Adjusting Baby’s sleep schedule

Sleep – if there was a way to buy it, sell it, store it, or save it up, new parents would be its most devoted customers. Since that’s not possible, new parents are left with some pretty clumsy tools for crafting a night’s sleep that can compare with the ones they might have been used to in a pre-Baby world. There are some difficulties with a new parent’s sleep – like frequent waking in the first few months – that just need to be waited out. On the other hand, there are other sleep habits, like bedtime routines, or the timing of naps, that parents may be able to adjust until they fit in better with the rest of the family’s sleep needs.

Sleep adjustment possibilities

Many parents find that it isn’t reasonable to start settling into a regular sleep schedule until the beginning of the third month. At this point, there are two main areas where adjustments are possible: adjustments to sleep associations, or the conditions Baby relies on to fall asleep, and the timing of bedtime or naps.

Sleep adjustments generally take a few days to become part of the routine, and can sometimes even take up to a week or two, depending on your child’s temperament and the size of the change you’re making. If your little one fights a change to his sleep schedule for longer than that, it’s also possible that it’s just not a change he is ready for, or a change that’s getting him the rest he needs.

Sleep associations 

Sleep associations are the set of conditions that signal to Baby that it’s time to go to sleep. Your bedtime routine, for example, might be a sleep association, or the room that Baby falls asleep in. Other sleep associations that can be more difficult include a falling asleep while feeding, or being rocked and sung to sleep before being put down. That doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with these associations on their own, but they can start to cause problems if they’re not practical as part of an every-day routine, or if children start to need their sleep associations to be met when they wake up in the middle of the night. 

One of the key elements of phasing out a sleep association is replacing it with something else. If the association is the last bottle of the night, you can work on breaking the association by giving the bottle in a different room from where your child will be sleeping. That last bottle might then be replaced with a warm bath, a special lullaby, or a last cuddle before being put down to bed – whatever works for your child and your family.

Place can also be a great sleep association, especially if he generally naps in the same place where he sleeps at night, but if that’s his strongest or only sleep association, it can make traveling tricky.

Adjusting timing 

Adjusting a schedule is in some ways more straightforward than adjusting sleep associations. This is lucky, because it’s something few parents can avoid facing at one point or another, whether it’s because of daylight savings time, a trip to a different time zone, or a parent going back to work making an adjusted nap schedule necessary.

In the end, there are two schools of thought around adjusting sleeping times – all at once, or slowly, by increments. Either one of these strategies can work well, and the right strategy for your family depends on the temperament of your child. In either case, though, cutting out naps or otherwise cutting down on sleep to tire a child out isn’t the way to encourage an earlier bedtime, since exhaustion can actually make it harder for him to fall asleep. Instead, planning exciting and stimulating activities, physically and mentally, to fit around a normal napping schedule, rather than cutting down on naps, can be an effective way to introduce an earlier bedtime.

  • Laura A. Jana, Jennifer Shu. “Reversing Day-Night Reversal.” Healthy Children. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 21 2015. Web.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Baby naps: Daytime sleep tips.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, July 9 2015. Web.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Baby sleep: Helping baby sleep through the night.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, September 27 2014. Web.
  • Raising Children Network. “Changing your baby’s sleep patterns.” Raising Children. Raising Children Network, 2006-2016. Web.
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