As we continue our deep dive into the Wonderful World of Sleep I wanted to begin to discuss the concepts of schedules, routines and transitions. In our last discussion I touched upon the importance of sleep, learning your child’s cues and how consistency really is key. Click here for a quick guide.
I’ve said it before, and I will say it again (probably during this blog 😊) each child is unique. There will be a time when a selected routine or schedule won’t work. Trails and fails will happen before you are able to figure out the magical schedule and routine that will work for them.
That being said, today I am going to give you some examples of both what I have assisted other parents in implementing with their kids, as well as what has worked for my kids.
How much sleep do they really need?
Let’s dive headfirst into the idea of sleep. New parents may be a little more interested in this section, although those of us with toddlers will also probably find it interesting. It’s true…sometimes we forget how much sleep our children really need.
The chart below will show you, based on your child’s age, how much sleep they should be getting. You’ll see the total amount, and also a column for number of naps to expect as well as how long they should be sleeping at night. Again, I’m going to throw in that each child is different. Some 2-year-olds need 2 naps, some 3-year-olds drop their naps completely. You can use the following chart as a general guide.
Creating the Schedule
Now that you have a rough sense of how much time your child should be sleeping, let’s talk about how to spread it out throughout the day. As your child exits the newborn phase and moves into infancy, you’re going to see the ratio of the time spent sleeping to the time spent awake change. At the beginning, the amount of time your child will spend awake – which includes changing the diaper, feeding and burping – only lasts about 45 minutes.
Before you know it your child is 6 months old and suddenly, they are able to stay awake for about 2 hours. That’s SO MUCH TIME! Below are a couple of schedules for different aged children. Remember these are general guidelines but they are a place to start your own schedule if you have no idea where to begin.
Consistency is Key
I know you’re looking at that saying, “Dr. Lisa, you ALWAYS say that!” But it’s true. Consistency is key. No matter what kind of schedule you choose to implement, make sure you stick with it. If you notice in the above samples, as your child ages the changes between awake and nap times don’t become too drastic. Schedules like these are meant to move with you and your child as they grow. Times don’t jump all over the place but do shift up or down depending upon how much time your child is able to stay awake.
Routines make things easier
It’s true. The more you participate in the same routine each time, the easier naptime and bedtime will become. (Well, in theory anyway 😉). If you notice in the schedules, each one has a slot for bedtime routine and then one for bed. The bedtime routine should begin about 30 minutes before you say goodnight. In my house, when my kids were infants, the routine looked like this:
- Bath time
- Yes, I tended to give my kids a bath nightly, even if it was just a little soak in water to calm them down – I know not everyone does this, we chose to because both of my kids LOVE the water.
- I used coconut oil on both of my kids. Some people use lotion, grapeseed oil, Aquaphor, etc. Whatever you chose it’s a great time to connect with your child. I made up a little song for Paige where I would identify the body part as I was massaging it.
- Jammies on
- Pajamas are the first indication of sleep time, but really, my kids knew it was time for bed when the sleep sack went on. To them, sleep sack meant sleep. Because honestly, sometimes the kids hung out in their PJs all day…
- Read a Book/Sing a song
- I’ll admit that I didn’t really read at night with my kids until they were older. I chose instead to sing to them. I would sing them the same songs each night. Again, since I did this nightly, they would begin to anticipate it.
- Bedtime Feeding
- The goal was to be giving them their bedtime feed around 6:50ish. After our song/or book I would put on the sound machine, sit in our chair and feed them. The sound machine provided another cue that it was time for sleep.
If all went well my daughter or son were placed in their crib in a quiet alert or drowsy but awake state by 7:00 PM.
The Quiet Alert & Drowsy but Awake State
I was never one to rock my kids to sleep. Some choose to do this and if it works for them, that’s great. I would snuggle my kids and cuddle them while feeding, but I always put them in their crib while still awake.
The quiet alert state is a state where your child exhibits small, infrequent movement. Their eyes are open, and they are watchful and aware. They may appear to be taking everything in. But they are ultimately subdued and calm. This can lead to the drowsy but awake state where you begin to notice that your child is yawning, pulling their ear, fussing (look back to the last blog about learning your child’s cues).
Putting a child to bed in this state allows for them to begin to develop the skills they need to self soothe and put themselves to bed. Because after all, the goal is ultimately for your child to be able to fall asleep on their own.
Routines lead to expectations
Consistently participating in a routine will lead your child to expect certain things. A bedtime routine is different than naptime. You don’t need to participate in your entire bedtime routine before each nap. But you should have a mini routine for naptime so that your child begins to anticipate what is to come.
As I said above, once my children were in their sleep sacks, they knew that it was time for sleep. Whether that was naptime or bedtime. Our naptime routine involved changing their diaper, putting them in their sleep sack, turning on the sound machine and turning off the lights. As my children grew they participated in the routine by assisting with turning on the sound machine and turning off the lights.
As your child grows, they are going to go through a lot of different sleep and nap transitions (as you can see from the sample schedules above). You may be asking when you know it’s time to drop a nap. At the end of the day your child is going to let you know when they’re ready. If they are rejecting the nap (standing up, holding onto the crib, jumping up and down, screaming for 45 minutes) consistently for 1 week, whether you’re ready for the transition or not your child is telling you THEY are ready.
If you’re moving from 2 naps to 1 your daily schedule is going to change. But don’t worry, it just means your child is likely ready to engage in other activities now because they are spending more time awake. Now may be a great time to enroll them in a class or maybe even preschool.
The big transition comes when your child is ready to drop the nap all together. This happens at different times for different children. My younger niece dropped her nap at 2 ½ while Paige continued to nap until she was 3 ½ almost 4. So, what happens when your child is ready to no longer ‘nap’ but you can tell they still need to rest their bodies.
Introduce Quiet Time. This is a period of time (45 minutes to however long you want it to be) where the expectation is that your child is in their room (crib or bed) quietly participating in an activity. They can be looking at books, listening to music, playing with their dolls. In our house quiet time does not involve screen time. But I know other families that allow screens during quiet time. It really depends on what works for you.
Tyler (2:10) loves quiet time. We dropped his morning nap some time ago, but there are days when he’s home from school that he will request quiet time mid-morning. He goes into his room, puts in his pacifier, snuggles with his woobies and blanket and listens to his Tonies music box. (this is honestly one of the best things my mother ever purchased for my kids..but that’s a discussion for another time). Tyler knows his body needs a bit of a reset and I love that he knows this.
You do you
The above schedules and routines are really just meant to help you as a starting off point. Families should develop their own nap rules (we have a no napping after 4:30 PM rule) and bedtime routines (my friend likes to start off their bedtime routine with a dance party to get the wiggles out). You and your family will go through many different incarnations of these schedules until you find the one that works best for you.
A nightly bedtime routine signals to the body and brain that it is time to wind down the day and get ready for bed. No matter what you chose to do, remember that consistency is key, and children thrive with routines. Ultimately you need to do what’s right for you and your family. 😊