Baby Sleep Schedule 0 – 12 Months

We’re all told as new parents that babies need to sleep. A lot. It’s important for their growth. Their mood. Their cognitive development. And let’s be honest, we parents need the sleep too! As a result, we’re told we need to ensure that our babies have a certain number of naps of calculated duration after a set amount of time awake, all of which changes regularly as your baby develops.

It seems to reason then, that if babies need so much sleep, under such firm regulations, then these schedules should, in theory, appear somewhat naturally with each passing stage – right?

The reality is that understanding baby sleep is anything but straightforward, and mastering baby sleep schedules may feel like one of the least natural things that you embark upon as new parents.

In this article, you’ll get a snapshot of how newborn sleep schedules and your baby’s sleep patterns develop throughout the first year of life. You will learn about some of the major transitions that are happening in your baby’s maturing sleep patterns system and why they may pose some sticky situations. Finally, you will discover some of the most important things you can do to promote age-appropriate sleep patterns that enable you to check one more thing off your “parent things I need to worry about” list and get that restorative sleep that you and your baby need and deserve.

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Baby Sleep Schedules

Sleep patterns and baby sleep schedules are regulated by two internal systems: the sleep drive (the longer a baby goes without sleep, the more they need it) and the circadian rhythm (the syncing up of internal body processes to the 24-hour clock).

You can think of the sleep drive system like a balloon. When your baby first wakes, the balloon is totally deflated. As they are awake and experiencing all that is new and interesting in the world, the balloon begins to fill. There is only so much space inside the balloon before no additional information can be taken in. This is what is commonly referred to as your baby’s “wake window”. When the pressure is high enough/when that balloon is full enough, your baby will feel tired and need to sleep. During sleep, the brain works hard to file away all of the important information it has received, thereby deflating the balloon once again, ready for the next bout of waking.

The circadian rhythm controls the timing of your baby’s body processes and sleep patterns across the 24-hour cycle. This includes sleep/wake rhythms, feeding rhythms, temperature fluctuations, hormone release, and more. It is largely set through continuous exposure to the external environment, particularly cycles of light and dark. For this reason, since your baby has had no exposure to the outside world, it is very immature at birth – this means that unlike with adults, your baby will not naturally know when it’s daytime and when it’s nighttime. The circadian rhythm develops slowly over the first 8 to 9 months, with set schedules being highly variable until this time.

0 to 4 month old baby sleep schedule

Newborn babies sleep often – and they sleep short. Sleep patterns for newborn babies are made up of many small bouts, lasting between 30 minutes and 2 hours, on average. This repeats over and over throughout the 24-hour cycle, instead of sleeping in one consolidated bout at night like an adult. In fact, it takes 3 to 4 years for sleep to be restricted almost exclusively to the night time hours. This is due, in large part, to the need for babies to regularly process all the information that they are taking in about the world around them (remember that inflating balloon?).

Newborn sleep schedules will be highly variable in the early months due to the circadian rhythm being immature at birth. With newborn babies, daytime and night time sleep is physiologically equivalent and your baby may display equal durations of sleep throughout the 24-hour cycle. Newborn babies may also exhibit day-night confusion, spending larger durations in sleep during the busyness of the day and waking frequently and/or having trouble settling at night.

Instead of adhering to any set time on the clock, newborn sleep schedules can be unpredictable.  Newborns simply fall asleep when they feel tired. Newborns don’t really have a set sleep schedule. The sleep drive system wins this battle. For newborn babies, the wake window is only 45 to 60 minutes in the first two months and 60 to 90 minutes in months three and four (their balloon is very small and fills quickly). They may take upwards of 4 to 5 naps in a day, and sleep a total of 16-18 hours in a 24-hour period. This is likely to be highly variable, however, and changes quickly as your baby develops new sleep patterns.

