Why have a schedule/routine?


First off, let me say what I do and don't mean when I say schedule.

I don't mean strict feeding times that don't take into account your baby's hunger (see pdf feedings for a look at how to keep your baby eating on a routine that takes into account baby's hunger) and I don't mean you randomly put your baby to sleep at a certain time because "it is time" even when your child is not tired. What I do mean is a
predictable and consistent routine that you and baby can rely upon (like EASY).

Generally I like to use the word routine rather than schedule because the word schedule can be misinterpreted, often strictly, which is why I think many people automatically shun the word and all baby care philosophies that associate with this word. I have known more than one person like this. Once they begin to understand more of what a schedule or routine entails--that it involves working with your baby not just doing things to your baby--they often become more receptive to it.

As I've mentioned before, some people will never be open to any kind of routine--it is not their style of parenting. For example, many moms thrive off the attatchment style of parenting. This is fine by me as long as 1) baby is happy and well rested and 2) the whole family (including dad) is happy with how things are done.

So why have a routine?
Not only does a routine make life more predictable for mom, baby and the rest of the family, it makes life easier because everyone knows what to expect. Mom is able to schedule her time better to fulfill all of her needs and her children's needs. She is also able to to problem solve with baby better (e.g. She knows the reason baby is fussing is probably because it is his nap time, his normal time to eat etc). No more jumping from one thing to the next to figure out what is wrong. In the least, this "jumping" is minimized. A good routine is also going to allow everyone some much needed rest as baby sleeps for progressively longer periods at night sooner and takes good naps during the day. And sleeping better at night and during the day is going to lead to a happier baby, mom and family.

Key points:
  • Sleep problems are much easier to trouble shoot and fix if your child is on a routine. "The most important strategy for improving his or her sleep is to set a daily routine and stick to it" (William C. Dement, M.D., Ph.D., founder of the sleep disorder center at Stanford University).
  • More than just a scheduled sleeping time is important. If you have different main activities, like eating, at different times each day it may mess up sleep and a child's general well being. Plus, children like predictability in these areas too.
  • Without a consistent routine people tend to move toward a 25 hour daily schedule.
  • When a routine isn't kept and the child is allowed to choose when he sleeps, naps and night time sleep often move all over the place with segments of sleep breaking off from one area and going to another area. For example, part of the afternoon nap may break off and become part of the night time sleep. What you end up in chaotic sleep patterns that disrupt child and family.
  • Most children would rather play than sleep no matter how tired they are. If you leave the option of sleep up to your child, you are going to have a chronically sleep deprived child on your hands. Letting your child decide when to sleep is giving him a responsibility that he is too young to be in charge of. Sleep is a need not an option. See Why Sleep is Way Important- Benefits of Adequate Sleep.
  • Even if you put your child down to sleep when he is tired but do not keep any kind of routine, your child will most likely still suffer from lack of sleep. Why? Because many children stop showing sleep cues when they get older and only show overtired signs meaning that by the time you put your child down to sleep (especially if you have to spend the time nursing beforehand) you already have a child that has missed out on sleep. Also, because sleeping times vary so much you are often in a situation where you can't put your child to sleep until you do this or that (finish cooking dinner, get home, take care of the other kids etc). Once again, by the time you get to putting your child to sleep he has already missed out on sleep and often times won't make it up (especially if this is a reoccurring thing which it often is in these situations). Plus, an overtired child usually sleep much less than a child that is put to sleep at a good time which further perpetuates the sleep deficit.
  • Children "are better behaved when thing are similar and follow a known pattern" (Sleeping Through The Night, p. 65). Babywise also mentions this concept.
  • Routines help children feel security and a sense of control. (Sleeping Through The Night, p. 65)

If you decide not to start off with a routine (which is fine), you'll likely want to implement some kind of routine by the time baby is 3-6 months of age. Some babies will fall into their own routine, but others will need a little help. The main key is to have them waking up in the morning at around the same time and going to bed around the same time. This helps baby's day be predictable so he'll sleep better. Having naps and mealtimes at the same time also helps his body get into more of a routine which can better help him sleep since at this age his body has a bunch of fancy things going on with it that will help him feel sleepy when he normally falls asleep. If there is a no 'normal', his body won't know if it's suppose to be awake or asleep and so going to sleep won't be as easy.
... Human beings, like most animals, thrive when they know how and when their needs are going to be met and know what's coming next. (TBW Solves All Your Problems)
All of us, regardless of age, function best when we keep regular schedules. Studies on adults have shown that irregular sleep-wake patterns cause significant changes in our moods and sense of well being and undermine our ability to sleep at desired times. The same is true of young children. (Ferber)
I believe that prevention is better than a cure and if parents were to take control and structure their babies' feeding and sleeping needs from very early on, a huge number of sleeping problems could be avoided. (The Complete Sleep Guide, intro)
It is our experience that both baby and mom do better when a baby's life is guided by a flexible routine. (Babywise, pg. 36)

