How to Set the Right Sleep Schedule for Your Kids


How to set a realistic sleep schedule for your children

Would it be pretty safe to say that every parent’s favorite time is bedtime? Probably so, right? Although maybe “any time the kids are asleep” ranks pretty high up… sleeping kids are just amazingly adorable to watch, no matter what they did before they fell asleep. Okay, *almost* no matter what. In any case, getting our kids on a regular sleep schedule has been a top priority for our household, because we’re all happier when we get enough sleep. And, when we get enough sleep, we’re better at parenting in general. So let’s talk about how to set that ideal sleep schedule for kids, shall we?

The ideal sleep schedule for babies

After reading countless books and blog posts, the best piece of sleep scheduling advice I’ve found is echoed in two of my favorites. It’s to follow a specific pattern to your day. And this is it:

Eat. Play. Sleep. (Repeat).

Now, if you’d rather time your baby’s schedule by their wake times, that’s a whole other ballgame. In fact, it’s an easier ballgame. So if you’d like to skip a lot of headaches, I highly recommend you do so and read about scheduling via your baby’s wake times and natural cycles.

But that works best when it’s combined with its awake cycle – and that’s what we’re talking about right here in this aspect of scheduling. So open that article for later – after you finish this one! In fact, I’ll add that link again at the bottom to make things easier for you.

This is me giving y’all a heads up that there are affiliate ad links in this post. Read my full disclosure policy here.

In case you’re wondering, those two favorites are: Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child (available on Amazon) (by Marc Weisbluth, MD) and The Sleep Sense Program, via her site (by Dana Obleman).

Why eat-play-sleep-repeat?

Well, that way your baby is having a great day; isn’t learning to associate going to bed with eating (or nursing); and is getting sufficient sleep and food.

Wait, what?

Well, think about it. When you’ve got that newborn, the nurses at the hospital are always telling you that your new baby needs to eat every 2-3 hours, right?

Let’s do some math. Nothing scary, I promise.

Baby needs to eat at least every 3 hours. In 24 hours, that means 8 meals. If your newborn baby follows the eat-play-sleep pattern, it also means they’ll be taking 8 naps (or sleep periods) thoughout the day.

And, for a newborn, that’s what it’s going to be. They eat all the time – but helping them get into a rhythm will help you both. It’ll help them adjust to actual night time faster (so that someday they’ll sleep at night) and it’ll help you adjust to that new baby faster.

Thankfully, that pattern gets longer as your baby is able to stay awake for longer periods of time. So let’s look at the sleep patterns and schedules that worked for my family. And hopefully, they’ll help you work out yours, too.

Sample sleep schedule for newborns (0-3 months)

When we had newborns, they ate more like every 1-2 hours. And, they were only able to stay awake for *very short* periods of time. In other words, for the first 3 months of their lives, I was just feeding them almost constantly.

Don’t get me wrong – I made plenty of milk. And it was creamy as all get out – I pumped, too, because with all that nursing, I was afraid I wasn’t making enough. Then, when I realized how much milk I had frozen in addition to how much they were eating, I realized that it wasn’t a supply problem. It’s just that my kids needed all those calories.

So, here’s what our sleep schedule has looked like for each of our 4 kids.

  • 6 AM: baby wakes up, eats, and enjoys some awake time.
  • 7 AM: nap time, usually in mom’s arms or in the carrier.
  • 9 AM: second breakfast, more awake time.
  • 10 AM: nap time in the usual spot.
  • 11 AM: elevensies (sometimes I wonder if I’m raising children or hobbits)
  • 12 AM: nap
  • 2 PM: late lunch and some tummy time
  • 3 PM: nap in the carrier
  • 5 PM: dinner and then colic sets in, that usually lasted until 6:30 or so no matter what we tried (see also: the period of purple crying)
  • 7 PM: “bedtime”
  • 9 PM: second dinner, followed by awake time in the swing
  • 10 PM: snoozing in the swing
  • 12 AM: eating followed by very drowsy snuggling
  • 3 AM: another meal followed by drowsy snuggling

You may notice a theme – that our babies didn’t sleep unless they were held. Some babies are rough sleepers like that. Ours didn’t grow out of that until after 6 months of age. If yours are similar, you’ve got my deepest sympathies. I get it. It’s rough.

