How to create the perfect schedule for your child

You heard that schedules can be beneficial for babies and toddlers. Every parent you know seems to have one for their kids. But where do you even start? Let me guide you through all things schedules and how to create one for your child!

When do you start introducing a schedule?
Many parents wonder when it is time to have a set schedule. I recommend working on a set schedule around 4-6 months of age. At around 4 months, a baby’s sleep cycle changes and gets more mature. This is when you will see a lot more consolidated and predictable sleep – Perfect time to introduce a schedule! If you read this and your kiddo is already older than that, don’t worry! You can still implement a schedule now

Why a schedule?
That’s a thing many will ask. Why should my baby be on a set schedule? Won’t it be restricting? Actually, no! It can seem like being on a schedule takes away your flexibility, but many parents actually find it rather freeing. You can plan things around your little one’s nap time and know you won’t have to deal with a cranky, overtired baby later on.

Everyone thrives on routines and predictability. Having a schedule in place helps with that tremendously. It’ll take your anxiety out of trying to find the sweet spot for naps every day, and also helps your baby learn when it’s time for sleep. It makes it a lot easier for your baby to sleep better when she knows what to expect! Her body and inner clock will get used to it and make sleep time go a lot more smoothly.

Another important reason is the fact that sleepy cues, you have so religiously been paying attention to, get less reliable after 4 months of age. So by the time you see your baby rub her eyes or yawn, it might be too late, and she’s already way past the point where she should be asleep! It really does help a lot to prevent her from getting overtired.

Where do I even start?!
Now that we talked about when, and why we want to have baby on a schedule, let’s talk about how we go about it. Here are some things you’ll need to know in order to make an age-appropriate schedule:

Wake windows
A wake window is the time your child is awake before it’s time to sleep again. Here are some general guidelines on wake windows per age:

4 – 6 months: 1.5 – 2.5 hours
7 – 12 months: 2.5-3.5 hours
12 – 18 months: 3 – 4 hours
18 – 24 months: 4 – 5 hours
2 – 3 years: 5 – 6 hours
You want to avoid your child form getting overtired, so don’t go over the max amount of awake time. BUT, we also need to build enough sleep pressure for the next sleep to happen, so we have to get a minimum amount of awake time. Wake windows are the key to figure out the sweet spot!

Besides the range of awake time for your child, there is also one rule that seems to help a lot: have a shorter wake window in the morning and the longest right before bedtime. For example, your child is 10 months old and taking two naps. We know the awake time should range from 2.5 – 3.5 hours at that age. You would want the first wake window to be 2.5 hours, the one between naps should be 3 hours and then 3.5 hours of awake time before bed.

Number of naps
In addition to wake windows, we also want to pay attention to the appropriate number of naps:

4 – 6 months: 3 – 4 naps
7 – 9 months: 2 – 3 naps
9 – 15 months: 1 – 2 naps
15 months – 3+ years: 1 nap
3 – 4 years: 1 – 0 naps (replace with quiet time)
I generally recommend to hold on to that extra nap for as long as possible, so baby doesn’t get overtired.

Sleep needs per age
I always like to aim for a full 12 hours of nighttime sleep, especially for the younger kids, though 10 – 11 hours of quality nighttime sleep is also acceptable.

Following is a guide on how much daytime sleep your child should get, depending on age. Keep in mind that those are average numbers and there are kids that have high or low sleep needs as well.

4 – 6 months: 3 – 4 hours
7 – 12 months: 2.5 – 3.5 hours
13 – 24 months: 2 -3 hours
2 – 3+ years: 1 -2 hours
prioritize feedings
When you start on creating a schedule, prioritize your little ones feedings first, especially for the first year when she is still being nursed/getting bottles. We always want to aim for FULL feedings. Now this is widely different for each child, but aim for feedings during the day every 3 hours for babies 4 – 6 months, and every 4 hours for 6 months and older. You can drop bottles completely between 12 – 18 months, and nurse for as long as you and your little one are up for it!

Make your perfect schedule
Now that we’ve learned all about wake windows, number of naps, sleep needs and that we need to start with feedings when creating a schedule, you’re ready to get to it!

Write out your schedule on a piece of paper. Start with the desired wake up time and go from there. Bedtime should be (roughly) 12 hours after wake up. Usually you will feed your baby shortly after getting her up. Place a feeding every 3-4 hours on the schedule until bedtime. Now check how much awake time your baby needs before the next nap, and how many naps your little one should be taking. Pencil it in. How many hours of sleep does she need? Split that up into the naps.

There you go! Now you got YOUR perfect schedule!

Sample schedules
The theory behind this makes scene but putting a schedule together by yourself still seems daunting?

No worries, I got you! Here are some sample schedules for you to reference to!

I love a 7am – 7pm schedule because it usually works best with a baby’s circadian rhythm. That’s why you see all my schedules revolve around that time. Obviously, you might have to tweak some times if you have to get up earlier, or your little one goes to bed later than 7pm.

Sample Schedule 4 months old – 4 nap schedule

Sample Schedule 6 months old – 3 nap schedule

Sample Schedule 7-15 months old – 2 nap schedule

Sample Schedule 15+ months old – 1 nap schedule

Sample Schedule 2-3 years old – 1 nap schedule with longer wake windows

Sample Schedule 3-4 years old – no nap schedule

When to re-evaluate your schedule
Especially in the first year you might have to re-evaluate your baby’s schedule every now and so often. Take a look at your schedule every 6-8 weeks to see if it’s still age-appropriate. In addition, look out for signs that it’s time to drop naps, like refusing bedtime or naps, having early wake ups, shorter nap times and taking longer to fall asleep. Once your little one is down to 1 nap, there’s littler tweaking to do so it’ll get easier!

You have a schedule but it doesn’t work for you?
Please feel free to reach out to me and I am happy to look at your schedule and recommend some tweaks! The schedules above are obviously only sample schedules. Every child and family dynamic is different, so what works for one, doesn’t necessarily work for the next.

Purchase my S.O.S. Call so we can go over your schedule and sleep issues in detail, without having to commit to a whole sleep training package. Or schedule a free 15 minute Discovery Call first, to see if you’ll need more support!

Little extra tip
Write down your baby’s schedule on a piece of paper and hang it on the fridge for reference. It will make it a lot easier on you, your partner, and babysitters to have a little “cheat sheet” that’s displayed central in the house, so everyone can be on the same page with the schedule.


About the author

Julia Nawalany

Julia is a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant and Mom of 2. Her passion is to help babies and toddlers sleep better, so that the whole family is getting the rest they need. She provides parents with personalized sleep plans that are custom-tailored to their child's personality and their parenting style, and offers personal support.
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