20 comments :

  1. Hi Rachel! Thank you so much for doing this blog, it is SO NICE to be able to reference all this information in one place.
    I am having trouble getting a consistent, daily routine that 1. follows eat/awake/sleep pattern 2. includes "optimum" waketime 3. has nice long nap times 4. still has an early bedtime like Dr. Weissbluth recommends. We either get wonky with the eat/wake/sleep cycle, or get to a place where he would either be going to bed super early, like 5:30, or at/after 8 which is later than Dr. Weissbluth recommends I believe. My son is 13 weeks (almost 14), eats every 3-3.5 hours, and has been going to bed around 7. We get up at 7am usually and he typically wakes 2 times at night, but sometimes just 1.
    Any thoughts or advice would be greatly appreciated! I am just having trouble getting the
    "math" to work out. :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Suzannesaphone,
    It usually takes a few months to get down a pretty consistent routine with most babies so don't be too worried. And even after that there are always up and down days. And then there are growth spurts and developmental leaps that throw things off too :)

    If bedtime is going to be like 5:30at this age, then I would probably give your son a short nap in the evening. If he was a bit older I might put him to bed super early, but at this age it might make things harder in my opinion. I don't think 8 pm is too terribly late, especially if you consider that not all babies will sleep 12 hours at night (although at this age most will do a 12 hour period with/without feeds). Plus, as I mentioned, with young babies it is sometimes hard to get a very consistent routine which means that bedtime won't always be at exactly the same time. Just do the best you can. I think you are probably doing better than you realize :)

    For waketime, that is something that you will continually have to work with. Don't stress if you can't figure it out perfectly right now because it will just change next week anyway! You might want to try keeping a log to see if that helps (look in index under "log"). You might be able to see which waketimes result in better naps.

    For long naps, a good waketime makes a big difference as you probably already know. You can also use some of the methods under the "short nap" post (look in the index) to increase nap lengths. At this age I help out in the middle of naps quite a bit to extend them and decrease the help I give when baby gets a bit older. Long naps is something that many if not most parents struggle with so don't feel like you are alone. I think it has a lot to do with your child too--some are more prone to short naps and require a lot of work to extend them and sometimes just time to extend them.

    Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks Rachel! We will keep plugging along with what we are doing and not worry as much about the bedtime then. We are having some nap troubles but I think that's normal at this age...he just needs some help.
    Thank you so much for your answer!

    ReplyDelete
  4. suzannesaphone,
    Good luck. I forgot to mention that if one eat/wake/sleep period runs short then you can try to make the next one run longer (if he'll sleep longer) so that end up with bedtime around the same time each night.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi i have a 5 month old boy who wakes up at 3-5 am every day to play. He stays awake for a few hours then naps again. He probably has 3-4 hour- or two hours a day n goes to bed at 5-6pm. What can i do to get him to sleep ti bout 6-7 am?

    ReplyDelete
  6. I mran he has 3-4 naps a day for bout 1-2 hours

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mony1809
      Some kids go through a phase of wakefulness and playing at night at this age and there isn't much you can do. Look over the early morning waking post found in the index for more on this.

      Look over his total day time sleep amount and compare it to the averages. If he is sleeping more than many babies or has a much shorter waketime, consider increasing the waketime and/or decreasing nap time. Often this isn't the case, but there are some babies where this definitely seems to be the culprit with night time wakings.

      Make sure the room is nice and dark.

      Consider trying wake to sleep (do it a while before 3 am)

      See if moving bedtime a bit later helps. I usually say do an early bedtime, but the occasional baby will end up having issues with this. If he is a 10-12 hour sleeper and wakes at 5 am, his sleep cap may be done for the night. some kids have to have extra naps instead of a super early bedtime (though the earlier bedtime is best if it works d/t more restorative sleep) because of the early waking issues.

