Make Sleep a Habit (Updated 2021)

You’ve heard it before: "sleep schedule".  You envy those with them.  But when are you supposed to use them and what works?

Sleep schedules really aren't to be likely to be successful in the first eight or so weeks after birth.  In utero, babies' circadian rhythms are linked to maternal hormones.  Once babies are born, they have to rely on their own biological clocks.  It takes time to develop the rhythm and nuances that older children and adults have. 

When babies are about 2 months old, their internal clocks will be a bit more predictable, and you may be able to start implementing a basic newborn sleep schedule.  Between 3 and 6 months, your baby's bedtime, naptime and wake-up times will increasingly - naturally - fall at around the same times each day.  Pay attention to baby's cues to determine when that is.

Developing a successful sleep schedule is about more than putting your baby down at the same time.  It's about developing and following a routine - those little alerts that, over time, signal to your child that it is time to quiet down and sleep.  While not all children are the same, we found the following really works well:

1.  Following the prompts of your baby's internal sleep clock, identify your child's typical sleepy times and structure nap and bedtimes routines around them. 

2.  Once you identify the sleepy times, begin your sleep routine - for naps and bedtimes - at the same time each day (to the best of your ability).  When my son was 3-12 months old, his clock had him sleeping at 9, 1, and 4, with a 7 pm bedtime.  Each nap was anywhere between 1 and 3 hours.  When he transitioned to two naps, it was 10 and 2 and 7, still with long naps.  When we were down to one nap, it was 12 and 7pm, and, as he got older, 2 and 7pm.  

While my son slept in longer blocks, it is very common for young babies to catnap.   Babies who catnap have the tendency to sprinkle short 20- to 40-minute naps throughout the day, rather than dozing off for longer periods.  If your baby is growing, meeting his developmental milestones and generally healthy, catnapping isn’t a medical concern.  If your baby wakes up too soon from naps and is inconsolable, despite being fed, changed, and held, you might check with your healthcare provider to ensure your baby does not have colic or a medical condition, such as reflux or a urinary tract infection.

3.  Try to make the room where baby sleeps as dark as possible.  The faster your baby learns that darkness signals slumber, the sooner he or she will start sleeping through the night.  We are lucky enough to have blackout shades, but when the summer sunlight was just too powerful even with them, we literally put contact paper on one of the windows to help our little guy sleep.  My friend and her hubby used tinfoil to block the light, and that worked, too. 

4.  Change your little one's diaper before laying them down.  Clean diapers are often essential to sleep.  When my son was an infant and woke up at all hours to eat, the first thing I did - no matter what the time - was change him.  Not only does that help prevent diaper rash, we found when he fell asleep after (or while) feeding, he would sleep longer and more comfortably.  If your toddler is potty trained, make sure he or she uses the bathroom before putting on his or her jammies.

5.  Put on a sleep outfit - yet another cue it's sleep time.  What you put on your baby to sleep should depend on a variety of factors - room temperature (note: your nursery or baby's sleeping area should be kept at approximately 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit), whether your baby is ill, and whether your baby sleeps hot or cold.  It is important to avoid overheating, as that is a factor for SUIDS.   For naps, we put on soft pants and a t-shirt, or a onesie, and generally used a Bumbershoots by Nana sleep sack (wearable blanket).  For bedtime, we put on PJs and a sleep sack.   

6.  Follow the American Academy of Pediatric's guidelines for safer sleep for infants.

7.  Get cozy for some snuggle time.   When our little guy was still in a crib, we got cozy in the rocking chair while I read stories and my son drank his “nook” (his word for milk, be it breast or bottle).  Once he started talking, we called this time, "nook and a book."  I always read until I could feel his body relaxing.  Sometimes I also sang to him.  Before bedtime, we also would say prayers during this time.  Now that he is in his big boy bed, we follow the same routine while lying on his bed together.

8.  Lay your little one down for sleep.  Babies aren't born knowing how to soothe themselves to sleep.  Many sources suggest that if you let your baby fall asleep in your arms, you’re doing his or her important work for him/her. They propose rocking, swaying, or gently patting the baby's back until he or she begins to nod off, then putting baby down while drowsy yet still awake.  Another idea: Try your hand at massaging your baby before he or she drifts off. Studies suggest that babies who are massaged before bed may produce more of the sleep-enhancing hormone melatonin.  Once you place your baby to bed, turn off the lights, put on white noise and a night light if baby needs it, and leave.  

Note: It is best to put your baby to sleep without stuffed animals, pillows, blankets, or crib bumpers.  All create suffocation hazards for infant under the age of one  That's why sleep sacks are so great.  They can keep your baby warm and cozy much more safely than blankets.   

9.  Experiment or be flexible with aspects of the routine to determine what works best for you and your baby.  When we put our son to bed, we rarely use nightlights or sound machines.  Also, we typically shut his door, relying on our baby monitor to alert us to cries and motion.  And we always check on him in person at least once after he falls asleep and again before we, too, go to bed.  We do it that way because trial and error has proven that works best for our son.  We tried putting him to bed with the door open and with it shut.  The shut door helps block the noise and light from other rooms that tend to make him feel social and want to be up, helping him fall asleep faster.  We tried putting him to bed with nightlights and without.  We found he fell asleep faster and sleeps more soundly and longer without them.  We also tried white noise and lullaby apps as well as quiet.  The white noise and music seemed to make no difference.   But doing the opposite of what works for us may be just the ticket to help your baby sleep.  Finding what works is just another wonderful opportunity for you and your baby to explore and get to know each other.

For additional information about baby's sleep, check out this article at

Good luck with this journey.  And sweet dreams!

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