Setting a Sleep Schedule for Your Infant

December 18, 2023 · John Gallagher

How Should I Set a Sleep Schedule for My Baby?

If you’re a parent, guardian, or caregiver — or if you've spent more than 90 seconds caring for an infant — you know that babies don’t come with instruction manuals. It’s natural to have questions about almost everything, from your baby’s diet to car safety to daily health.

Given that newborns need 14-17 hours of sleep each day, sleep is also the source of many questions when parenting a child. It’s important that all guardians understand how much sleep their child needs as they age, beginning with those crucial first few months.

How are Infant Sleep Patterns Different?

Infant sleep patterns are different from adult sleep patterns, in several ways. Unlike adults, newborn infants don’t actively differentiate between day and night. Instead, they sleep in cycles: they wake up every few hours to eat and interact. This is typically when parents or guardians will soothe the child, change their clothes, and provide comfort. This pattern is entirely natural and sometimes lasts for the first few months of a newborn’s life.

Your baby’s sleep patterns will lengthen with time. Elongated periods of wakefulness will allow them to grow and engage with the world in new ways. It will also create longer periods of uninterrupted nighttime sleep with recruiting naps during the day.

4 Steps to Set Your Infant’s Sleep Schedule

Some infants need encouragement to maintain the right balance of sleep and wakefulness. For example, some babies might have trouble getting to sleep or returning to sleep after eating. However, those cyclical periods of sleep and wakefulness are critically important in encouraging growth and maturation.

Setting your infant's sleep schedule means observing their natural behaviors and sleep cues, protecting their bedtime routine, and staying consistent with wake times.

  1. Observe their natural behavior patterns: In the same way that adults should track their own sleep patterns, parents should track infant sleep patterns. Are there specific times during the day when they like to eat, wake, or sleep? Consider organizing their sleep schedule around these periods of the day.
  2. Protect their bedtime routine: Many newborn children struggle with inconsistency in the sleep department. On some days, your child might have trouble keeping their eyes open until naptime. On other days, they might seem to have too much energy to fall asleep. No matter their behaviors, it’s important to encourage cyclical sleep patterns.
  3. Maintain a sleep-conducive environment: Your child’s sleep environment can be your biggest advocate when it’s time for rest. Make sure to lower the lights, reduce background noise, and establish a comfortable temperature that encourages rest. If you need to, use blackout curtains to further eliminate light and create a secure sleep setting.
  4. Stay consistent with wake times: If you’re consistent with sleep times, be sure to also stay consistent with wake times. Waking up your infant at the same time each day helps their body enter habitual sleep. Over time, this helps your child’s body anticipate rest and wind down naturally.

One of the best ways to reinforce a sleep schedule is to simply watch for visual sleep cues. Look for yawns, rubbing eyes, or fussiness to signal a tired child. Acting on these cues can help you take advantage of an already-started sleep cycle.

Why Does My Child Need a Sleep Schedule?

Falling asleep at the right time is important for every adult. However, it’s an even more important priority for children who are still actively developing every aspect of their bodies. Sleep is a necessary ingredient in developing everything from your memory to your bones to your personality. Sufficient sleep gives your child the energy they need to grow and change in all the right ways.

Here are a few more reasons why setting a sleep schedule for your child is so important:

  • The comfort of a daily routine: newborn infants find comfort in familiarity. They enjoy familiar voices, familiar foods, familiar toys, and familiar settings. Establishing a recurring sleep schedule also allows them to find comfort in their daily routine.
  • Improved sleep quality: Consistent sleep can also create more effective sleep, particularly as your body learns the best times to wake and wind down.’
  • Physical and mental development: Sleep is one of the biggest factors influencing your child’s cognitive and physical development.

There’s another important reason why your child’s sleep schedule is important: parental sanity.

Let’s be honest — raising a child at any age isn’t easy! Your child’s sleep episodes give you the chance to unwind, catch up on work or other priorities, or find time to rest as a parent.

If you face repeated challenges in establishing your newborn’s sleep schedule, know that you don’t need to do it alone. Consult with your child’s pediatrician or a registered sleep specialist, someone who can help you implement a sleep routine that sticks. It's one of the best decisions you can make for your child’s development and for your own sanity as a guardian.

Giving Your Child the Best Chance for their Best Sleep

Once your child is old enough to sleep in a crib, it’s time to start prioritizing sleep materials. This means providing them with the pillow, blankets, and any other accessories they need to keep them resting peacefully throughout the night.

Of course, this also means pairing your child with the right mattress. Find a crib mattress that supports their limbs, minimizes movement, and provides sufficient comfort. When your child is old enough to move from a crib to a larger bed, make sure you find a mattress that works hard to deliver the sleep they deserve.

Use our patented bedMATCH sleep diagnostic program to pair your young sleeper with mattress options made for their body type, sleep patterns, and preferred sleep position. This makes the evening routine less of a chore and more of an experience for parents and children alike.