      Delete
  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hi Rachel, first of all I have to say I love your blog! It already helped me a lot in understanding sleeping and sleeping problems, much more than the books I've read. Still I would like to ask for your advice. My apologies if this post is a bit long...while writing I noticed my story is longer than I thought.

    Our 5.5 month old was doing quite fine until he was about 4 months old, we had some kind of EWS routine (although I did not know about it yet) and he was falling asleep by himself for naps. We were at 1 or 2 night feeds (breastfeeding) between 22:00h and 7:00h. After 4 months he stopped sleeping in the day, and we had many nights with 4 to 8 wakings. We thought it was a phase or because of a short chaotic period we had at home, but after a few weeks without improvement I started reading about sleeping.

    Since then I'm trying hard to establish a new EWS routine, and having my son take his 3 naps. We already see improvement, as for the last 10 days or so most nights we are back to 2-4 wakings. Still we struggle with naps, and the difficulty is that even with a detailed sleep log I can't figure out how to improve it. Sometimes he falls asleep by himself in 10 minutes, but often he is awake for more than half an hour (with the same sleep cues) or doesn't sleep at all if we don't actively help him fall asleep by holding his arms and legs. He wakes up like clockwork after 30 mins, sometimes he manages to go back to sleep after 10-15 mins but often not. And then one day suddenly he takes a 2 hour nap! There is no consistency so we don't manage to get any kind of routine. Morning naps are most successful (although at different times each day), afternoon naps only sometimes. Even in the stroller he manages to stay awake!

    Bedtime is now anywhere between 17:30h and 18:30h depending on the sleep cues, but after 30 minutes he's awake and won't sleep without help, which can take 1 hour. Morning wake time is between 6 and 7. On average the last week he's been sleeping ~10 hours at night and another 1.5-3 hours in the day, so quite a bit less than recommended. The last days he's been falling asleep (finally) around 19:30h, but keeping him awake until that time would make him overtired. I have this hope that as soon as we manage to "fix" the afternoon nap issue things will be better, but at this moment I don't know what strategy to take for that. Do you have any recommendations?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. AnnaE,
      My guess is that sleep will improve a lot if he doesn't have props help him fall asleep, even if he's having a tough time falling asleep. That doesn't mean you can't help him, like you'd be doing with p.u./p.d., but he needs to go to sleep by himself.

      Keep in mind how tired he is from a previous nap or nights sleep when evaluating how his sleep goes with certain waketimes.

      You might want to choose a waketime, like 2 hours, and just do it for every nap for a while and see what happens. Monitor sleep cues, but go by the clock as well as those since they can get tricky to solely go by with many babies at this age.

      Look over the top sleep post as well as those under the sleep training label if needed for suggestion on how to move next.

      Delete
    2. Thank you very much for answering! I'll definitely try the fixed waketime and see how that goes. And I'll keep reading for more tips :)

      Delete
  9. Hi Rachel,

    I have a 2 1/2 month old son who was 4 weeks early. He is not staying asleep throughout the night and would like him to get in a routine before I go back to work in 2 weeks. Throughout the day he gets sleepy but won't go down for a nap unless it's with me holding him. I can put him down once he is asleep but he will wake back up within 20-25 minutes. At night I am worried he is colic because he cries from 6:30-9 almost each night. We try feeding him and he usually falls asleep on us after an ounce and wakes up again 30 min later screaming again. Is he hungry, colicky, tired, no idea!!! During the night he will have stretches that range from 1:30 to 4 hours but typically they run on the shorter end. Most of the time he only will go down for more than an hour if he is asleep with us. We can't put him to bed sleepy but still awake. I want to try letting him CIO but is it too early? Wen he wakes up in the night it is usually every 4 hours and I'm wondering if at this age he is hungry or can I just soothe him/try him self soothing and put him back down? Currently during the day he eats every 2-3 hours 3-4 oz. please help!!!

    Katie

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hi Rachel,
    We started doing a consistent 4s routine with our son when he was 4 weeks old, and your suggestion of letting baby crying a couple minutes during the sit time before starting right in with p/s worked wonders with him (and your suggestion of doing some knee squats before sitting too). For several weeks we did that routine and he was down within 5-10 minutes. It worked great! At least half the time when we put him in his crib he had his eyes open and most of those times continued to go to sleep on his own.

