How To Put Your Baby On a Nap / Sleep Schedule

Baby ScheduleWe have a variety of sample baby sleep and feeding schedules, but how do you put your baby on a sleep or nap schedule, anyway? Your strategy for implementing a baby’s nap schedule will depend on the age of your baby. Here are some tips:

4 month old baby

Your 4 month old baby will have limited ability to be on a true by-the-clock schedule. Your best way to add predictability and structure to your day is to follow more of a routine rather than a schedule. Your routine may be something like eat-play-sleep, like Babywise (even if you don’t use all its ideas), or something unique you create for your unique baby. Predictability not only helps you plan your day, but for some babies, particularly slow-to-adapt babies, it helps them feel more secure. For some babies and parents, they prefer to follow baby’s cues. Find what works for you and, most importantly, your baby.

5, 6, or 7 month old baby

Around 5, 6 or 7 months old, some babies can begin to get on more of a clock schedule. Usually, at this age, it’s best to have some flexibility in this, though. For example, a 5 to 7 month old may routinely take her nap around 9 a.m., but on any particular day, when she’s possibly working on a developmental leap or more active that day, she may need to go to sleep earlier than normal. It is often best to watch the clock AND your baby, in this age group. To put your 5, 6, or 7 month old on a schedule, you want to move slowly in extending their awake period until your baby can comfortably get to your target nap or sleep schedule.

8, 9 or 10 month old baby

Your 8, 9, or 10 month old can often be on a more regular and predictable schedule, but remember this age group is prone to the 8-9-10 month old sleep regression. For babies sensitive to being over-tired, though, you probably don’t want to be TOO rigid with your baby’s schedule. Being too rigid may land you into a cycle of chronic over-tiredness, which is sometimes hard to break. And, if bedtime is a little too late, the schedule may work wonderfully for weeks and then BAM, one “off” day sets you into a downward spiral (this can happen at any age, actually). To put your 8, 9 or 10 month old on a schedule, you’ll want to extend their awake period, just like your 5 or 6 month old, but you may be able to go a bit faster.

11 or 12 month old baby

Your 11 or 12 month old will likely have gotten on their own schedule, even if you didn’t mean for it to happen. Most babies will begin to fall into a fairly regular pattern, even if it’s not identical every day. Inconsistent babies tend to start “smoothing” out at this age, even if they aren’t strictly “consistent.” If you are still napping and setting bedtime based on sleepy cues, you may feel frustrated, if your baby/toddler is not napping long enough and still catnapping during the day. Some babies are “good” about sleepy cues and sleeping well based on them, while others need more structure and direction from you. Not enough awake time can wreak havoc in this age group. To put your baby/toddler on a nap sleep schedule, take one for a test drive to see how your little one responds. Different babies need different schedules. That’s why we offer a wide variety of sample schedules in our Mastering Naps and Schedules book.

Toddlers

Of all age groups, a toddler’s schedule is often one of the easiest to achieve. As long as your toddler is napping independently and can nap long enough, your toddler will fall into a predictable schedule. You can set the schedule based on the clock and, generally, will get a good night’s sleep and a good nap out of him. Granted, over-tiredness can still lead to shorter naps or night-waking or your baby waking too early, but if you follow a standard 5 hours awake before and after the nap, most toddlers should do pretty well.

I hope these tips will help you put your baby or toddler on a nap / sleep schedule. All babies are different and some will be able to get on a schedule earlier than others. My first didn’t get “good” at a schedule until 7 months old while his younger brother was on a schedule around 6 months old. I have seen some 6 month olds take just two naps and I’ve seen 11 month olds taking three naps, which is rare. Having a “wrong” schedule for your baby can impact how long their naps are, how well they sleep at night, what time they wake in the morning, whether they are awake a long time at night, and how fussy or happy they are during the day. Even if you don’t believe in rigid schedules, following guidelines can help, if your baby has sleep problems.

If you’re looking for ways to get your baby or toddler into a healthy sleeping routine during the day, I encourage you to explore Mastering Naps and Schedules, a comprehensive guide to napping routines, nap transitions, and all the other important “how-tos” of good baby sleep. With over 40 sample sleep schedules and planning worksheets, Mastering Naps and Schedules is a hands-on tool ideal for any parenting style. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3 Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep. Using the same unique approach and practical tools for success, this e-book helps you and your baby sleep through the night. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about! Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a plan. Sometimes you’re just too tired to.

