls asleep, it is teaching them to rely on the comfort of eating to help them fall asleep.

When you switch it around to an eat, wake, sleep cycle, babies don’t rely on eating in order to fall asleep. This will help tremendously when they are learning to put themselves back to sleep after waking in the middle of the night!

2. Nap and Night: 

Building in routines before sleep, help your baby to know what is coming, and it helps to relax them. We like to keep it simple and short. This is one that you can cater to what your family likes, and it will change as your baby gets older. When our daughter was a baby we did the following: change into sleep sack, read story, turn sound machine on, turn lights off, close curtains, put down to bed.  She knew every step of that process and each step helped her mentally prepare for sleep that was soon to come.

So, how exactly can schedules help, and how do they support good sleep habits?

1. Schedules get your baby the right amount of food throughout the day.

If your baby is getting their food needs met during the day, they will not be waking as much during the night (out of hunger). Setting a schedule helps you accomplish your feeding goals and keep track of when your baby is eating. As an example, a newborn needs 8 feedings during the day. If you schedule those out every 2-3 hours, you’ll be able to fit those feedings in during the day.

2. Schedules get your baby the right amount of sleep throughout the day.

Just as there is a total amount of recommended sleep for adults, there are recommendations for babies based on their age (down to the month).

A 5 month old, for example, needs a total of 14-16 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period. The goal is to have that 5 month old sleeping 11-12 hrs at night, and about 3-5 hours during the day.

If this 5 month old is on a good schedule, they will be taking 3 naps and sleeping for approximately 4 hours during the day. Timing these naps just right with the use of a schedule, will result in a baby that is neither overtired nor undertired. This will result in good nighttime sleep, and the baby will likely use the remaining sleep goals at night (getting a good 11-12 hrs).

If this 5 month old were to get only 1 short nap during the day, it would result in a very overtired baby, because their basic sleep needs aren’t being met. An overtired baby does NOT sleep well. An overtired baby will be too stimulated and will wake more frequently during the night, and have a very difficult time falling asleep.

If this 5 month old were to get too much sleep during the day, it would result in an undertired baby. There is only so much sleep to be had, and this baby would be waking in the middle of the night simply because their sleep needs for the 24 hour period had already been achieved. Think about it this way… if you (as an adult) sleep all day long… are you going to be tired and sleeping well at night? Probably not! The same goes for babies!

When you couple the use of schedules and routines with your baby, great nighttime sleep can be achieved! It takes time and patience to build the right schedule- the one that works perfectly. Once you’ve found it, however, and you take the time to support that schedule with routines, your baby will be well rested, happy, and ready to take in the world around them.

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