If you're the parent or guardian of a newborn, the thought of getting them on a sleep schedule is probably at the top of your mind (and rightfully so). Infants are famous for their around-the-clock eating and sleeping habits, which can leave you feeling exhausted and uncertain.
The good news is that there are things you can do to help your baby develop healthy lifelong sleep habits from the start. It all starts with a sleep schedule.
Between bottle or breast feedings, diaper changes, and general newborn care, it can be tough to catch a few winks, let alone consider establishing a regular sleep schedule for your little one, but it's definitely worth the effort!
So, how long do newborns sleep? According to the National Sleep Foundation, infants between four and twelve months should sleep between 14 and 17 hours a day from infancy to 3 months of age, and 12 to 15 hours a day between the ages of 3 months and a year. While those numbers look great on paper, if you have an infant, you're well aware they tend to sleep in shorter intervals of between two and four hours, making it tricky for their parents or caregivers to get a full night's rest.
A consistent bedtime routine will help your child learn to:
- Feel more secure and relaxed
- Fall asleep faster
- Sleep longer and more soundly
- Awaken less often during the night
Sometimes it may feel like a newborn will never learn to sleep through the night, but establishing a sleep schedule is the first step toward that milestone and helps set your baby on a lifelong path to healthy sleep habits. A solid newborn sleep schedule will help you plan your day and get some much-needed rest. But more importantly, it will help your baby develop the ability to self-soothe and fall asleep independently. In fact, children who routinely get enough sleep are likely to have more robust immune systems, as well as better memory, overall behavior, and mental health than their sleep-deprived counterparts, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Brand new babies don't have the same circadian rhythms (hormonal cycles that dictate sleeping and waking cycles) as adults, meaning they don't understand the difference between day and night. However, at between four and six months of age, your little one's circadian rhythms are normalizing. They are getting day and night sorted out, and their feeding times are getting further apart. Meanwhile, their ability to sleep for more extended periods is improving.
Of course, every baby is different. Some may be ready for sleep training a bit sooner, while others might need a little more time. As you become more familiar with their hunger and sleep cues, it becomes easier to design a sleep schedule that works for your family. If you're not quite sure if your baby is ready, check in with your pediatrician for guidance.
- Have the right gear in place. If you're getting ready to start focusing on your baby's sleep schedule, there's a good chance they're ready to move from their bassinet into a full-sized crib if they haven't already. The AAP recommends that you share a room (but not a bed) with your baby until they're 6 months old to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) by up to 50%. Historically known as crib death, SIDS is the abrupt and unexplained death of healthy babies under a year old. Taking measures to create a safe sleeping environment is the best way to avoid SIDS so if your baby is under six months old you should set up their new crib in your room.
- Your pre-sleep routine is key. Establish a consistent bedtime routine that your infant can learn to expect and look forward to. This sweet time with your little one might include feeding, warm baths, books, and some snuggle time with you.
- Take note of your baby's sleeping and waking habits. Consider keeping a sleep log, so you have an overview of your baby's natural sleeping and waking patterns, and use this information as the foundation of your sleep-scheduling efforts.
- Keep an eye out for sleep cues. Newborns usually give sleepy cues like rubbing their eyes or face, staring off into space, or making smacking noises with their lips. When you see these cues, it's time to start your nap time or bedtime routine.
- Structure the entire day. Instead of focusing solely on scheduling sleep, try focusing on the day as a whole. Build a routine incorporating nap and bedtimes with feeding, snuggle time, playard or walker time, and strolls around the neighborhood. Babies find comfort in routine, and having a well-structured daytime schedule that you (mostly) stick to can make the sleeping part fall into place with minimal fuss.
- Let them learn to self-soothe. We know this one is easier said than done, but once you put your baby down for a nap or the night, don't rush back the moment you hear a fuss. Try holding off for a minute or two to see if they can self-soothe (go back to sleep on their own without much distress). If your baby does seem distressed, consider checking on them without picking them up so they know you're there but can still work on their self-soothing skills.
- Go-with-the-flow. If your new sleep schedule timing isn't quite working out, don't hesitate to try adjusting it a bit here and there until you find what works for your baby. Sometimes a little tweak in the right direction is all it takes to get your new sleep schedule on track.
- Project calm. Newborns are amazingly intuitive, so if you're feeling stressed about bedtime, they'll pick up on your anxiety and feel stressed too. Do your best to stay calm and patient as you work on getting your baby on a sleep schedule. Remember, You're doing great, and with a little time, your baby will be happily sleeping and waking on a consistent schedule.
If you're a parent or guardian in the process of sleep training a newborn, we salute you! Teaching your little one good sleeping habits and self-soothing isn't always easy, but it's the foundation to a lifetime of good sleep. By following the tips above, you're well on your way to a more restful home for everyone.
By the way, if you're looking for more helpful parenting tips, we've got you covered! Check out the Chicco Baby Talk Blog for a huge variety of in-depth articles on everything you need to know to make your amazing parenthood journey a little easier (and more fun).