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Breaking Down Sleep Schedules and Wake Times EP 5

Breaking Down Sleep Schedules and Wake Times EP 5

This podcast is a continuation of the Baby Sleep Power Tools Part 1, focusing specifically on sleep schedules and wake times.

Many parents will bemoan the fact that in giving birth, they’ve become full-time Nap Police, a job that is unpaid, unrewarding, and unwanted. Being the Nap Police is also enormously isolating: you can never leave the house because it’s always time for the next nap. If being the Nap Police is such a terrible job, why would you agree to become one?

Because it’s essential to good sleep.

Wake Times Matter

You can use all the Power Sleep Tools but if you are trying to get them to sleep when they’ve been awake too long/short they’re going to struggle to sleep and no amount of swaddling or white noise is going to change that. Mastering the when of baby sleep is foundational to getting them to sleep.

In this podcast we break down everything related to sleep schedules including:

  • Why naps happen.
  • Why wake times matter.
  • Cat naps/car naps/boob naps, beneficial or bane of your existence?
  • When are crap naps a problem vs. just a bad day?
  • Why you want your child waking up at the same time every day.
  • Should you be using wake times or “by the clock” strategies?
  • What will happen if you blow off bedtime?
  • Links and further reading:

    We don’t specifically outline wake times by age in the podcast, but that issue is covered in great detail in these posts.

    Baby Sleep What is Normal?
    Are you keeping baby awake too long?
    Bedtime what time?
    Ultimate guide to vanquishing short naps

    If this is helpful to you please head on over and subscribe to our podcast on iTunes! Additionally in future episodes we’ll be answering reader mail, if you would like to submit your question, feel free to drop us a line at podcast@preciouslittlesleep.com. Cheers and thanks for listening!


    31 Comments


    1. SO EXCITED to listen to this! Thank you!!! Just what I was looking for!

      • Aw thanks 🙂 Hope you like it! It’s a bit outside my wheelhouse and we’re definitely learning as we go. But each one gets better (more focused, less “ums” and “ahs”) – we’re getting there!

        • yes, it was great! You guys answered a lot of questions I had. Most importantly, you guys reassured me! There will be bad nap days once in awhile no matter what I do and I just have to accept that, relax and go with the flow. Thank you again.

    2. LOVE THIS!! Thank you so much for doing these podcasts… It’s so refreshing to hear scientifically-sound advice about baby sleep, presented in such a friendly format, as if you were talking with friends.

      For what it’s worth, my son is like Elisabeth’s children regarding bedtime — SUPER sensitive to becoming overtired and sleep crying throughout the night, so I have to adjust his bedtime daily.

      And TMI, like Alexis, I also *never* flush while he’s napping 🙂

    3. Also, for the next podcast about sleep associations, I’ve always been really curious about if/when they resolve. IE, adults don’t have sleep associations, do we? Or are we just cognizant enough to realize that we’re still tired and force ourselves back to sleep once we wake up and realize hubby turned the TV off?

      • We do have sleep associations (I have a terrible time falling asleep without reading first) but mature sleep is fundamentally different so we don’t wake up as frequently and we’re more plugged into why things change. But not entirely. My husband sometimes will wake up SUPER early and will just get up and work. When this happens I totally wake up because something has changed in my environment – I cycle through light sleep and my husband is mysteriously missing. So same thing really 😛

        • Oh, wow, I never would have guessed… I’ve been curious for so long (secretly longing for a time when I don’t have to be so damn diligent about it with my son’s bedtime routine, I guess). Thank you for answering!!

    4. Hi! So I do have one more question/clarification- you mentioned that up until about 9 months, you prefer going by wake times rather than a clock based schedule. Once we decide it’s time for a clock based schedule, how do we decide on the nap times? For example, if 11 month old baby wakes at 7am daily, would his first nap be scheduled at 10am, sleeps for an hour and a half-2 hrs, next nap at 230/3pm daily (based on 3 hour wake times)? Or can we just ignore wake times and choose to have naps daily at 9am and 1pm daily?

