Can - and Should - I Enforce a Sleep Schedule?
Summary: Why you should invest in sleep training and sleep scheduling for your child, no matter what age.
Sleep schedules are important, and let's face it, they make our lives easier. But that doesn't mean it's easy to achieve. If you commit yourself to developing one, however, it will be worth the struggle and provide benefits well into the future.
Routine sleep is important for all children, not just babies, so let's look at some things we can do to develop healthy sleep schedules at every stage.
Newborn babies will wake every 3 hours to eat (almost without fail). This is normal and should not be discouraged. Around 4 months of age you may find a baby sleeping for as long as 6-7 hours overnight. This is good! The saying goes, “never wake a sleeping baby,” and rightly so. Don’t fret about waking the baby to eat in the middle of the night. If they are hungry, they will let you know. Ensuring you burp and reduce gassiness as much as possible will also permit the baby to sleep for longer periods.
6 months - 1 year old
This is when you should start introducing a bedtime routine. Baby is old enough to sleep for 12hrs at a time, but it may take some practice to get there. Begin the nightly routine after dinner. Use a warm bath, a final feed and a snuggle session to put the baby down for the night. Baby does not have to be asleep to be put into bed for the night, but in the beginning it may be easier. If you hear baby wake up in the night, wait 5 minutes before offering food or snuggles. You may find that they quickly doze off again. Giving baby the chance to self-sooth is important, but if you appear at the first peep they make in the night, they learn to keep waking at night. Give them some space to soothe before you go into to fetch them. This will be one of the most important aspects of successfully sleep training to achieve a full night’s rest for everyone.
1 to 2 years of age
You should have an established bedtime routine at this point, with your child sleeping from 7PM to 6AM or 7AM (for example) the next day. Your child may still be napping during the day. If you find they still aren't sleeping well at night, phasing out daytime naps, or reducing the amount and duration of them may solve that problem. If daycare is on the horizon, find out what time they schedule nap time at. It’s a good idea to try to shift your baby’s nap routine to a similar schedule to make the transition to care easier.
2-4 years old
Children in this bracket will likely still sleep for 12hrs overnight. You may need to introduce more elements to your bedtime routine to prepare them for sleep at this age. This is a good age to introduce bedtime stories, lullabies or even an after-dinner walk around the neighborhood to help tucker them out. Keeping bedtime a positive experience will help a child be less resistant to this time as they grow.
You'll find your child wants less sleep as they enter their elementary years, but it's important to enforce a set bedtime to provide the opportunity for them to achieve 10-12hrs still. Letting them look at a book on their own after you complete the regular bedtime routine, for example, will let them feel as if they are having a later bedtime, but will be conducive to them falling asleep.