Your Baby's Ideal Sleep Schedule: 5 months through 7-9 months
After four months of age, your baby’s 24 hour natural body clock, or circadian rhythm, is fully or near fully developed. This is SO EXCITING because of all the potential for better sleep.
Read more about the four month sleep transition to set your little sleeper up for early success.
After 4 months, it’s time to stop counting hours using “wake windows” and to start following the clock with some attention also focused on your baby’s mood.
Wake windows can be really helpful tools in the newborn phase, and sometimes moving forward as well. However, an overemphasis on wake windows often leads to parents missing the ideal sleep windows, resulting in sub par sleep. Not a big deal at all if it’s working for your family. However, if naps are regularly hit or miss, or there’s a persistent issue with night sleep, then it’s likely that an over emphasis on wake windows is backfiring.
There are particular times of day, based on the 24 hour clock, that all babies are going to fall into the highest quality of sleep. Better yet, their little bodies will naturally prime themselves for sleep during these times by reducing body temperature and producing sleep hormones. The goal is to offer sleep to our babies during these sleep windows so we can let them ride nature’s sleep wave.
Offering our babies sleep at the right times, when their bodies are naturally preparing for sleep, is the absolute best! It’s one of the most important elements in making sleep come easily for our children, and absolutely pivotal for teaching independent sleep skills to our more sensitive sleepers.
First, it’s important to start the day with a consistent wake time. While sleeping in can happen sometimes, babies and young children are all biologically primed to be early birds.
They do best when their day begins somewhere between 6am and 7am. If your child is struggling with a sleep issue, I strongly recommend consistently waking them by 7am if they are sleeping in. I know, I KNOW. If you have a baby who sleeps in, this is a tough ask. I get it, but in the presence of a sleep issue, this is an important first step.
If your child is an extra early bird and THAT RIGHT THERE is the problem, read more about solving too early risings here.
Day sleep is hugely important for our babies, and the first two naps offer significant restorative value that is different from the value that comes from night sleep. After 4 months of age, I strongly recommend prioritizing naps and creating consistent routines around day sleep that will help your babies soak up all of the rest and recovery their growing brains need to thrive.
Babies between the ages of 5 and 7-9 months do well on a three nap schedule.
The morning nap comes up quickly, and this is because the morning nap is a continuation of night sleep. End the nap routine and have your sweet baby ready to drift off between 8:30am and 9am to catch that natural sleep wave. The exact timing is going to depend on how well they slept the previous night, how late they slept that morning, and their own unique sleepy signs. This nap should last for one to two hours.
The afternoon nap, similarly, is not very far off from the morning nap. Babies really do need a lot of day sleep to counterbalance all of the intense learning they undergo every moment of the day. Have your baby’s naptime routine finished so they are ready to drift back into dreamland between 12pm and 1pm to catch that natural sleep wave. The exact timing depends on how late they slept for the morning nap and their mood. This nap should last between 1-2 hours.
The morning and afternoon naps are hugely restorative and worth prioritizing even if it means missing activities or leaving events early. The third nap of the day is an optional cat nap and so much less important.
The third nap is your baby's optional cat nap and bridge to make it to bedtime without becoming totally overtired. However, if there is one nap to offer on the go or to miss entirely, that’s your third nap. This nap offers no restorative value beyond bridging the gap to bedtime.
Some babies will easily accept the third nap, and some will struggle. I recommend offering it most of the time, but recognizing that if it's a miss, it's not a big deal. This nap should be offered between 3pm and 4pm, depending on the length of the afternoon nap and your baby’s mood. This nap should last 30-45 minutes.
Bedtime is the most important element of any sleep schedule because when timed correctly, this is when the drive to sleep is at its strongest. Remember, babies and young children are biologically primed for an early to bed and early to rise schedule.
A bedtime that is too late is going to backfire because of the dreaded “second wind”. This is when your sweet little baby’s brain is noticing that their natural sleep window has been missed, and it responds by producing stimulating hormones to help your baby stay awake! This makes it physically much more difficult for your baby to fall asleep at bedtime and/or sleep through the night.
A perfectly timed bedtime is going to be between 6pm and 8pm depending on the quality and length of your baby’s morning and afternoon naps, their mood, and the strength of their independent sleep skills.
In the presence of a sleep issue, shifting bedtime earlier is going to be the most important element in helping your child sleep well.
Here’s a quick glance at the ideal schedule for a baby 5 months though 7-9 months:
Wake up between 6am and 7am
Morning nap begins between 8:30am and 9am
Afternoon nap begins between 12pm and 1pm
Third nap begins between 3pm and 4pm
Bedtime begins between 6pm and 8pm
If your child is struggling with sleep, modifying the times you are offering sleep with their natural body clock is going to have a significant and very positive effect on their ability to lean into sleep easily.
If you’re interested in working one on one with me to create a comprehensive and personalized sleep plan to improve sleep for your baby as quickly and kindly as possible, schedule a free 15 minute discovery call to get started.