The Science Of Sleep: Age-Appropriate Bedtimes And Routines For Babies

by | Jun 8, 2023

Of all the things parents of babies have to contend with, bedtime can be one of the most challenging! There are so many questions surrounding the topic of baby sleep schedules, and one of the most asked is, “What time should my baby’s bedtime be?”

Well, this depends! I huge indication of what time your baby needs to go to bed at night is their age. 

Baby Bedtime By Age

These are the ideal bedtimes for your baby based on their age:

  • Two to six weeks old – 8 pm
  • Seven to 12 weeks old – 8 pm
  • Four to six months old – 7 pm
  • Seven to 12 months old – 7 pm

The above is not exact. After all, every baby is different and not every day is the same. So, try to make their bedtime within 30 minutes of the above windows. As your baby grows, their bedtime moves forward.

These times are based on our Baby Settler routines in our online courses. Explore our courses for mamas of newborns, four to six-month-olds, and babies over seven months.

How To Shift Baby Bedtime Earlier

Start slowing when shifting your little one’s bedtime routine. Move their bedtime by 10 minutes at a time. It’s important to stick to your baby’s bedtime routine, just make it earlier. It’s a lot easier to change your baby’s bedtime when there is a nighttime routine in place (more on this below). 

When your baby starts to go to bed earlier, you’ve got to move their daytime schedule, too. This means a nap may need to be dropped to accommodate longer nighttime sleep. 

Here’s how many naps your baby needs based on their age:

  • Zero to two weeks old – six to seven naps a day
  • Three to six weeks old – five to six naps a day
  • Seven to 12 weeks old – four to five naps a day
  • Three to four months old – three to five naps a day 
  • Five to six months old – three to four naps a day
  • Seven to 12 months old – two naps a day

What Makes Nighttime Sleep Different From A Nap? 

Daytime naps and nighttime sleep are different. The biggest is the duration of the sleep cycle. During the day, babies tend to take shorter naps, while at night, they require longer stretches of sleep. 

Nighttime sleep is also deeper and more restorative, while daytime naps are there to refresh and recharge babies for their next wake window

However, naps do impact the quality of baby’s nighttime sleep. “Getting more daytime sleep from regular, consistent naps is important and very healthy for babies – and tends to make going down for the night easier,” says Very Well Family. A baby that hasn’t napped tends to be overstimulated and often struggles to calm down enough for quality nighttime sleep. 

Another thing that impacts your baby’s nighttime sleep is a routine. 

When To Start A Baby Bedtime Routine

You can start introducing aspects of a bedtime routine to your baby in the newborn phase. Do this by differentiating between daytime and nighttime feeds.

Differentiating the way you feed your baby is your way of communicating what’s “next” for them. During the daytime, you want baby to take a full feed and be ready for some wake time (wake window). At nighttime, you hope baby will feed efficiently and then go right back to sleep.

During daytime feeds:

  • Keep the lights on
  • Keep the sound machine/white noise machine off
  • Unswaddle them
  • Change their diaper after their feed
  • Have a wake window afterward

During nighttime feeds:

  • Keep the lights low 
  • Leave the sound machine/white noise machine on
  • Keep them swaddled 
  • Change diaper before their feed
  • Put them directly back in their crib for sleep

What To Include In A Baby Bedtime Routine 

A consistent bedtime routine can actually improve nighttime sleep! This is because your little one will associate the routine with sleep. Also, calming activities can help shift a baby out of an overstimulating environment and help them relax enough to fall asleep. A bedtime routine is also a bonding opportunity for you and your little one. 

Four activities that are perfect for a baby bedtime routine include:

  1. A bath before the last daytime feed.
  2. A massage with lavender lotion – baby will associate the smell with bedtime.
  3. A contact power nap in a carrier to promote a full feeding before bed. 
  4. The last feed – don’t force a certain amount as this feed is often smaller – treated as a nighttime feed. 

Baby Crying At Bedtime?

A baby fighting sleep at bedtime could be due to various reasons, one being overstimulation. “A bright, busy household, screens, beeping toys or a crying spell can be too much to handle, resulting in overstimulation and the urge to fight sleep,” explains What To Expect. So, during your baby’s nighttime routine, avoid loud noises and keep the lighting low. 

Sleep regression could be another reason why your baby is fighting sleep. This is when your baby goes back to old sleeping patterns. It can occur at five months, six months, 10 months, and one year. Sleep regression is one of the symptoms of a developmental milestone. 

During this period:

  • Ensure your baby is getting enough calories during the day to support their growth.
  • Drop the dream feed and instead make sure their daytime feeds are sufficient.
  • Move bedtime up by 30 minutes.
  • Make sure they’re getting an adequate amount of naps for their age. 
  • Stay consistent with their bedtime routine. 

Bedtime can be a bit of a trial-and-error situation – every baby is different after all. However, focusing on your baby’s age when creating a bedtime and establishing a consistent routine is a great place to start. A calm environment, a relaxing bedtime routine, and a bedtime based on age can help your baby feel safe, secure, and ready to sleep.

Meet Hillary

Hi! I’m Hillary, the Mama behind Baby Settler. These days you can find me with my four children and husband… probably outside, and helping Mama’s and families. I also have a lot of letters behind my name which translate, I’m also a Labor & Delivery nurse and Lactation Consultant.

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