Example sleep schedule for babies (4-7 months)

As our babies got older, the sleeping began to condense into naps, although they still had to be held in order to sleep. Yes, we tried everything we could to get them to sleep in a crib or a swing or anywhere else. But… for some babies (like ours) nothing works. You do what you have to in order to survive and get as much sleep as possible.

Here’s how our kids’ schedule looked:

  • 6:30 AM: wake up, nurse, and play
  • 8:45 AM: nap time in the carrier!
  • 10 AM: wake up, nurse, and play
  • 11:45 AM: nap time in mom’s arms
  • 1 PM: wake up, nurse, and play
  • 2:30 PM: nap time in the carrier
  • 3 PM: wake up, nurse, and play
  • 4:30 PM: nap time in the swing
  • 5:30 PM: wake up, nurse, and play
  • 7 PM: bedtime with mom in the recliner
  • 7 PM thru 6:30 AM: nurse on demand while sleeping with mom

Sample sleep schedule for infants (8-15 months)

At somewhere between 6 and 8 months, we’ve been able to (finally!) transition our kids into their crib. The big change was that they became mobile, started eating solid foods, and were finally beginning to consolidate sleep better. That’s when they graduated to this schedule:

  • 7 AM: wake up, eat breakfast, and play
  • 9 AM: nap time
  • 10:30 AM: wake up, eat a snack, and play
  • 12 PM: nurse and go down for another nap
  • 2 PM: wake up, eat, and play
  • 5:30 PM: dinner time with the family
  • 6:30 PM: bedtime in the crib
  • 11:30 PM: middle of the night nursing session, then back in the crib to sleep
  • 3:30 AM: the second middle of the night nursing session, then back in the crib to sleep

Oh, and if you ask me… this spot is one of the roughest. Why? All those darn sleep regressions to deal with. And, in my opinion, the worst is the 11-12 months old sleep regression.

Example sleep schedule for toddlers (16 months to 3 years old)

This is the sweet spot, y’all. This is when I’m finally starting to get to sleep all night again. Well, mostly. When I get too complacent, something will happen that wakes me up (like a peed-through diaper or a sick kid). In any case, here’s the schedule – and we’re down to just one nap.

  • 7 AM: wake up, eat breakfast, go play.
  • 10:30 AM: give in to cute kids begging for snacks.
  • 11:30 AM: lunch time!
  • 12:30 PM: nap time for the toddler
  • 3 PM: wake up, eat a snack, and get back to playing with the siblings
  • 5:30 PM: dinner time
  • 6:30 PM: bedtime ritual begins, with lights out at 7 PM

By this time, my kids have all weaned. They’re done nursing, although I do let them take a sippy cup of water to bed. Because it’s hot in Utah, y’all. And staying hydrated (without ruining those teeth) is important.

Sample sleep schedule for toddlers who won’t nap

Now, I’d also like to point out that most of my kids are done with naps – usually sometime between 18 months and 2 years of age. Rough, huh? The only perk is this: those cranky kids who don’t nap go to bed earlier – and still wake up at the same time.

Here’s how we survive the loss of naps:

  • 7 AM: wake up, eat breakfast, go play.
  • 10:30 AM: give in to cute kids begging for snacks.
  • 11:30 AM: lunch time!
  • 12:30 PM: quiet time for the youngest kids (watch a movie)
  • 3 PM: eat a snack, and get back to playing with the siblings
  • 5:30 PM: dinner time
  • 6:00 PM: bedtime ritual begins, with lights out at 6:30 PM

That extra half hour, while the kids are in bed, is amazing, y’all. A-maze-ing. Then it’s our time – and we usually just collapse onto the couch, because raising children is both rewarding and exhausting.

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Kimberly C. Starr

I'm a ginger who loves reading, eating, being a nurse, spending time with my family, and writing about it all. I believe humor is the best medicine, followed very closely by chocolate and tacos.

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