Every parent in the world has asked the question “Does my baby need a sleep schedule?” at some point in their parenting journey.
And this is such a hard question to answer, because the truth is no two babies, just like no two adults will have the exact same sleep needs.
What we need to remember is that we are all unique beings with different sets of needs for everything from activity level to sleep preferences.
Is There Such A Thing As Normal Baby Sleep?
How long should your baby be awake and how long should they sleep?
Focus more on how your baby is doing than trying to hit a target number of hours sleep. Find a rhythm that works for them and ditch the sleep charts! So the quick answer to the question, Does My Baby Need A Sleep Schedule, is no!
Let’s answer these questions thoroughly through this blog!
What Is A Normal Sleep Pattern For A Baby?
Mamas, everyone’s experience is different!
One of the things that you often hear in the sleep training culture is this idea that your baby need a sleep schedule and should be sleeping for 11-12 hours consistently through the night, often at an early age.
That is actually totally FALSE!
Did you know that none of us ‘sleeps through the night’ without waking? We all go through these ‘partial arousals’ when we shift from one sleep cycle to the next. As adults we have learned to make these shifts semi-unconsciously and independently. But our babies haven’t learned this through experience yet, and therefore they need our help.
Some babies seem to sleep through the night right away. Others don’t. And that’s okay!
Others love to play, cry, eat and do anything but sleep at night. Truth bomb – there is no magic pill, formula, or schedule for getting your baby to sleep. Oh, how I wish! If I could have just one superpower it would be to wave my magic wand and give mamas and babies everywhere a long, restful sleep every night.
But, we cannot force our baby (or anyone as a matter of fact) to sleep. What we can do is we can tune into their cues, create the ideal environment and optimal conditions to best support their sleep.
How Much Sleep Do Babies Need?
You want a fun fact?
We only need a certain amount of sleep in a 24-hour period, which changes with age, getting shorter and shorter. And, the more sleep you get during the day, the lower your sleep pressure at night will be.
This is part of the reason why our newborns seem to sleep all the time but also wake up every hour a night. They can’t handle being awake for too long because their sleep pressure rises much faster than that of older babies or adults, and they get overstimulated and overtired more quickly.
This is why they sleep a lot during the day, which means that they are also not yet able to consolidate longer chunks of sleep at night, because their sleep pressure drive hasn’t had a chance to really ramp up and create more pressure. As babies grow and get older, their sleep pressure accumulates more slowly, meaning they will be awake longer and the intervals between naps will grow, and they will gradually start to have longer chunks of sleep at night.
Understanding that a baby has a 24-hour sleep need that is distributed across the day and night, and is divided into daytime naps and nighttime sleep is really helpful to keep in mind.
Are you starting to see why your baby does not need a sleep schedule?
How Long Should My Baby Be Awake Between Naps?
By now you might be thinking “how long should my baby be awake between naps?” Or maybe you think that your baby will sleep when they are tired (this was totally me with my first). Only, sometimes babies do not actually sleep when they are tired and being overtired can actually make sleep harder to achieve…. sigh!
Every baby is different and can tolerate different awake times – also called wake intervals or wake windows.
I know, it can be confusing. This is why the prescriptive schedules and plans do not work and why they create even more stress for you (and your baby). The key here is to really tune into your baby and what they are showing you. Watch their signs, their mood, and their behavior. And don’t forget to tune into your heart and what that is telling you.
Around 6-8 months, many babies will have settled into a daily sleep routine of 2-3 naps during the day. This is often followed by a longer “sleeping through the night” stretch after a late-night feeding.
Wake Windows and Baby Sleep
This is where the concept of wake windows comes into play. Truth be told I had absolutely no clue about wake windows until my eldest was about 8.5 months old. I just assumed he would fall asleep when he was tired (which seemed to be never). Once I learned about wake windows, my life changed because I finally understood that my baby was actually quite overtired. And once we got him sleeping at somewhat regular intervals our nights also improved.
Now, I want to say that wake windows are only a small piece of the larger sleep puzzle. Although the sleep training world would have you think otherwise with all the sleep schedules and plans based on age. Wake windows are the optimal amount of time a baby is awake before needing to go for another nap or go to sleep for the night. They are helpful in finding a balance between daytime and nighttime sleep. All of which can help optimize your baby’s nighttime sleep.
Having an idea of what typical wake windows and sleep totals are for different ages, can be very useful and easy to keep in mind. This allows your baby to build enough sleep pressure before night-time sleep. This can help them gradually start to sleep longer stretches, when they are developmentally ready.
Finding the “right” window of time for your baby is also useful to help prevent overstimulation and over-tiredness, which can lead to fussiness and more difficulty falling and staying asleep (for both naps and overnight).
Still need some help figuring this out? I’ve got you covered. I go through all of this inside my free mini-course called Re-Define Baby Sleep. Grab that here.
Do Babies Need a Rigid Schedule?
Now, what I do not want you to do is start to become obsessed about rigidly following any specific timing. I see this a lot with the mamas I work with, which is why I mention it here. There is a huge range of what is normal and healthy.
For most parents, a flexible eating and sleeping schedule is super-helpful. But the key word is flexible.
Every baby is different and has different sleep needs. Looking at charts and requirements is not the best (or only) way to figure out what works for YOUR baby. However, they can be a useful starting point – especially if you are unsure of how much sleep your child should be getting. They can also help you tune into your baby’s tired cues and decide whether your baby needs a sleep schedule.
Tune Into Your Baby’s Tired Cues (vs a schedule)
It is more important to become aware of and watch your baby’s tired cues, using sleep totals as a guide (rather than needing to adhere to them rigidly). I recommend that you spend some time watching your baby. Pay attention to their specific tired or sleepy cues are. Logging your baby’s sleep times for a few days can help figure out the perfect window for your unique baby. Not forever, just for about 3 days. (ps. I don’t love obsessively tracking sleep or feeding times, so feel free to stop doing that too!)
Don’t worry, I’ll chat about tired/sleepy cues soon!
I have created a guide, from a few different sources, which can be found inside the free Re-Define Baby Sleep mini course. This will help you see the average sleep totals in a 24-hour period for babies of varying ages. You can use it as a starting point. Use it to help you figure out if your baby is perhaps getting too much day time sleep. Too much day sleep might be impacting their night-time sleep.
Instead of asking this question, “Does my baby need a sleep schedule?”, remember that not all babies are the same – some will need more sleep and some will need less. This guide will give you an idea so that you can start to play around with naps versus night sleep.
As a general guideline, babies and toddlers are able to extend their awake times by about 15-20 minutes every 3 weeks. Stay tuned for the second part of this blog next week! I hope you learned something helpful today!
You can get additional support by joining other Mamas just like you in my free group Sleep Deprived Mama’s Holistic + Heart Centered Support. Let’s support each other’s journey! I’m rooting for you, mamas!