Establishing a sleep routine in the first year is often challenging. This is because, firstly, your baby’s sleep needs change rapidly. A newborn baby sleeps up to 80 per cent of the day and night, but by the time he’s reached 1, his total sleeping time will have dropped to about 55 per cent.
Secondly, the fact your baby needs lots of sleep doesn’t mean he looks forward to it. In fact, he often thinks, ‘I’d much rather stay awake – everything’s so interesting.’
Thirdly, in the first few months, his sleep cycle doesn’t fit neatly into yours. These challenges can be overcome though, but you’ll need to get to know your baby’s individual sleep pattern. Once you’ve done that, gently steer it into a more stable routine.
Is a sleep routine right for you and your baby?
You need to make up your own mind about whether a sleep routine will work for you both, and only try to establish one if you want to. If you prefer to let your baby sleep whenever he wants, or if that’s more practical, that’s entirely up to you.
However, if you choose to establish a routine, you’ll need to persist with your efforts. Don’t give up the first time your baby resists going to sleep when you want him to, but persevere, even though it can be hard in the beginning.
Whenever possible, use your baby’s sleep routine positively for your benefit. You might, for example, try to rest when he rests. And aim for a long night’s sleep. The greatest effect on your family is if your baby sleeps longer in the night.
How to spot signs of tiredness
You probably don’t realise that your baby self-soothes. Next time he’s nodding off, stay out of his sight, but stand where you can watch him. You’ll notice that once he stops moving, but before he falls asleep, he makes self-soothing actions. For example:
- He starts to suck as if having an imaginary feed
- He tries to rub his blanket against his face
These gestures are his natural way of encouraging himself to sleep, and can also help you spot when he’s getting tired.
Steps to a sleep routine
- Use your baby’s natural rhythms. Pick times for sleep when she’s usually tired, such as after a feed.
- Develop a pre-sleep routine. Go through the same steps in preparation for sleep each time (bath her, change her, quietly sing a lullaby, etc.).
- Keep the time consistent. Once you’ve chosen the times you want her to sleep, try to stick to them.
- Don’t rush to her cries every time. Your baby is more likely to adapt to her sleep routine if you don’t rush in the moment she cries when she doesn’t want to sleep. Wait to see if she settles herself before going in.
- Be flexible. She doesn’t have to go to sleep at the exact same time, every day. A small amount of leeway either side won’t irreparably damage her routine.