For the first few days, weeks, and months after your baby is born, sleep becomes a precious commodity. You need adequate sleep to heal and recuperate, and your baby needs enough shut eye to grow and develop as he should. Given that you, your partner, and the rest of your family likely already know the kind of sleep you need, you're probably most concerned with the quality and quantity of your newborn's sleep. You need the best sleep schedule for babies, according to experts.
Unfortunately, as certified child sleep consultant and founder of Bella Luna Sleep Consulting Christine Brown tells Romper, if your baby is younger than four or five months of age, they're not ready for a formal sleeping schedule. This is because their circadian rhythms, which are used to regulate sleep and wake cycles, aren't yet solidly developed. Rather than setting up a strict, formalized schedule, Brown recommends making sure that your infant stays up for short periods of time and is put to bed, ideally, before getting overtired. This practice ensures that your baby has the best chance to get enough sleep and sticks to a very loose schedule, which will come in handy later on.
But what about when your baby passes the 5 month mark? In an email exchange with Romper, board certified in sleep medicine and a pediatric pulmonary physician Dr. Anne May, at Nationwide Children's says that the most important consideration when it comes to setting up a sleep schedule for your baby is to be consistent in your pre-sleep routines. "More important than the exact times when a child goes to bed, which may be variable based on the family dynamic, are keeping a relative routine bedtime and giving adequate time for naps during the day," May says.
Brown agrees saying, "a sleepy routine acts to cue babies that they’re transitioning from play to sleep time and it also gives their body a chance to adjust and change gears." This way, your baby knows that sleep is coming and is already winding down and getting ready for it. There aren't any surprises.
Although putting your baby down for a nap at the absolute exact same time every single day isn't all that important, Brown says there are windows of time during that day that are more optimal for napping. She explains that between 8:30 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. and 12:00 pm. and 1:00 p.m., babies' melatonin production increases and body temperature decreases, making those windows ideal for napping. Babies who go down for naps in these time frames have a better chance of settling into sleep sooner and extending their nap beyond just one sleep cycle.
As babies move through their first year of life, sleep tends to change a lot. Newborns often sleep much of the day and, perhaps, in more intermittent spurts overnight. As they get older, however, they are able to stay up for longer stretches during the day and sleep for longer periods at night. Unfortunately, your baby's sleep schedule may not stay that way forever. "It is important to realize that changes in sleep needs are not uncommon based on the circumstances," May says. Growth spurts, changes in time zone, developmental changes like separation anxiety, illness, and the like can all impact how your child sleeps. "Anticipating these issues can help families plan to gradually adjust sleep times, rather than changing it all at once," May adds.
Along with implementing a routine and anticipating any potential sleep complications, parents or caregivers can adjust the baby's sleeping environment in order to encourage the best possible quality of sleep. Brown says keeping the room dark is important, as a dark room can help boost melatonin production, which makes it easier for your baby to fall asleep quicker and stay asleep longer. Additionally, investing in a white noise machine can help a struggling baby to sleep better, because it more closely approximates what it would have been like to sleep in utero, which, according to Brown, is somewhat noisy. You'll also want to setting the temperature at a slightly cool, yet comfortable 68 to 72 degrees to encourage better sleep. Finally, May suggests that caregivers of infants always follow the Safe Sleep Guidelines, which help keep babies safe while sleeping. These include putting the baby to sleep on their backs on a firm mattress and keeping blankets, pillows, and plush toys out of cribs.
Ultimately, there's really no one ideal sleep schedule. Every baby is different and what works best for one may fail miserably with another. That being said, optimizing the baby's sleeping environment to encourage a restful night's sleep, staying consistent with pre-sleep routines, and anticipating and promptly addressing any potential problems that may crop up and interfere with healthy sleep practices are all ways that you can actively help your baby get the best sleep possible.