Newborn Babies Sleep Schedule Summary

  • Total Daytime Sleep: Variable
  • Total Night time Sleep: Variable
  • Total Sleep Duration: 16-18 hours
  • Number of Naps: Many (usually 4 to 5)
  • Wake Window: 45-90 mins

4 to 6 month old baby sleep schedule

At around 4 months of age, your baby’s sleep system and their sleep patterns and sleep schedules mature from occurring in just two stages (known as active and quiet sleep) to consisting of five distinct stages (non-REM sleep stages 1-4 and REM sleep). Your baby will cycle through these stages every 30-40 minutes during daytime sleep and every 60-90 minutes during night time sleep.

As your baby’s brain grows and the world becomes slightly less new, their sleep patterns and sleep schedules will change, and they will be able to stay awake for gradually longer periods of time (their balloon is a little bit bigger). You may notice that your baby’s wake window expands from 90 to 120 minutes during this stage, and they may transition from 4 daytime naps down to 3. Nap length may still be variable, however, lasting anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes, and while there may be a general daily rhythm emerging, a set schedule may still be difficult to predict.

Your baby may begin showing more consolidated bouts of sleep at night at this stage; however, frequent night wakings remain common while their brains learn to link the new, more complex sleep cycles together. Night feedings may also still be required, particularly if breastfeeding and room-sharing.

Baby Sleep Schedule Summary

  • Total Daytime Sleep: 3-4 hours
  • Total Night time Sleep: 10-12 hours
  • Total Sleep Duration: 13-16 hours
  • Number of Naps: 4 to 3 transition
  • Wake Window: 90-120 mins

6 to 9 month old baby sleep schedule

Now that your baby’s sleep system and their sleep patterns have matured, you may start to see more of a sleep pattern and schedule emerge; naps and night time sleep may begin to consolidate into longer stretches. In the early part of this stage (6 to 7 months), your baby’s wake window will be around 2-2.5 hours and they will likely still require 3 naps per day (some babies continue to exhibit irregularity in nap length during this period).

As your baby reaches 8 or 9 months, they will be able to tolerate longer periods awake (their balloon grows considerably) and their sleep schedule will change. Generally, babies transition from 3 naps down to 2 at this stage, with wake windows getting gradually longer through the day (close to 2 hours in the morning and up to 4 hours before bed). At the same time, the circadian system now plays a critical role in regulating sleep, making consistency in the daily schedule all the more important. Naps generally last between 60 and 120 minutes on a 2-nap schedule, with approximately 2.5-3 hours of daytime sleep total.

Sleep Schedule Summary

  • Total Daytime Sleep: 2.5-4 hours
  • Total Night time Sleep: 10.5-12 hours
  • Total Sleep Duration: 13-15 hours
  • Number of Naps: 3 to 2 transition
  • Wake Window: 2-2.5 hours on a 3-nap schedule; 2-3-4 hours (gradual lengthening throughout the day) on a 2-nap schedule

9 to 12 month old baby sleep schedule

Hooray! You’ve made it to the last quarter of year one. At this point in your baby’s development, consistent, predictable daily schedules (including sleep schedules) become pivotal to keeping your baby rested and their internal systems in alignment. Too much variability in the sleep/wake cycle day-to-day can make it so that your baby gets conflicting signals from the body’s sleep regulatory systems (the sleep drive and the circadian rhythm). The best sleep is going to occur when your baby feels tired at the same times each day. This means that the sleep drive system and the circadian system are working nicely together, rather than in opposition to one another. Sleep schedules get a bit easier at this time.

As a result, it is at this stage that you can really turn to the time on the clock to help set your baby’s daily sleep schedule. Aim to have morning wake up, nap times, and bedtime occur each within a 15- to 30-minute window from one day to the next. Try not to compensate for disrupted sleep schedules by moving naps or bedtimes significantly earlier or later and encourage your baby to remain in their sleep environment until their set wake times.

Your baby should be on a consistent 2-nap sleep schedule throughout this stage, with a total daytime sleep duration of 2-3 hours. Naps will likely be separated by wake windows that get gradually longer throughout the day – ~2 hours between morning wake up and nap 1, ~3 hours between naps 1 and 2, and ~4 hours between nap 2 and bedtime.

