Have you been wondering that lately?
Because I know a lot of people have -- sure, they make sure their babies are eating enough, and they try to put them to sleep when they're really tired, or they read books to try to figure out what the right thing is -- but does it really all matter?
Does it matter if your baby is on a schedule?
Does it matter when they go to sleep for the night?
Does having a 12 hour night really matter?
The short answer is: yes. It does matter. It really does.
But let's dive into some details.
I had a listener on my Akeres Habayis sessions ask me this recently, and I gained a lot of insight from the way she phrased her question.
It went something like this:
"I don't really understand the point of putting a baby on a schedule - they'll do their own thing anyway. I have an 8 month old, and he'll eat when he's hungry, he'll sleep when he's tired and he wakes up when he's ready to wake. Why should I force him into a schedule? Do you think he's not going to be able to figure it out when he's older?
But I have a question for you about my 4-year-old and 6-year-old. My older one will read in bed till 12-1 am, and I can't figure out how to get him to go to sleep at a normal time. My younger one will bounce around the house with endless energy until 10. Then I have to wake them up to go to school in the morning, and they're exhausted and acting out. What should I do?"
(Yes, that was really all from one person. I don’t think she realized the second half answered the first half!)
And therein, my friends, lies the crux of the issue: our children don't learn things on their own - they learn by being taught. "Teaching" doesn't mean standing in front of them and lecturing them, and, really, it doesn't always mean that they're uncomfortable and unhappy and don't like being taught.
But our children will never "figure it out on their own" - we need to give them the tools, the model, the framework for them to build it into.
So does it matter if your baby is on a schedule when he's little? Well, you kind of have two choices: either make it something he's used to from infancy, or you're going to have to actively teach it to him when he's older (and it'll probably be harder!).
(Of course, the third not-really-a-choice choice is do nothing. Ever. Which makes for sleep deprived kids, like the 4 and 6 year-old little boys of the mother who left me that message.)
But there's another piece to it, too - the “why do we ever need a schedule” piece.
Ahhh, an amazing question! Why indeed? She's a little person, after all, right?
Yes! Yes, yes yes! Exactly.
Our babies are not robots - they're little people, and like all people, their days are going to vary slightly day to day. But they have their needs, too. And their needs are very different than our needs. Our babies need lots more sleep than we do. Like WAY more sleep than we do.
We adults only need about 8 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period, and our babies and little kids need somewhere from 18 to 12 hours (depending on their age). So while you can't expect every single day to go according to a strict schedule, it is important to keep their needs (and capabilities) in mind.
When I work together with clients, we build an "approximate ideal schedule" - here's what a day would look something like for a well-rested baby your baby's age. (I have some sample schedules in this article on Between Carpools). We factor in awake time limit, when an ideal bedtime is, and, of course, nap averages, to build the basic schedule for that baby. Of course it's never exactly the same, but when we're working off of that approximate ideal schedule, we're sure that the baby is getting the sleep she needs when she needs it.
As a quick example - my baby is 8 months old now. He's taking two naps during the day and sleeping 12 hours at night. Usually, his first nap is from around 9:30 to about 11:30, and his second nap from about 2:30 to 4ish. But sometimes he wakes from his first nap at 12. Sometimes at 11. He's been sick the past couple of days and yesterday, he took his second nap from 1:45 to 3:20 and was in bed at 6:20 for the night. This morning he needed his nap at 9:15, so I put him in a bit early.
The point isn't to have a rigid schedule, it's to make sure that you're meeting your baby's needs. As a nice bonus, you're also getting some predictability in your day by knowing just about when your baby will be napping.
For both sleep needs and logistic reasons, a 7-7 night is the best thing for your baby and little kid. I talk a lot about the "why" behind that timing in these blog posts:
Those twelve hours of sleep are GOLD for your baby.
Now, of course, a newborn isn't going to be able to sleep for 12 hours straight - and some 5 month olds aren't ready to, either. But by starting off with a 12 hour night, you know your baby is going to learn to sleep long and longer and longer until he's really ready to go those 12 hours.
And - I will note - this is also where the 7 pm bedtime piece comes in. You don't want your baby thinking that 3 am till noon is nighttime! (Yes, I have seen that!)
What did you do to help your baby or little kid get the sleep he needs? Let me know in the comments below!