      • Both. You manage wake times to get the schedule in place. For example, if your kiddo is taking a 3 hour nap at 9am, he’s unlikely to nap again at 1pm. So if 9 and 1 usually work, you wake him from his 9am nap in time to make the 1pm nap. Keeping in mind that it’s not an exact science, and some fluctuation is inevitable.

    5. Alexis,
      Your witty, honest, entertaining approach to baby sleep has been my bible! And now I am devouring these podcasts! Can’t wait for more. My BIG question and one that I have been struggling with for months now is what if your baby’s waketime is too early? My son is five months now and since he was little he wakes up at 530am unable to get himself to back to sleep but he is still tired! I know he is still tired because I can put him in the swing hysterically crying and five minutes later he is out and we are waking him up at 7am for day care. We have a pretty solid bedtime routine that involves me putting him down drowsy but awake (still a work in progress) around 730pm. I keep reading about moving up bedtime in order to push wake time back but when I have inched earlier and tried to put my son done closer to 7 awake it always ends in tears. The earlier bedtime is also challenging bc he still needs a 4th (cat) nap post day care that only happens around 545pm. I would love love your insight! Oh and since he was four months we have been dealing with reflux and fussiness! I know you can relate.

      • If the swing is working to extend nighttime sleep, keep using it! Sleep pressure is really low at 5am, so many many kids need a little something extra to get them to a civilized hour. Swing, “snooze button feed”–all great options.

        • totally agree about this, Ashby! it’s hard ti eliminate that 5:30 waking, because it’s just cycling through a light part of sleep, but if you can get baby back to sleep, then go with what works.

    6. Thank you for talking about naptime glitches. I know that they are normal because baby sleep can be a bit wonky at times. I’ve always wondered though how many consecutive days of glitches facilitates a schedule change. I guessimated 3 days, but gave him 5 days, so I was within Elisabeth’s range.

      I was also pleased to know that I could listen to you guys on my phone.

      • so you gave it 5 days and it worked out? that’s great! and good for you for being able to wait patiently through that.

    7. Do babies ever make really sudden jumps in their wake time length? My almost-6-week-old has wanted to be asleep within 45 minutes basically since she was born, but just in the last few days, it seems like that has suddenly gone to more like 1-1.5 hours. She still gets fussy after about 30-ish minutes, but it’s really hard to get her to sleep until she’s been up for quite a bit longer.

    8. I think that’s a sign of maturing, sure. at 6 weeks things are starting to shape up a wee bit and you don’t want to keep wake times more than you are seeing now, but 1.5 hrs is not unheard of.

    9. I love this site (and now these podcasts!) – I’ve been reading it for years, starting with my now almost 3-year-old. I’m struggling with my new baby, though. He’s 3 months, and I KNOW he’s still outgrowing his newborn shenanigans, but the naps. Oh, gosh, the naps. He will NOT take anything more than a 45 minute nap unless we’re in the car (and then only sometimes) or I’m wearing him (but I have to work, so . . . ). The problem is compounded by the fact that he started rolling over, back to front, already, and literally does it every time you put him on his back. So swaddles are out. I had him in a Rock N Play, but he was doing this push from the bottom and flip move to the side and pressing his face into the side of the thing. And he just stares if you put him in the swing. When I lay him in the crib, he flips over pretty immediately, which is fine when he’s asleep, but he wakes up FURIOUS and there is no getting him back down.

      I’m careful to watch the wake times, and I put him down after an hour or so after he’s been awake, usually when he is making sleepy signs. So he’s taking 4 ish short naps a day, and that last one is the worst and he’ll be up forever while I desperately try to get him down, and he’s a mess in the late afternoon/early evening, so it’s clear he needs more sleep. He goes to bed at 7/7:30 most nights, and then, here’s the kicker, does pretty well! So do I just suck up the short naps/disaster baby and hope they consolidate at some point? Hope he decides rolling isn’t that fun and stops? Monkey with wake times? ACK! Babies, man, I tell ya.

