Baby bedtime routine and newborn sleep: How you can both sleep easier

Lyndsey Rodrigues
Lyndsey Rodrigues
Lyndsey Rodrigues has worked as a writer, producer, tv host and editor and is now serving as the Head of Content here at Kiindred. She has two sons - a human one named Kai and a fur one named Memphis...and she is thoroughly obsessed with them both. Before becoming a mum, Lyndsey spent over ten years living in New York City where her hobbies included live music, architecture,...
Created on Jan 22, 2024 · 11 mins read

“Sleep now!” seems to be a popular phrase, bestowed upon expectant parents by more experienced ones. The advice, while intended as helpful, doesn’t really prepare anyone for the realities of life with a newborn baby and trying to master the ever-elusive newborn sleep routine!

Yep, the truth is that getting a baby to sleep is just one of those things that you can’t really fathom until you are faced with a tiny, crying human who you love more than anything – despite the fact he or she refuses to fall asleep when (or where) you want them to.

It’s handy, in times like these to keep the mantra “this too shall pass” firmly in the front of your mind. While it will indeed pass, having a solid bedtime routine and understanding your baby’s sleep patterns can really help too.

So, to that end, in this article, we’ll examine – with bleary, red-eyes – the nuances of baby sleep and baby sleep schedules, in the hopes that it will result in a good night’s sleep for everyone in your house.

Do newborns need a baby sleep schedule?

A newborn sleep schedule is kind of a misnomer. Newborns aren’t able to adhere to any kind of schedule as they adjust to life outside of the womb and start to regulate their circadian rhythm. In fact, Mothercraft nurse Chris Minogue actually recommends letting your baby sleep for as long as they need in the first few weeks so that they have the energy they need to feed properly.

Instead of trying to adhere to a strict infant sleep schedule in those early weeks, just focus on getting as much sleep as you possibly can and allowing your little one to do the same. You’ve no doubt heard the expression “sleep when the baby sleeps” and, as trite as it sounds, it’s pretty good advice!

After a couple of weeks, you’ll notice that your baby is a little more alert and then you can start to implement a bedtime routine to help them fall asleep.

A soothing bedtime routine can set you up for success later down the track by helping your baby to know what is coming next and get them ready to settle down for the night.

A baby bedtime routine helps babies learn the difference between day and night by reinforcing their natural circadian rhythms. Later on, a baby bedtime routine assists little ones in slowing down and mentally preparing for bedtime.

When should you start a sleep routine with a newborn?

According to Chris Minogue, “Once you get to around three weeks, you’ll notice the baby’s more alert. They move into a feed, alert, and then sleep cycle. At this point, we need to wrap them, cuddle them calmly, and quietly put them down in their bed.”

In other words, now is a great time to introduce a bedtime routine or newborn sleep schedule.

In order to help your baby fall asleep (and hopefully stay asleep longer), you can introduce a predictable bedtime routine that includes a bath, feed, baby massage, cuddle, singing or reading a bedtime story – or some combination of them all.

Having a consistent routine can help your baby learn good sleep habits and set both you and them up for sleep success as they get older.

Sample bedtime routine

The best bedtime routine for your child will be governed by your individual situation but an example of a routine could be:

7:00 PM: Bath Time

  • Begin with a warm and gentle bath. Use mild baby soap and shampoo.
  • Keep the lights dim to create a calm atmosphere.

7:15 PM: Massage and Quiet Time

  • Apply a small amount of baby lotion and give your baby a gentle massage.
  • Dress your baby in comfortable night clothes such as a onesie.
  • Dim the lights further and engage in some quiet activities like soft singing or talking in a soothing voice.

7:30 PM: Feeding Time

  • Offer a final feeding before bedtime. Whether breast or bottle feeding, make sure your baby is comfortably full.

8:00 PM: Story Time or Lullabies

  • Choose a short, simple bedtime story or sing soft lullabies to your baby.

8:15 PM: Swaddle and Comfort

  • If your baby enjoys being swaddled, wrap them snugly in a light blanket.
  • Offer a dummy if your baby uses one.
  • Spend some time cuddling and give them a goodnight kiss.

8:30 PM: Bedtime

  • Put your baby in the crib or bassinet while they are drowsy but still awake.
  • Keep the room dark or use a soft nightlight.
  • You can use a white noise machine or a gentle lullaby to create a calming environment.

8:31 PM

  • Go to sleep yourself! Okay, we’re kind of kidding here but hey, we’re also not discouraging it!

How much should a newborn sleep?

A newborn baby sleeps a lot in the first couple of weeks, but not necessarily when you’d like them to (more on that shortly).

On average, newborn babies sleep for about 16 to 20 hours per day, but this sleep is often in short stretches, typically ranging from 2 to 4 hours at a time. This is because they have small stomachs, and they need frequent feedings, which can contribute to their waking often. The need for frequent feeds can make it difficult to devise any kind of sleep schedule, as it’s recommended that, if you are breastfeeding, you nurse on demand to establish a good supply of breast milk.

Newborn babies do not have a well-established circadian rhythm, so their sleep-wake cycles may seem random. Most newborn babies have their days and nights mixed up initially which can lead to them sleeping all day and partying all night in those early weeks (yep, both you and your new bestie will see many a sunrise together!). You can help them differentiate the difference between day and night by exposing them to natural light during the day and keeping the environment dark and quiet at night.

So how much sleep does a baby need? Well, it changes as your baby grows.

Sleep patterns for 0-3 month-old

A baby aged 0-3 months requires a significant amount of sleep as their bodies and brains are rapidly developing.

