I get asked this all the time – when should you stop watching for sleepy cues (yawning – duh, eye rubbing, disinterest in surroundings, turning their heads to the side…) and start using a (by-the-clock) baby sleep schedule? A schedule, in terms of offering sleep at similar times from one day to the next, rather than scheduling baby’s sleep based on how long they have been awake in between naps. Following a schedule or watching awake windows – is one better than the other?
In a nutshell, the first 4 months of baby’s life are all about observing, learning and becoming attuned to baby’s sleepy cues.
Do your best to be mindful of the more subtle cues before they mature into the overtly obvious ones and then do your best to offer sleep before baby reaches that not-so-awesome stage of fussiness, as a result of becoming overtired. Awake windows are super short in the first few months – as short as 30 minutes in the first few weeks of life, but no more than 75-90 minutes out to 3-4 months of age. Shorter than you expected, right?
Once baby has reached the 2nd sleep milestone at around 16 weeks of age, typically referred to as the “4 month sleep regression”, they are ready for scheduled sleep (or using my fancy-pants terminology, “predictably timed sleep”). In real life, this means watching the clock and offering naps and night sleep at relatively the same time from one day to the next. And it’s not because us (accredited) sleep consultants feel like that’s just a fabulous time to get started – it’s because baby’s circadian rhythm – the driving force behind all physiological processes linked to sunlight, temperature, digestion and the feelings of sleepiness and alertness – has finally come into maturity. Their sleep becomes more adult-like, in the sense that they are finally attuned to a 24-hour clock that is receptive to lengthier night and day sleep. And importantly, that corresponds with sleep rhythms, drive and pressure.
I don’t subscribe to sleep training (shaping or shifting, whatever you want to call it) prior to this age simply because I want baby to be ready from a physiological standpoint. So from around 18 weeks of age and beyond, you can feel assured that (when you are ready and never before) your baby would be ready for an age-appropriate schedule that compliments their natural bio-rhythms. So the paradigm shift goes from watching for sleepy cues and keeping your eye on awake windows to actually watching the dials on the clock. Okay, not dials, I know that totally dates me – but you get the idea
Here are some quick pointers in regards to this evolution…I hope they are helpful