How did you put your baby or toddler on a schedule?

Comments

  1. Lisa says

    well, we are in the midst of trying to figure out a schedule for our 18month old and nothing seems to be consistent except for a waking around 5ish (we have had 430, on occasion :( ). and we don’t really love that … at all. we’ve tried different bedtimes ranging between 6-8 and still nothing gets us away from that wake time. 8 is the closest we can get to 6 (tho it’s usually more like 530) right now so we’ve been going with that. but then, what if he takes a shorter nap, like 1.5 hrs? that’s a long day and with only maybe 11.5 hrs of total sleep. doesn’t seem like enough? and we’re definitely getting more feisty! not sure if that’s the age or the lack of sleep! any suggestions? i feel like i should just let it go that my son is never going to be one of those great sleeping kids and that he’s just an active boy.

    also i should add that my husband is not super keen on 6pm bedtime because then he doesn’t get any time to really enjoy our son. 6-8pm is such a nice family time!

  2. Lisa says

    Great topic! I would like to set nap times for my eight-month-old at 8:00 am and noon (the first nap is early because she often wakes at 5:00 or 5:30 am). However, the amount of time she sleeps for naps changes from day to day–sometimes an hour or more, sometimes closer to 30 minutes.

    If she sleeps a long time for her first nap, the second nap needs to be pushed later than noon. But if she has a bad nap morning, it seems like her second nap needs to be even earlier than noon. How can I get her on a schedule when her amount of sleep changes so much? Because her sleep is erratic, I end up feeding her at different times each day. I think she would do better on a set schedule but not sure how to get her there!

  3. Anne says

    HI- I too am struggling with my 14 mos old ‘s napping. Up until 1 month ago- she napped 2x a day.. 9 am and 130pm ish. She sleeps 11 hours at night ( most nights) with a 7-730 pm bed time.. However,,, She seems to want to skip the morning nap.. She wakes around 6 and by 10 is Tired but wont sleep! We then try putting her down a few times ( as she is tired but now cries) and protests… until she passes out at noon and maybe sleeps an 1hour. By 4 -5 pm she is a wreck! I have heard toddlers go throught this. I also know they need more than and hour to recharge. I am trying to get her on some schedule again.. She attends daycare 3 x a week and has family watch her one day.. Then home with mom and dad 3 days.. HELP!! I would love any suggestions! She was always a pretty good napper until now.. And i hate for her to start to cry again.. THanks!

  4. Pam says

    I have almost the exact same situation as Anne, except my daughter is about to be 13 months and is with family 2x week and daycare 3x. She sleeps great in her crib at night, but she’s never been a good napper and will only sleep in a bouncy chair (often after much protesting). I would love any suggestions too!!

  5. Kristi says

    I’m confused … this article doesn’t tell you how to do anything, but rather gives generalities about the different ages. It either needs a different title or more detailed information IMHO.

  6. says

    @Lisa I know it can be tricky having an early bedtime. At 18 months old, waking too early is often caused by being over-tired at bedtime, which is one of the most counter-intuitive things about baby sleep! Also, another thing to look for would be where dinner is at 5 or 5:30 p.m. and then he goes to bed say at 7:30 p.m. without a snack between. If you don’t already, try to add in a snack or move dinner to 6:30 p.m., for example, and see if you can get his internal clock in synch. Also, make sure you do not get him out of bed until at least 6 or 6:30 p.m. and don’t give him any milk or anything to eat first thing in the morning. You are not alone in that waking up too early is one of the most common issues I hear about. For a schedule, at this age, nap should be about 5 to 5 1/2 hours after waking for the day and bedtime within 5 hours after waking from his nap. All babies are, of course, different, and I know what it’s like to have an energetic little boy! :) Good luck!