Many babies can sleep through the night at this stage; however, keeping one to two night feeds can help support extended breastfeeding and promote sleep in the early morning hours when sleep is light and your baby may experience several arousals.

Sleep Schedule Summary

  • Total Daytime Sleep: 2-3 hours
  • Total Night time Sleep: 10-12 hours
  • Total Sleep Duration: 12-15 hours
  • Number of Naps: 2
  • Wake Window: 2-3-4 hours (gradual lengthening throughout the day)

How to Schedule Sleep For Babies

There’s no doubt that this rapid development of the sleep system, with all its morphs and changes, can feel overwhelming to stay on top of throughout the first year with your baby. We all want to ensure that our baby has healthy sleep habits and good sleep schedules. Below are some key scheduling tips to focus your (possibly limited) energy on at each stage of development.

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Healthy Sleep Habits for 0 to 4 month old babies

  • Focus on 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night. Don’t worry about the precise times on the clock, as they will vary day to day. During the 12 hours of day, separate sleep bouts by periods of active waking (45-90 minutes duration) – play, engage in eye contact, practice skills – and then help your baby to sleep once again. During the 12 hours of night, aim for a prompt return to sleep upon waking following a feed and a diaper change.
  • Use light and dark to help sync up your baby’s 24-hour rhythm. During the day, expose your baby to as much natural light as possible (go for walks, sit by a window, keep blinds open). At bedtime, move into a dim to dark environment and remain in this space throughout the duration of the 12-hour night. Sleep schedules are inconsistent at this time so we want to support the best rhythms possible.
  • Start to implement a bedtime sleep routine. Keep it short, calming, and predictable in sequence. It’s ok if your baby does not fall asleep by the end of it; for now, it is simply a sequence to help cue the transition to sleep down the road.
  • When possible, feed upon waking from daytime naps. This helps to encourage full feeds, promote digestion, and keep your baby comfortable when lying down.
  • Don’t stress about the duration of daytime naps. They will be variable and unpredictable at this early stage.
  • Keep your baby rested. Watch for sleepy signs (see below). Naps will be frequent and may occupy most of your waking hours in the early weeks.

Healthy sleep habits for 4 to 6 month old babies

  • Keep wake windows consistent and predictable between 90 and 120 minutes.
  • Don’t stress about the duration of daytime naps. It may be helpful to try to soothe your baby back to sleep if they wake after a single sleep cycle. Some days may require 4 naps, while others will only require 3.
  • When possible, feed upon waking from daytime naps, or, if a feed is due before a nap, try to separate it by 20-30 minutes from sleep. If your baby is growing and feeding well, you can try to space feeds out by a few hours to help encourage full feeds.
  • Aim for bedtime to occur approximately 12 hours after morning wake time. The time on the clock will still vary day to day at this stage.
  • Begin to establish a consistent sleep location for both daytime naps and night time sleep.
  • Use a shortened version of your bedtime routine for before naps.
  • Use light and dark to clearly differentiate between the wake and sleep environments.

Healthy Sleep Habits for 6 to 9 month old babies

  • Keep your pre-sleep bedtime routines strong and predictable and maintain a consistent sleep location, day and night.
  • When on a 3-nap schedule, wake windows will remain consistent at approximately 2-2.5 hours each
  • When ready to drop the 3rd nap (towards 7 to 8 months), work towards a 2-3-4 ladder (wake window) schedule gradually (it may look more like 2-3-3 and then 2-3-3.5 hours at first), and compensate with an earlier bedtime as needed.
  • Work towards extending nap durations by helping to soothe your baby back to sleep if a nap falls short or implementing a ‘crib hour’ for each nap.
  • Help set a consistent start to the day by remaining in the sleep environment with your baby until the desired morning wake time
  • Use light and dark to clearly differentiate between the wake and sleep environments.