Newborns often sleep for shorter periods at night, waking up every 2-3 hours for feeding. Newborns take frequent daytime naps, usually in short bursts lasting anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours. It’s normal for them to wake up for feeding during naps.

Sleep patterns for 3-6 month-old

As your baby grows and develops, their sleep patterns and how much sleep they need generally undergo changes.

By the age of 3-6 months, many infants begin to establish more predictable sleep routines, and you may notice more extended periods of sleep at night.

By 3-4 months, some babies start to sleep for longer stretches at night, typically around 4-6 hours as they start to need fewer night feeds. Some babies may even sleep longer, while others may still wake more frequently.

Every baby is different though, so don’t be too worried if your baby is still waking up every two hours to nurse at this age.

You might notice a more defined bedtime routine emerging during this period. Establishing a consistent bedtime routine can be helpful in signalling to your baby that it’s time for a more extended sleep period and to fall asleep more easily.

At this age, naps should become a little more organised, and your baby may take 3-4 naps during the day. The length of daytime naps can vary, but many babies start to take longer naps, especially in the morning and afternoon.

Some babies may start to show a preference for a certain nap schedule, while others may still have shorter, more unpredictable naps.

On average, a 3-6 month-old baby may sleep about 14-16 hours in a 24-hour period, with the majority of sleep occurring at night.

Sleep patterns for 6-9 month-old

Between 6 and 9 months, many babies continue to refine their sleep patterns, and you may see more consistency in both nighttime sleep and daytime napping. This hopefully translates to you getting more sleep yourself although it’s not uncommon for babies of this age to still wake for feeds overnight. A really good bedtime routine should be established by now and they may have sleep associations, such as a comforter or soft toy, introduced.

Babies in this age range may be capable of longer stretches of nighttime sleep, often sleeping for 10-12 hours during the night. Some babies might even start sleeping through the night, though it’s not uncommon for others to still wake up once or twice.

Teething and developmental milestones (like crawling or pulling up) can sometimes lead to disturbed nights. If your baby is experiencing discomfort from teething or is mastering new skills, be patient and provide extra comfort during these periods.

By 6-9 months, many babies transition to a more structured nap schedule, typically taking 2-3 naps during the day. The morning and afternoon naps may be longer, while the third nap, if still taken, might be shorter.

Some babies may start dropping their third nap, moving towards a two-nap schedule.

Babies in this age range generally need around 12-16 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period.

Sleep patterns for 9-12 month-old

Many babies in this age range continue to sleep for 10-12 hours at night. Some babies may be capable of sleeping through the night without waking for feedings, while others may still wake up occasionally.

Most babies in this age range take 2-3 naps per day. Some may have transitioned to two longer naps, while others might still take a shorter third nap.

Nap durations can vary, with morning and afternoon naps typically being the longest. Babies at this stage generally need about 11-14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period – but again each baby’s total daily sleep varies.

Tips for establishing a sleep routine

It’s never too early to introduce good sleeping habits although, as we mentioned above, around the 3 or 4 week mark is typically a great time to develop your baby’s bedtime routine.

Here are some tips for helping your baby sleep better through the use of bedtime routines.

1. Be flexible in the beginning

Newborns have unpredictable sleep habits, and it’s normal for them to wake frequently for feeding.

During the first few weeks, focus on meeting your baby’s needs rather than trying to impose a strict schedule.

2. Create a calm sleep environment

You can help your baby to sleep by making their sleep environment conducive to rest.

Keep the room dark, make sure there’s not too much excitement, maintain a comfortable temperature, and use white noise or soft music to create a soothing atmosphere.

If your baby is in the same room as you, try to keep the noise to a minimum as best you can.

3. Establish a bedtime routine

Develop a consistent bedtime routine to signal to your baby that it’s time to sleep. This routine could include activities like a warm bath, gentle massage, reading a short story, or singing a lullaby.

Bedtime routines help your baby to sleep better and for longer periods of time.

Similarly, encourage a consistent wake-up time in the morning to help regulate your baby’s internal clock. This can contribute to a more predictable daily schedule.

4. Put your baby in their sleep space awake

Putting your baby to bed drowsy but awake can help them learn to fall asleep independently which can set them (and you!) up for better future sleep.

The ability to self-settle can come in particularly handy during sleep regressions.

5. Differentiate day and night

Help your baby distinguish between day and night by exposing them to natural light during the day and keeping the environment darker and quieter at night. This can help regulate their circadian rhythm.

6. Practice “Eat, Play, Sleep” Routine

Yep, it’s not just about bedtime routines! Encouraging a routine of feeding, followed by some awake and alert time for play or interaction, and then putting the baby to bed can help prevent the baby from associating feeding with falling asleep.

7. Observe wake windows

Wake windows are the amount of time your baby should be awake based on their age. For example, a newborn baby will have very short wake windows, typically around 45 minutes to 1 hour. They may need to nap every 1-2 hours.

Meanwhile, a baby aged 2-4 months may be able to stay awake for 1-2 hours and need 3-4 naps per day.

8. Introduce a consistent sleep space

Create a designated sleep space, such as a crib or bassinet, where your baby associates sleep with that particular location. This can contribute to better sleep associations.

9. Make gradual changes

As your baby grows, you can gradually introduce changes to the sleep routine. Be patient and make adjustments based on your baby’s development and cues.

10. Be patient!

It can be frustrating and exhausting getting your newborn’s sleep under control but keep the faith!

With these simple tips and a solid routine, you can start to get on top of it and slowly but surely you’ll breathe a sigh of relief as your baby starts to sleep for longer stretches.

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