    @Lisa (2 haha) This is very common around this age whether you nap truly by the clock or based on awake time. Depending on the baby, you can stick to a true clock schedule where you put her down at noon even if she takes a short nap, for example. If she takes an extra long nap, some people would still stick to the same nap schedule and if baby plays for a bit before the nap, that is often okay, as long as it doesn’t happen EVERY day, which would mean you should just change her schedule. :) It is often best to still have some flexibility in the schedule in that you base the next nap time on how long she’s been awake, if she’s sensitive to taking short naps, if she’s up too long. If she’s not, I’d try to stick to 8, 12:30, and 3:30 for 1-2 weeks and see if she gets into a groove. Good luck!

    @Anne It sounds like she is transitioning to one nap! :) You will likely need to put her down for a nap around 11:30-ish to try to catch her before she is TOO over-tired and then opt for an early bedtime to compensate. It takes a good 1-2 weeks to transition to one nap, but she should begin to get used to it and start napping longer. Make sure you do not get her up too soon after waking to encourage her nap to lengthen. At first the nap is about an hour, then will get to 1 1/2 hours, then, eventually, 2-3 hours. It does take some time and you might need to give her two naps every 5-6 days or so. Hang in there and good luck!

    @Pam The transition to one nap can happen any time after 12 months, usually, though average is 15 to 18 months. Have you tried spreading out her naps a bit more, first? For example, you might have a 7-10:30-3:30-8 schedule. As for transitioning her to napping in the crib, that would take some sleep coaching and adjustment. She probably thinks she will miss too much fun napping, so you would need to enforce crib sleeping and give her time to adjust and accept the new routine to change that. Expectations are a big part of that. If she expects to nap in the bouncy, she will always expect that and protest anything but her normal routine, until she has a new routine. :) Good luck!

    @Kristi I’m sorry you didn’t find the article useful. I tried to give strategies for each age group for getting on a schedule such as lengthening awake periods and such. It is sometimes hard to make an article useful to a wide variety of people going through different things at different times and all with different situations and unique babies. :) If you have a specific question, ask away! Good luck!

  7. Lisa says

    nicole, you’re the best! after reading your article this morning, i decided to try the ‘5 hour rule’ and put my son down for his nap around 5ish hours after he woke up this morning. i just had to wake him from a 3:15 hr nap! and as i was eating our late lunch, i saw your reply to my post. thanks so much for the help and for the info about meal times and food. he’s definitely a growing boy who is ALWAYS in the 80-90% for height and weight!
    i appreciate your website a lot … even if i do occasionally obsess over it (and my son’s sleep :) )

  8. says

    @Lisa AWESOME!! You’re very welcome!

  9. says

    I am constantly tracking the sleep habits of my spirited 10 month old son who has been a frequent night waker since birth. My husband and I both work very demanding full time jobs and therefore “sleeping through the night” is soooo important to us. Recently, my son has gotten much better about not waking up except maybe once a night and will rock back to sleep with my husband rather quickly. So, we are very proud of him for that! Currently, my son wakes up at around 8 am (give or take a half hr) and goes to bed at 8:30pm(give or take a half hr). He takes 2-3 naps per day which range from 45 mins (on the dot) to 1 1/2 hrs (most common length) and all the way up to 2 1/2 hrs on occasion. His awake time in between naps is anywhere from 2 to 2 1/2 hrs at most or he is a mess. My question is regarding naps. Should he be able to stay up longer in between naps at this age? He just can’t seem to do it, or its a nightmare. Also, should I be waking him up in the morning at the same exact time (unless he’s up already) or should I let him sleep and naturally wake up on his own depending on the time he went to bed the night before? I am also confused as to whether or not I should skip the third nap if its getting too close to bedtime or wake him up from a third nap that ends up running long to preserve his bedtime. Your help is greatly appreciated!! I LOVE YOUR WEBSITE AND ALL YOUR FANTASTIC ADVICE!

  10. prajakta says

    hi, I have been reading some of your articles but haven’t found any feasible and practicle solution to my baby’s sleeping problem.

    She is 4 month 1 week and has habit of sucking her 2 fingers when hungry, sleepy or bored. She can put herself to sleep by sucking on her fingers but I don’t allow her because I am afraid she won’t quit the habit. so I put her to sleep by singing and swinging in cradle.

    She doesnt sleep for more than 2 hours in row, day or night.
    She is down by 9:30pm but stirs up or gets restless every 2 hrs. She doesnt wake up, instead starts sucking her fingers vigourously and rolls side to side. Unsure whether she is hungry or just having difficulty going back to sleep, I first try to nurse her or pat her. This goes on whole night. She is up by 8am.