    Then starting 3-4 days ago (He's almost 8 weeks old), when letting him cry during the sit time he would continue to cry after the usual 2-3 minutes. Sometimes it worked going back to the knee squats to get him to lay his head down on my shoulder and settle down, but now nothing is seeming to work.

    I thought following a consistent routine would result in him crying less and less while putting him down, but he's crying more and I'm starting to resort to going back to putting him on the breast to get him down.

    Any advice would be great! Thanks for all the helpful info on your website!
    Sara

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sara Bidler,
      Getting into good sleep habits certainly helps tons, but babies are always changing. They'll have things that disrupt their sleep all the time, whether it be a developmental thing mentally or physically. So crying overall will usually decrease over time, but there will be increased bouts of crying here and there as development/health changes. For one, he is at the peak fussy time for many babies so that may be the issue. He may also be getting more alert which is making him resist sleep even more. Try to see if reducing stimulation and waketime helps out at all.

      Rachel

      Delete
  11. hi Rachel. We tried doing a 4 hr EASY routine. my son is 8 months old & eating solids has tripped us up. he wakes up around 6.45 am, has solids at 7.30 am, another bottle feed at 8.30 am & sleeps 10-11. He then eats when he wakes up at a similar interval (E.g. milk and then solids 1 hr after) - is this ok? or do I need to consolidate the feeds further? He is not a great napper- his max nap time is 1 hr 10 mins & he is suffering from early morning poops as well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would appreciate any insight you may have to add. Thank you for your helpful website & also for replying to all comments.

      Delete
  12. The post above makes me believe that I need to do a routine. I keep wanting to do it and then the fact that I'm pumping (and still getting up once before she does) makes me not want to get her up at the same time every day. I think that once I start doing it, it will help. My daughter is 8.5 months old and we had a routine - eating every 3 hours or so and sleeping with about a 2 hour wake time. She was sleeping 45 minutes consistently and was starting to have one of her three naps be longer. Then all the sudden her naps started to be shorter - 30 minutes. She doesn't want to sleep. She goes to sleep just fine (hardly any fussing at all) but can't stay asleep. It doesn't seem to matter whether she's eaten right before or 2 hours before she just doesn't stay asleep. She goes to bed around the same time everyday but her wake time is all over the board - 5:45-8 and sometimes still wakes to eat (but not usually until 4:30 or 5am). Any thoughts?

    ReplyDelete
  13. Hi Rachel I have a 13 week old son who will only nap for 45 mins sometimes less. He sleeps great during the night but won't go to bed till 9:30 pm on some night 10pm but he won wake till 6 am for a feed. During the day we have been trying to establish a routine as he was feeding every 2 hrs or less so I'm not trying to get him to o every 2.5-3hrs instead as its very hard to do things du ring the day with him feeding so frequently. He will only nap during the day, I swaddle him as I do at night and we do the eat play sleep routine. I have tried 1-1.5 hrs awake times and the naps still only go 45 mins I've tried going to 2 hrs and the same result..... Should I be trying shorter awake periods for him? I have to sway and bounce to get him to sleep I haven't yet tried to just place him down sleepy... The last time I did this he just screamed and cried and wouldn't settle as a result from being upset..

    I'm at a loss his napping is hard as its not very long an he seems to wake cranky on occasions but won't last long when awake even if he wakes happy he gets cranky fast when his awake.

    Thanks gemma

    ReplyDelete
  14. Hi Rachel,

    Thank you so much for all the info and advice! I've been desperately trying to create a bedtime/nap/feeding routine for my 13 week old but I'm completely unable to do it as I feel like we're stuck in a vicious circle. I try to keep the bedtime at the same time (I start the bedtime routine at 6:30pm) but his sleep has been getting more and more erratic and the wakeup time is always different. He wakes up every 1-2 hours during the night and many times I end up feeding him to sleep because I'm unable to get him to sleep otherwise. As a result, I start the first feeding of the day 3 hrs after his last feeding at night (which is always different). During the day, I try feeding him every 3 hrs but I also feed him before bed, which might end up being only an hour after I fed him last. For naps, I try to follow the 90 min awake time intervals, which generally works but it also ends up being different every day. (otherwise, when I try to put him to sleep at a random time I've chosen like 12pm, he's either too tired or not tired enough). Do you have any suggestions as to have to break out of this and start a routine with predicted times? Thank you very much! Sasha

    ReplyDelete