Time to Create Your Baby’s Circadian Rhythm Schedule
In part 1 of our Sleep Training Tool Box series we looked at how the sleep environment supports healthy sleep. Here in part 2 we are looking at how to work with your baby’s circadian rhythm schedule to help sleep be as healthy and restorative as possible.
After the first 4 months sleep becomes more organized and you have probably noticed your baby taking longer naps but fewer of them. When that starts you can help by putting them on a schedule of organized morning and afternoon sleep. It’s at this point where we can start looking at the clock a bit more, while also watching cues. I understand that is hard for some people who don’t like to ‘live by the clock’, but on the other hand dealing with an overtired, cranky baby is no fun either! Why the clock schedule? Our bodies naturally follow a 24-hour clock, which controls changes in the body that help us sleep. After 4 months of age babies start to follow those patterns, called the circadian rhythm. If we put them to bed while their body is naturally telling them that it’s ready for sleep a couple of great things happen – first it’s easier to get them to sleep (no more bouncing, rocking or driving around trying to quiet them) and second, they get that healthy, restorative sleep that we keep talking about which will make them better rested and happier during their awake times.
So how many naps should your baby have? A quick guide is that from 4 to 8 months of age we would offer three naps – a long morning nap, a long afternoon nap and a short ‘catnap’ in the late afternoon. Somewhere around that 6 to 8 months they can start to tolerate a longer awake time before bed and the catnap disappears. Once the catnap drops we would expect them to have two naps until 15 to 18 months when it drops down to one nap. You may be reading this at 12 months when your little one is refusing a nap – nap regressions happen, there are periods when they don’t seem to want or need to sleep, especially when figuring out a new milestone, but if you follow these guidelines and continue to offer sleep at the same times you’ll probably find your little one falling back into the routine and taking naps again until it’s the right time to drop them.
To us here at Good Night Sleep Site a nap is not just some sleep babies get during the day, it’s about getting the right amount of consolidated sleep at the right times. We want to take the amount of time that babies need to sleep during the day and organize it, and synch it with their circadian rhythms to make it strong and healthy. A healthy, consolidated nap is one that is at least an hour in length. If you have a short napper, you’re probably seeing classic 35-45 minute naps. That’s because a sleep cycle, a cycle of active and quiet sleep, is about that long. At the end of the sleep cycle they are waking (we all do, but usually so briefly that we don’t remember) and then are not able to put themselves back to sleep. So a consolidated sleep is at least two sleep cycles long. Don’t worry, helping extend those naps is definitely included in our sleep tool box but you’ll have to read on to find out. Ready for Part 3?
Alanna McGinn is a Certified Sleep Consultant and Founder of Good Night Sleep Site – a Global Pediatric and Family Sleep Team. She provides free child and family sleep support through her Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. She invites you to join her sleep community as she works towards Good Night Sleep Site’s mission of a healthier rested family unit. For more sleep tips please visit Good Night Sleep Site. Join our movement and #BringBackBedtime.