    Her daytme naps are 9am (1hr) , 1pm( 2 or 3 hrs), 7pm (1hr).

    we live in one of the hottest city of a hot country India.
    I breastfeed and give formula by bottle occasionaly.

  11. Lisa says

    Regarding toddlers … What if your child can’t sleep 13 or 14 hours total, including a nap & nighttime sleep? Just trying to figure out the standard 5 hours before & after nap if my child is already waking too early? If he takes his 1 nap 5-5 1/2 hrs after waking around 5, he is taking a nap around 1030, maybe sleeping 3 hours (if we’re lucky!), waking around 2. But then he is super tired by 7pm. If we put him to bed that early, will that reinforce the 5am wake time? Not sure if this makes sense but just trying to figure out the “math” of it all, with naps & sleep & 10+ hrs of time all adding up to 24 hrs!

  12. Nikki says

    My 3mo old does not sleep. Ever. Naps are rare and usually short (20 min cat nap) unless he sleeps on me or falls asleep in the car or while out and about. He has been going to sleep at night around 9p. He used to sleep 5+ hours then wake up ever 1.5-2 hours until 730-8. Lately, however, he’s been sleeping 4 hours and then is up every hour. He has gas that wakes him up and makes him fuss. We give him gas drops & gripe water, but nothing helps completely. I try to get him to nap but he just cries until I pick him up. I’m trying to stick to him only eating every 2+ hours which is hard sometimes. We’re working on a routine as well. (night time bath, eat, read, bed). Nothing seems to be working & I don’t know what else to do. I know he’s gotta be tired. He probably doesn’t sleep 8-10 hours a day.

  13. says

    @Allison It sounds like your son is doing GREAT! Average sleep needs and awake periods are just that and there will always be babies that fall outside of the “norm” so if you find that he can only stay awake 2 to 2 1/2 hours at a time, still, it is most likely fine. The average, at this age, is 3-4 hours, but all babies are different. If you are ever concerned, I recommend talking to your doctor, of course. How rigid you make your schedule is really up to you and what works for your baby. As a general rule of thumb, I recommend having the awake time in the morning to be within 30 minutes, if you want/need a very predictable schedule. For some babies letting them wake up at all different times can make schedules really hard. As far as the third nap, most 10 month olds don’t have a third nap, so if it’s getting too late, most likely you’d skip it and make bedtime earlier. If he is a baby that needs a lot of sleep (i.e. he sleeps 11-12 hours at night and needs 3 naps and the first two are at least an hour), then he may need the third catnap and slightly later bedtime. The key is finding the schedule that works for him. :) I’m glad you love the site and my advice. Thank you so much!! :)

    @Prajakta It sounds like your daughter is learning to self-soothe and that is great! If she doesn’t need anything at night, she will most likely suck her fingers and go right back to sleep. It is normal to wake between sleep cycles, so try not to interrupt her, because she may still be asleep. I would try not to worry that she will suck on her fingers forever. Many babies will suck their fingers for comfort and most will stop of their own accord. Many babies this age still eat about twice per night, so you may want to feed her, if she has trouble going back to sleep, but otherwise, it sounds like she’s just trying to go back to sleep. Good luck!

    @Lisa Most of the time, it is counter-intuitive that an early bedtime will mean earlier wake-up time in the morning. It is true that some toddlers will be unable to sleep 12 hours at night. Most will at least sleep 11 hours, though. There are many variations of schedules. The 5 hours awake before and after is just one of the most common.

    @Nikki It sounds like your baby is beginning the “4 month sleep regression” which can start any time between 3 and 5 months. The biggest key, at this age, is usually to keep awake time ultra short, 1-2 hours TOPS. Here is the link to the 4 month sleep regression article: http://www.babysleepsite.com/how-we-sleep/4-month-old-sleep-regression/ . I know this is a really tough age. It’s usually too young to formally sleep train, but you may want to begin helping her learn to fall asleep on her own, if she can. Sometimes their abilities at this age is not fully developed. Hang in there and good luck!!

