Establishing a Sleep Routine for Your Baby

Published on: March 17, 2021

Having a sleep routine for babies not only helps parents to gain control of their day but also gives comfort and predictability to the babies.

By Ingrid Hanifen

As a pediatric sleep coach, when I mention the word “schedule”, some new parents immediately cringe. They think I’m talking about something rigid that will dictate their life. In fact, a schedule for your child is more like a general layout that you follow daily, for you to gain some semblance of control of your child’s habits and most importantly, predictability. Imagine when the baby cries, you will be able to better understand if your baby is tired or overwhelmed or hungry, based on your baby’s naptime and nighttime routine. 

Many parents fear that a schedule will tie them down, but actually, the opposite is true. To have a schedule means that you can plan the time when your baby is napping or awake. You can then begin to predict your child’s needs based on their schedule, and be able to plan your day accordingly. In short, a daily plan for your baby means more options for you as the parent.  You’ll know when to meet a friend for coffee when your baby is happy and not melting down into a tired mess.

Babies, like us, like patterns and predictability. They like to know when they’re going to be fed and when they’ll be sleeping; the predictability is comforting for them. If you follow a plan, you can know how long they have been awake for, when they last ate, whether they are more overstimulated than usual;  so you’ll be able to determine their needs and more importantly, what is wrong more easily than if your day is all over the place. 

But how do you establish a nap or bedtime routine? It doesn’t have to be anything complex – the simpler the better. Let’s say we’re talking about a three-month-old baby. Before 3 months of age, sleep is less predictable though babies are slowly beginning to differentiate between day and night; so 3 months is really the earliest you can begin to establish a routine. A baby of this age is generally taking 3 naps spread throughout the day with a total of about 5 hours of daytime sleep and about 10 hours of nighttime sleep. The morning and afternoon naps should ideally be around 2 hours each and then a third, shorter nap in the late afternoon should be around an hour. Aim to have your baby sleep at around the same time each day for naps and have a predictable pattern for how you put them down to sleep. There is no one correct way of doing things so decide what works for your family and go from there. 

Here is an example of a nice routine for naps:

  1. Turn down the lights and make the room dim by closing the curtains
  2. Change your baby’s diaper and then swaddle them
  3. Rock them for a few minutes and sing them a song (singing the same song helps with predictability).
  4. Put them into their crib drowsy but awake
  5. Turn on some white noise
  6. Let baby sleep
  7. Feed your baby after waking up
  8. Enjoy your baby’s awake time and follow the same steps for the next nap or for bedtime 

It’s great if you can follow the same steps for bedtime and at the same time, make sure that you are feeding your baby before putting them down for the night. Again, your plan may look different, but try to repeat the same steps at both naptime and bedtime. As predictability is key, everyone who cares for your child should be on the same page so that it’s done consistently.  Once you decide on a plan, share it with your nanny or spouse and have them follow the same routine. 

While routines change as they grow, the way you put a child down for naps and bedtime can generally stay the same for years to come. In order to help babies become independent sleepers, try allowing them to fall asleep on their own without feeding or rocking, ideally, they should be awake when they go into their crib so they can learn to fall asleep on their own with minimal assistance.  

Start small and focus on bedtime first, once that is established, work on the nap routine and before you know it, your baby will be on their own schedule and you will have more control over your day-to-day plans as well!  

Photo from Pixabay

About the Author

Ingrid Hanifen is a mother to 2 boys and lives in Bangkok. She is a nurse and has been helping tired families get more sleep since 2017 when she started Best Rest Families, LLC. For more information please visit to see if sleep coaching is right for your family. 

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