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Explore the Science of Sleep: Creating The Ideal Sleep Schedule and Understanding Your Baby’s Sleep Patterns

mom nose to nose with her baby
Christine Brown

Christine Brown

Understanding your little one’s sleep patterns and creating an optimal sleep schedule can sometimes feel like playing whack-a-mole. Just when you think you may have it figured out, the wind blows and now sleep has changed. This can leave you feeling confused and overwhelmed. Been there!

Here’s the thing…understanding how babies sleep at various stages of development will help you on your quest to get your little one the restful sleep they need to grow and flourish, mentally and physically.

Let’s explore the fascinating science of sleep, including babies’ unique sleep patterns, and how they evolve with age, plus help you create an age-appropriate sleep schedule for your little one!


IN THIS POST:

Understanding Your Baby’s Sleep Patterns

Sleep Cycles & Stages

Infant & Toddler Sleep Needs

Daytime Sleep Needs & Nap Transitions

Sleep Regressions

Creating a Healthy Sleep Schedule

Tips To Support Your Baby’s Sleep Schedule


Understanding Your Baby’s Sleep Patterns

To create a healthy sleep schedule for your little one, it helps to begin with a solid understanding of their sleep patterns and needs:

Sleep Cycles & Stages

Each night and nap is made up of a series of sleep cycles, which vary in length based on age.  Unlike adults, babies experience shorter sleep cycles characterized by alternating phases of “quiet” (deep) sleep and “active” (light) sleep. Sleep cycles are made up of different stages of sleep and each of the stages of sleep has a unique role in brain and body restoration.

There are two primary categories of sleep stages:

REM – rapid eye movement which is when we do our dreaming.

Non-REM – non-rapid eye movement sleep that progressively gets deeper.

Here is what a typical night of sleep looks like for a baby:

chart showing Baby Sleep Cycles Chart | Bella Luna Family

Infant & Toddler Sleep Needs

Newborns require a significant amount of sleep, around 16 to 20 hours per day, distributed across many naps and nighttime sleep.

As our little ones get older, their sleep needs change a little. Babies, toddlers and preschoolers need around 11-12 hours of nighttime sleep each night.

School aged children need 10-11 hours of nighttime sleep and teens need 9-10 hours.

Here’s a quick chart explaining the average total amount of sleep needed at different ages from both night sleep and daytime naps:

Children's Sleep Needs By Age

Daytime Sleep Needs & Nap Transitions

As babies grow, the amount of daytime sleep they need decreases as well as the the number of naps they need. Below you’ll see the average amount of day sleep children need as well as the number of naps.

Daytime Sleep Needs by Age chart from Bella Luna Family

To learn more about the specific nap transitions, check out these posts:

Sleep Regressions

Whenever our little ones are going through anything major developmentally, there is usually a disruption in sleep. These are called sleep regressions.

When a baby is sleeping well and then begins to wake frequently at night, fight naps or refuses them, chances are your baby may have hit a sleep regression. 

Sleep regressions last a few days to two weeks. If your child’s sleep hasn’t returned to normal by the end of two weeks, your child’s sleep may never go back to the sleep habits they had before the regression. This is usually due to new habits having been formed or the child has sleep associations, which impact the child’s ability to settle or resettle without their parents’ help.

Understanding sleep regressions is important because at these timeframes its common for parents to feel like they lost the plot with sleep and are left confused when what they were doing stops working!

Sleep regressions typically occur around 4 months8 months18 months2 years and for good measure a nap strike around 2.5 years. Coincidentally, many sleep regressions happen around the same time as nap transitions!

Creating a Healthy Sleep Schedule: Timing Sleep to Encourage Optimal Rest for Your Baby

Implement the following strategies to create a healthy schedule that supports your baby’s development:

  1. Set an ok to wake time. A biologically normal time for babies to wake for the day is in between 6:00-7:00 am. If your little one wakes before this time, try to encourage your child to stay in their room until 6 am at the latest so you don’t cement an early morning wake-up. Conversely, if your baby is still sleeping at 7:00 am, wake them so you can get on an ideal schedule that aligns with when your baby will get the best sleep.
  2. Morning nap. Most babies, who are 5 months and up, do best with a morning nap that starts between 8:00-9:00 am.
  3. Afternoon nap. The ideal timeframe for an afternoon nap is between 12:00-1:00 pm.
  4. Cat nap. For babies that are still on 3 naps, a late afternoon cat nap, starting between 3:00 – 4:30, tends to do wonders to help children make it to an age-appropriate bedtime. Make sure all naps are over by 5:00 pm.
  5. Bedtime. The ideal bedtime for babies and toddlers is between 6:00 and 7:30 pm. If your baby fell short of their daytime sleep needs or one nap was less than an hour, aim for an earlier bedtime in that range. If your little one meets their daytime sleep needs, 7:00 pm is a good target.

Tips To Support Your Baby’s Sleep Schedule

  • Create a comfortable sleep environment. Ensure your baby’s sleep space is conducive to healthy sleep. You want the room to be cool (68-72F/20-22C); dark and playing consistent white noise.
  • Bedtime routine. A predictable bedtime routine can help signal to your baby that it’s time to wind down and prepare for sleep. Have a short routine before naptime and a longer routine at bedtime.
  • Consistency. If your little one is in a sleep regression try to keep to your baby’s sleep schedule and routine, while offering additional comfort. You are going to need ALL the patience!
  • Flexibility. All babies are different so you may need to experiment to find the right schedule for your little one. If you need help figuring this out, reach out and we’d love to help you!

Conclusion

Understanding your baby’s sleep patterns and crafting a healthy, age-appropriate sleep schedule is essential for promoting their growth and well-being. By exploring the science of sleep, implementing supportive strategies, and adapting to their changing developmental needs, you can foster a nurturing sleep habits for both your baby and your entire family.

Our team of certified baby sleep consultants of Bella Luna Family are here to support you if you need help development better sleep habits for your baby. Our personalized, evidence-based guidance can help you navigate the complexities of infant sleep, ensuring that your little bundle of joy receives the restorative rest they need to grow, develop, and thrive. Schedule a free discovery call today to discuss working together!

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