  14. Anne says

    Thanks Nicole for all of your great advice!

  15. Lori says

    Great article! We are having schedule problems as well. My soon-to-be 15-month-old’s predictable schedule went out the window a month or so back. I think he’s ready for one nap, but we are having trouble getting to a predictable time and scheduling lunch around that! Ugh! Nap transitions! He normally wakes at 6am and bedtime is between 5:30 and 6pm. However, lately he has been resisting bedtime and taking a really long time to fall asleep. Two nights ago it was two hours! He didn’t fall asleep until 8pm, but he did sleep in until 8am (which is unusual). I am still nursing, and he still wakes once for a feeding. I probably should night-wean, but I’m not sure how to go about it with all of these other problems.

  16. Debbye says

    @ Anne- Thanks for reading, and for writing! Good luck!

    @ Lisa- You are right, this nap transition is not always a smooth one, and waiting to tackle one challenge at a time may make everything more manageable for you and your little one. :)
    Concerning the nap transition, sometimes it takes a few weeks for a baby to “settle into” the transition. Your son may take one nap on one day, and two naps on other days, and that is okay. Once the nap transition has gone well, his sleep may become more predictable and you can work on weaning that last feed.
    Just in case you have not read it, here is a link to an article that may be helpful with the nap transition: http://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-naps-2/12-month-olds-one-nap-transition/
    Good luck!

  17. Hanna says

    My daughter is 12months next week, we have always had trouble getting her to sleep, resorting to rocking her in the pram but she is to big for that now; she has now decided that she does’nt want to go to sleep at all! she has just started to get up as soon as I put her down to sleep, for her naps and at her bedtime; she sits or stands up in her cot and cries out until I go in and get her. I have tried laying her back down every time she gets up, and also leaving her to settle herself, but this just makes her more upset and she cries hysterically! I am back to rocking her to sleep in my arms, but even then it takes a long time for her to settle down. some days she will have one nap for 1.5hrs, other days she will only sleep for 20 mins, then she is up and down all night!

  18. Debbye says

    Hi Hanna-
    I just answered your email to us, and wanted to post a reply to you here as well. :)
    It sounds like your daughter has some sleep associations, in that she has not quite mastered the skill of going to sleep on her own and back to sleep when she wakes.She sounds like she will need some help from you to learn this, and as the first few days will be the toughest, i recommend that you choose a method of sleep training, and make a plan and stick to it.
    There are different methods of sleep training that you can use to help teach her, including no cry and limited crying methods. Here is an article outlining different methods for helping teach her to sleep: http://www.babysleepsite.com/sleep-training/sleep-training-from-no-cry-to-cry-series-part-1/
    And an article about sleep associations:
    http://www.babysleepsite.com/sleep-training/sleep-association/
    For more help, I would recommend that you consider our consultation services. You can read about our services here: http://www.babysleepsite.com/services

    Good luck Hanna!

  19. Megan says

    My son is almost 16 weeks old and was on a decent schedule, going 3 hours between feedings at night, even 4-5 hours a couple of times. He has never been a great daytime sleeper, but he was falling asleep 1-2 hours after each feed for 30-90minutes. Then I went back to work. He stays at a great daycare center, but they can not get him to sleep more than 40 min. 2-3 times per day. They say this is common and he will get used to sleeping there. In the meantime this lack of sleep is causing chaos on his night sleep. He has a bath at 6:30-6:45pm and is asleep by 7:30pm like clockwork. Then he is up every 1-2 hours until 5-5:30am. On top of it all he is getting 4 teeth already! The only way I can get him back to sleep at night is alternating pacifier/rocking and nursing. The only way we get more than 2 hours is co-sleeping, but I am not comfortable with that for safety and I don’t want to create a bad habit. I know I am not the only parent that has to deal with going back to work and working with childcare, but there aren’t many resources out there for me. Any suggestions?

  20. Debbye says

    Hi Megan,
    I’m sorry you are having such sleep issues, on top of transitioning to going back to work. Your baby will likely get used to the daycare, and begin to nap better there, and many babies sleep much better at daycare than at home, once they get used to it. :)
    The four month mark can be a difficult one for many babies too, especially since their sleep is becoming more like adult’s sleep. This can lead to more frequent wake ups and shorter naps. Have you read the article Nicole wrote that specifically addresses this 4 month sleep change? Here it is just in case:
    http://www.babysleepsite.com/how-we-sleep/4-month-old-sleep-regression/
    I hope things improve, and will share the great “when Mom heads back to work” article idea with Nicole.
    Best wishes!