Healthy Sleep Habits for 9 to 12 month old babies

  • Keep sleep and wake times consistent – this will regulate the circadian rhythm. Aim for morning wake time, nap times, and bed time to occur each within a 30-minute time frame from one day to the next.
  • Don’t compensate for disrupted sleep by making large scheduling adjustments.
  • Your baby may begin to sleep through the night (10-12 hours) at this stage; however, maintaining one to two night feeds can help with extended breastfeeding and promote later morning wake times.
  • Use light and dark to clearly differentiate between the wake and sleep environments.

How To Get Your Newborn Baby To Sleep

Since the sleep system is immature in the early months with your baby, treat the newborn period as “practice” and try to let go of any expectations of set sleep schedules or sleep locations. Watch your baby’s wake window (45-60 minutes in the first two months; 75-90 minutes in months 3 and 4) and monitor sleepy signs. It’s ok if your baby struggles to sleep in an independent space at this time (crib, bassinet etc). Choose one or two naps each day that you can practise in their eventual sleep space – this may mean gently transferring them onto the sleep surface while they are drowsy or after they are fully asleep. Waking up in the location will help to prompt some familiarity down the road.

When the sleep system matures around 4 months of age, babies are learning what it feels like to fall asleep in a brand new way. They seek comfort and security in their sleep space to know that they can transition into sleep safely. They cycle through light sleep and eep sleep differently than they used to. An abrupt change in sleeping location (transferring from your arms to a bassinet, for example, while asleep) can elicit a sense of alarm when your baby resurfaces to the lighter stages of sleep and becomes more aware of their surroundings. Gradually help your baby learn how to fall asleep in the location that they will later wake – practice soothing them on the sleep surface. Remember that this is a period of learning and this skill takes time to develop.

For every stage:

  • Make sure the sleep environment is sleep-promoting (dark, quiet, cool, safe)
  • Wake windows are age-appropriate (we all know what happens when that balloon bursts)
  • Use a comforting and predictable pre-sleep bedtime routine to cue the transition
  • Each day is approached with a consistent rhythm and eventually predictable schedule

Signs Your Baby Is Ready To Sleep

Age-appropriate wake windows are an excellent way to gauge the timing of your baby’s naps and bedtime and each stage of development. However, it’s important to recognize that every baby’s needs are unique and they may vary slightly from the recommendations listed above and your baby’s sleep schedule may not be the same as another baby’s sleep schedule. Additionally, a highly stimulating activity may lead to your baby becoming tired sooner than expected (think of how you feel after a day full of activity). As a result, it’s helpful to keep an eye out for tired signs and adjust sleep times as needed.

Here are the most common baby sleepy signs:

  • Yawning
  • Redness or glossiness in the eyes
  • Rubbing the eyes
  • Staring off into the distance
  • Irritability/fussiness

Sleep Safety Check

Safe sleep should always be at the top of your baby sleep priority list. Here’s a quick reference list to ensure safety in your baby’s sleep environment.

  • Ensure the sleep surface is firm. Avoid sleeping on soft couches or bedding material (pillows, sheepskins, or comforters).
  • Remove all clutter from the sleep surface. This includes loose blankets, pillows, and stuffed toys.
  • Keep the room cool and dress baby appropriately to avoid overheating
  • Avoid any gaps in the surface (e.g., between the wall and the mattress) and secure all strings/cords completely out of reach
  • Place baby to sleep in the supine position (on the back)
  • If bedsharing, avoid use of sedatives, drugs, or alcohol, tie back long hair, and do not co-sleep with caregivers or siblings that cannot be easily aroused from sleep
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If you need any support in setting up a healthy sleep foundation for you and your baby, navigating a challenging spot in your baby’s sleep, or assistance with your baby’s sleep schedule, book a Virtual Consultation with Oona’s Pediatric Sleep Specialist today.

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Dr. Denise Gassner

Dr. Denise Gassner (she/her)Infant and Child Sleep Expert

Denise (she/her) has applied her decades of research and teaching expertise on behaviour into cracking the mystery that is baby sleep. She has a PhD in Anthropology and Biology from...

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