Baby Sleep Schedule: What to Expect Between 4 and 6 Months
Congrats—you’ve made it through the worst of the sleepless and are ready to establish a bedtime routine for your little one. Here’s how to create the perfect sleep schedule for 4-month-old, 5-month-old, and 6-month-old babies.
How Much Will Baby Sleep?
Your baby's internal clock has kicked in, and they can differentiate between day and night. They should be on their way toward an established sleep pattern.
During this time, babies need an average of 14 hours of sleep daily. At 4 months, they can go eight hours at night without feeding; by 5 months, they can sleep for 10 or 11 hours straight. Both 4-month-olds and 5-month-olds will sleep four to five hours during the day, spread out over three naps.
At 6 months, babies need an average of 11 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night, and 3.5 hours of daytime naps spread over two to three naps.
Transition to the Crib
Usually around this time, babies become too big for the bassinet and move to a crib—preferably in their own room where they can sleep without interruption. But what if you've been using a co-sleeper or bedside crib? "If you find that you like the idea of co-sleeping but everybody is tired all the time, consider whether it's time to make a change," says Kim West, aka "The Sleep Lady" and author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night, Sleep Tight. And don't feel bad if you've decided sleeping in one room is ultimately not right for you. "It's hard to be a wonderful, responsive, cheerful parent if you are constantly fighting to keep your eyes open, and prolonged exhaustion can be a risk factor for depression," West says
Children crave routine, so it's important to establish a consistent 4-month-old, 5-month-old, and 6-month-old sleep schedule. "Once that internal clock kicks in, you'll notice the baby has a preference for when he wants to go to sleep," says Nadav Traeger, M.D, director of pediatric sleep medicine at Maria Fareri Children's Hospital at Westchester Medical Center. And you know that "witching hour" that so many new moms talk about? It usually occurs in the evenings, and the primary reason is tiredness. So if your baby gets fussy around 6 p.m., start getting them ready for bed at 5:30 so that they’re already dozing off before the crankiness begins.
Recognizing Sleep Signals
Your baby will send some pretty clear signs that they’re ready for sleep. "I often tell parents to become sensitive to their child's personal sleep signals," says Marc Weissbluth, M.D, a pediatrician and author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. "This means that you should capture that magic moment when the child is tired, ready to sleep, and easily falls asleep. The magic moment is a slight quieting, a slight staring off, and a hint of calmness." Other signals include yawning, rubbing their eyes, and losing interest in other people or toys. The key is putting Baby to bed before they start crying, fussing, or throwing tantrums.
Focus on Naps
According to West, the 30-minute catnap simply won't suffice anymore. "At this stage, napping is all about length and predictability," she says. "Nap training is hard for parents. Babies, like adults, simply have trouble sleeping when it's not dark. In addition, babies aren't yet good at helping themselves switch gears from active to restful. They fight it off because they would much rather stay up to play, explore, and be with you."
If a baby doesn't nap well during the day, however, they'll eventually become overtired and overstimulated, making it harder to get them to sleep at night. Ideally, 4- and 5-month-old babies should nap for 90 minutes or longer twice daily (the third nap can be shorter). Six-month-olds should nap one-and-a-half to two hours twice a day (the third, shorter nap is now optional). West also recommends having the baby nap in their crib—not the car seat, stroller, or swing.
Start Sleep Training
Most people wake up several times each night. While adults simply roll over and go back to sleep, babies expect you to help them doze off again. But it’s important that your baby learns to self-soothe though—and sleep training methods can help with that. Feel free to choose whichever method you’d like, from the cry-it-out method to the Ferber method to the fading method (learn about the different options here). "Think about your baby's temperament and what she can handle," Dr. Traeger says. Still not sure? Consult your pediatrician, who has heard feedback from patients, and might even have experience with their own kids!
Eliminate Nighttime Feedings
If you haven't already, start cutting middle-of-the-night feedings out of your baby sleep schedule "You want to really focus on meeting the baby's nutritional needs during the day so he doesn't eat at night," West says. "He should be either sleeping through the night or eating only once at night." To accomplish this goal, West recommends more frequent feedings in the late afternoon or early evening. "This might help calm him, enhance his evening sleep, and also reassure you at night that he is getting enough food," she says.
Overcome Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety first peaks around 6 months, and it increases when Baby is overtired. Your little one might fight naps and bedtime—and wake up several times throughout the night—in order to be with you. Helping your child self-soothe will help with this sleep problem. "A 'lovey'—a special stuffed animal or blanket sometimes called a transitional object—can be a useful tool to ease separation anxiety and weaken other sleep-disrupting nighttime habits," West says.