      • My (now 8 month old) baby was the same way. Drove me crazy! 30-45 min naps, fighting evening nap. But he would sleep well overnight. He only started taking longer naps around the 6 month mark. Even then, it wasn’t always consistent. Now, I can depend on at least one of the naps being an hour. So hang in there. It does get better. It’s true what they say that the babies sometimes need to just mature on their own a bit before they can start napping longer. For now, accept it as it is.
        We also had the rolling problem when he first learned! He didn’t know how to roll back once he was on his tummy and he would be furious. We used the magic merlin suit at night to help keep him on his back at night and not roll over onto his tummy and wake up. We used it until I could see that he really wanted to move around more in his sleep.

        • I was going to answer but Sam nailed it ^^^.

          He’s 3 months and EVERYTHING you describe is SPOT ON for a 3 month old. If he’s falling asleep independently AND taking 45 minute naps then that’s just where he’s at for now. Wearing him for ALL naps is a bad idea because it’ll teach him that he can only sleep ON you, but the occasional nap on the go while you chase your 3 year old around the park is a banner idea. It’ll get better!

    10. Hi! What are your opinions on the 2-3-4 nap/sleep schedule?

      • Well it’s not an issue of good/bad but more, is this is the right schedule for your child at this age?

        Most ~9-12 month old babies do fairly well on a 2-3-4 schedule (give or take 30 minutes here or there). So it’s a solid starting point for sure. Then between 12-18 months most drop to 1 nap a day and the 2-3-4 goes out the window with that 😉

    11. So I’m wondering if I should be controlling the amount of time my 5 month old sleeps during the day. I’ve seen him take 2 and a half hour long naps and I’ve seen him only go an hour should I be waking him during those extra long ones to help night time sleep? As it is he is not a great night sleeper and I’m dying over here.

      • I wouldn’t assume that too much day sleep is the culprit UNLESS everything else is nailed down:
        – consistent bedtime
        – age appropriate wake times
        – falls asleep independently

    12. Hey! This is great! I just wanted to add my experience with bedtimes and natural night owls. My first child (now 4) is without a doubt a natural night owl. As a baby she consistently woke for the day at 8:30 or 9 am. Also, I had to follow Alexis’ rule about preserving bedtime and erring on the side of over tired. My 2nd kid is not this way at all. She wakes up at a reasonable hour 7- 7:30, but wake times and bed times can be a little more flexible. She seems to have a strong bed time “sleep pressure”. As a crazy example (she’s 2 yo) she fell asleep in the car with my mom at 4:30 one day and my mom let her sleep for an hour in the car. I sort of flipped out b/c I was sure she would never go to bed:). NOPE! she fell right to sleep. I just think that’s interesting because I raised them more or less the same and with the same schedule. One is a night owl and one isn’t….the jury is still out on the 3rd baby:).. Also heaven help me with the 4 yo goes to kindergarten and has to get up early!

    13. Is anyone familiar with “split night”? My 5 1/2 month old wakes up between 3-4 am every night thinking he should get up. He’s happy, talks to himself for a good 30 minutes if I don’t go in his room sooner. I’m struggling to get him back to sleep. I’ve nurses him, fed him a bottle, rocked him, shushed him… It usually takes an hour or two to get him down. Any advice???

      • I am familiar it, but can only empathize with you. I wish I knew what to do to solve it too! My toddler does it from time to time… has been for almost a year! I feel so bad for him. He generally won’t call for me, but just lies there awake and can’t sleep.

      • Sure am! The challenge is – it’s not clear that THAT’S your issue, as there’s a lot of reasons that could lead to this 1 hour gap. The most obvious is of course – is he falling asleep? Is he being rocked to sleep? Nursing/taking a bottle at bedtime? Because that could ALSO be the culprit.

    14. Great podcast! I’ve been struggling with this with my almost 5 month old. We have a solid routine based on what I’ve learned here (bottle is 20 minutes before crib, don’t go in before midnight, etc). But his bedtime fluctuates between 7-8pm and same with the amount of crying at bedtime (anywhere from 1-30 minutes). Also sometimes he sleeps soundly while other nights he wakes up a lot throughout the night. Thinking he could be under or over tired, I’ve experimented with different wake times before bed, 2 hrs, 2 hrs 15 mins, 2 hrs 30 mins, 3 hrs. And I can’t seem to figure out his perfect window. It’s a real battle.

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