Sleep training your little one so they get the right amount of rest is essential for their physical growth and brain development. Be forewarned: you’ll get a lot of resistance. Most babies fight the urge to drift off into dreamland.
Baby sleep patterns: the newborn sleep schedule
Your sleep schedule is guided by your body’s ‘circadian rhythms’, the internal clock that keeps you awake by day and tired at night. This takes time to develop, and your newborn baby won’t have it yet.
However, babies do a lot of growing while they’re asleep (and it’s exhausting!), so it’s important to let them rest. You’ll find that they sleep for roughly 16 hours a day in two to four hour blocks.
All this adds up to throwing your own sleep schedule out the window and understanding that it won’t go back to normal for a while. Until then, follow the new parent’s golden survival rule: you sleep when your baby sleeps.
Normalizing a baby sleep schedule
At about six weeks, the feedings slightly taper off and your baby will move to a more regular rhythm. They’ll begin to sleep fewer total hours but in longer stretches until they're up to 9-12 hours. And you’ll reclaim a bit of your freedom.
Once your little one hits the one-year mark, they should be sleeping for about 12 hours, including a daytime nap. Remember that naps too late in the day could make it difficult for them to fall asleep or stay asleep. Plan your afternoons accordingly.
Realize that there’s hope. Even nighthawk babies will eventually develop good sleep habits if you keep reinforcing the routine.
Baby sleep schedule pointers
Although a baby's physical development controls their sleep pattern for the first few months, once you start sleep training there are ways to maintain positive bedtime/naptime behaviours. Try these tips to help your little one fall asleep and rest soundly.
- Like you, the more active your munchkin is during the day, the more tired they’re likely to be at night.
- Create an environment conducive to sleep: a dark, quiet room set to a comfortable temperature (if it’s comfortable for you, it’s probably comfortable for them).
- Put them in their crib when they’re tired but still awake, so they can begin associating being ‘put down’ with falling asleep. They might fight this initially, but consistency will pay off.
- Bedtime stories and lullabies were developed for a reason; they soothe, comfort and help young children wind down. Pick one or two to read every night and your baby will come to associate them with sleep time!
- It may take a while for them to settle. This may involve rolling around the crib, making sounds to soothe themselves, rocking their heads back and forth and more. Every child is different, so let yours find what works for them. Once they do, they’ll be much better able to put themself back to sleep when they wake up during the night.
- Some babies settle down quicker with a pacifier. The downside to using them is that if they fall out during the night, your baby may sob until you get up to put it back in their mouths.
- A sleep soother (a machine that emits quiet sounds) can also help. Some are plush toys like a Sleep Sheep. Others are mobiles. And others are speakers that rest on the change table. Spring waters, nature soundscapes, soothing lullabies or simple white noise will put your baby (and probably you) to sleep in little to no time. Some sleep soothers come with heartbeat sounds, and for newborns who’ve been used to the sound of their mother’s heartbeat since week 16 in utero, it may be just what they need to get comfortable.
Remember, this is only a guide: every baby is different, and babies themselves change.