  21. Aubrey says

    My 6 month old daughter is a short napper (30-45mins). Although it seems lately she has been having at least 1 hour nap per day. I’ve always put her down for her naps within 1-2 hours of being awake to prevent her from being overtired. I’d like to put her on a schedule now, but the lenght of her naps are still too unpredictable. At this age, how long can a baby stay awake in between naps before being overtired? How can I put her on a schedule when the length of her naps are still erratic? Thanks.

  22. Lisa says

    My 13 month old baby is giving us a hard time with sleeping. He spends 4 days with family and 3 days with me. The days he is with family he only has a morning sleep at about 9:45 for about 2 – 2 1/2 hours. By 6pm he is so tired and wakes 2 a night and up at 5am. How do i get him to nap later in the morning at about 10:30 – 11? When he is with me he has 2 naps – about 1 – 1.5 hrs each nap and to bed at 6:30pm and up at 6:30am. Its just the days when with family that he refuses to sleep in the afternoon so i want to try get him to have a later morning sleep those days so he isn’t so tired by bedtime. Do i put him to sleep earlier at night or just push through in the mornings til naptime???? Please help!

  23. Debbye says

    @ Aubrey- Thanks for writing! It sounds like you are doing everything right, following cues and keeping awake times short. Here is a link to our recommended schedules for 6 month olds: http://www.babysleepsite.com/schedules/6-month-old-baby-schedule/
    It will give you an average idea about how long to go between naps and etc. Some babies can handle a stricter schedule at this age, while others can not quite handle it until they mature a little more and their naps start to lengthen and become more predictable.
    I hope it helps! Good luck!

    @ Lisa- Thanks for writing! Often managing two different schedules is difficult, and it is hard to sometimes coordinate the two different routines and schedules. I would recommend that your family what watches him continues to try and follow his home schedule as closely as possible, and try to get the 2nd nap. If this has already been tried for a couple of weeks to no avail, then have them try to push the nap a little later, and yes, put him to bed extra early on days that he misses the 2np nap, to combat over tiredness. Here is a link to a schedule that may help as well: http://www.babysleepsite.com/schedules/toddler-schedule/

  24. Terri says

    I have such a tough situation, the baby is now 22 months and has NEVER slept without being on me at nap time and next to me at night. I have stopped night nursing, but nurse to sleep both for names and at bedtime. I have tried (most recently for 6 nights) to put him in his crib, but the screams were so awful, I simply couldn’t bear it (after waiting for an hour), He is my second, we easily night coached our oldest and this beautiful baby is really different, definitely spirited. We did the whole night time routine – dinner, bath, reading, a bit of nursing until he was sleepy – then BAM!, a scream fest the second he even looked at the crib, and no matter how long we stood next to it to pat and soothe him (then just be a calm presence, it didn’t work. Any help would be appreciated. I am at my wit’s end.

  25. Debbye says

    Hi Terri,
    I am sorry things are so tough! And I hope things have improved since you wrote! It is often an overall process to transition a baby or toddler to sleeping in their own bed, and it sounds like things got very rough and i think taking a break is a good idea for yo all to re-group. :) At this point, your baby sees your bed as “his” bed and he doesn’t think of the crib as his bed. I would start with spending some non sleep time in his crib, maybe reading or singing songs so that he starts to see the bed as his bed. You can also try sleep on his sheet for a night or two and then putting it on his bed so that his crib smells like you.
    You can start out by putting him to sleep in his own bed only for naps. Once he seems to have adjusted to that, then work on putting him to sleep at bedtime in his own bed and then decide which wakings you may bring him into bed with you but to slowly start weaning him from coming to bed with you when he wakes. There are some additional tips here that you might also find helpful:
    http://www.babysleepsite.com/how-we-sleep/baby-wont-sleep-crib/
    If things do not improve, please consider a sleep consultation package. You can read about our services here: http://www.babysleepsite.com/services/