Creating a Parent Sleep Schedule with Newborn to Get Better Sleep

mom resting with baby asleep on her chest
Picture of Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, PMHNP

Learn More

Creating a Parent Sleep Schedule with a Newborn to Get Better Sleep

Newborn babies’ sleep patterns are unpredictable, and you’ll have to stay somewhat flexible to make it through the early stages of your baby’s sleep. Establishing a sleep and feeding schedule with a newborn is difficult, but helps set you and your family up to get restful sleep. A parent sleep schedule, or night shift schedule, is a specific plan that helps you manage sleep and rest periods while caring for a newborn.

Yes, It’s Completely Rational to Create a Sleep Schedule With a Newborn

Sleep training often gets a bad wrap in the world of social media, with many moms-to-be concerned they are far too strict and harming their baby.  However, sleep training or creating a sleep schedule is a structured approach to managing your and your baby’s sleep and feeding schedule needs.  There are a range of styles and methods you can look into and decide which ones works best for your family and parenting style.  Creating a sleep schedule for your newborn can include specific sleep training methods, such as the Ferber or Weissbluth methods.  Contrary to common misconceptions, implementing a sleep schedule is neither overboard nor overly intense. It is a practical method to balance the demands of early parenthood, helping to decrease exhaustion and enhance overall well-being. By adopting this approach, parents can navigate the early, often challenging weeks of parenting with greater ease and confidence!

A Guide to Baby Sleep Needs (and Yours Too!)

It’s normal to have anxiety about your baby sleeping. No one is their best when they’re not getting enough sleep and that includes your newborn. You may be worried your little one won’t develop healthily without enough sleep, or you may have heard horror stories of how little sleep some parents get with a new baby. A sleep schedule can help calm these fears.

Understanding Newborn Baby Sleep Needs

Newborn babies typically need 14-17 hours of sleep per day, but this sleep isn’t continuous. They wake frequently because their small stomachs require regular feedings, often every 2-3 hours. These wake-up patterns are completely normal and expected. Understanding these natural sleep and feeding rhythms can help you create a more effective sleep schedule for your newborn, allowing you to manage your expectations and reduce unnecessary worry.

How Newborns Sleep

Newborns have shorter sleep cycles than adults, often cycling between light and deep sleep every 50-60 minutes. They spend more time in REM sleep, essential for brain development. Understanding how your baby sleeps, including the total hours of sleep in 24 hours and developing a circadian rhythm, can help you anticipate when your baby might wake up.  This helps you to plan your sleep accordingly!  We know it’s easier said than done, but you can achieve restful sleep with a newborn it just takes a little planning.

Creating a Conducive Sleep Environment

A few ways to help your baby sleep consistently include:
  • Maintaining a consistent bedtime routine
  • Ensuring the room is dark and quiet
  • Using soothing techniques such as swaddling or using white noise.
You can also try keeping the baby’s sleeping place close to your bed so you can quickly return to sleep after tending to your baby during the night.

The Importance of Daytime Naps

Daytime naps are essential for newborns as they contribute to their overall sleep needs. Ensuring your baby gets adequate daytime sleep can help prevent your baby from being overtired, which makes it harder for them to settle at night. Aim for multiple short naps throughout the day to keep your baby well-rested. This is a good time for you to rest because mama’s sleep is essential, too.

Recognizing Sleep Cues

Understanding and recognizing your baby’s sleep cues can help you put them to bed before they become overtired. Familiar sleep cues include rubbing eyes, yawning, making a fist, and fussiness. Be on the lookout for these signs so you can help your baby fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep longer.

The Role of Feeding in Sleep

Feeding indeed plays a significant role in your newborn’s sleep patterns. Breast milk has natural sleep-inducing properties that can be particularly beneficial for nighttime feedings. Making sure your baby is well-fed before bedtime can help them sleep longer stretches. Whether you’re breastfeeding, formula-feeding, or using a combination of both, establishing a feeding routine that aligns with your sleep schedule can make a big difference in how well your baby sleeps and, consequently, how well you rest too.  Bottle feeding allows your partner to play a more active role and help with middle of the night wake-ups.

Addressing Parental Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation is a common challenge for new parents, who often find themselves severely sleep-deprived. Seriously, make sure you get some rest. This might involve taking shifts with your partner, napping when your baby naps, and ensuring your sleep environment is as restful as possible.

Your Baby’s Sleep

Newborns typically sleep in short bursts—essentially “sleeping when resting”—as their circadian rhythms are not yet developed. To help improve night sleep, provide guidance and tips for navigating and enhancing your newborn’s sleep patterns during the night. During the first weeks, newborns often sleep for 2 to 4 hours, frequently waking for feedings. To support this sporadic sleep pattern, create a calming environment with swaddling, gentle rocking, or white noise. These measures can enhance your newborn’s sleep quality and contribute to longer, more restful periods of sleep. Consider maintaining a consistent bedtime routine to foster a sense of security and predictability, facilitating smoother transitions between sleep and wakefulness for your baby.

Your Sleep

Mama, your sleep is equally important.

Prioritizing your rest is not just a luxury; it’s essential for nurturing your overall well-being. New motherhood is demanding, and aligning your sleep patterns with your newborn’s can offer significant relief. Remember, restorative sleep is not simply about duration but also about the quality of the sleep you receive. You’re better equipped to care for your little one by taking care of yourself.

Aim for naps during your baby’s sleep.

  • Those short naps during the day won’t make up for lost nighttime sleep, but they can help ease immediate fatigue. Gentle exercise can also be a great way to manage the stress and tiredness that come with early parenthood. As your baby gets older and their sleep patterns become more regular, you’ll find your own sleep schedule improving too.
  • Investing in good sleep hygiene practices and relaxation exercises can really boost your sleep quality. In the meantime, try to create a sleep environment that mimics nighttime conditions with dim lighting and minimal noise. This can help you get more restful and efficient sleep.

Focusing on your sleep alongside your newborn’s sleep needs helps ensure you are emotionally and physically resilient. This balance is fundamental in adjusting to the demands of parenthood without undermining your health.

Example Newborn Night Shift Schedules

For two-parent households, sleep schedules can be divided into shifts, with one parent taking the first half of the night and the other taking the second half or flip flop nights. Sharing nighttime feedings with a partner can ensure at least one stretch of solid sleep for each parent. This allows both parents to get uninterrupted sleep and ensures that the baby is always attended to.

Establishing a night shift sleep schedule for you and your partner can significantly enhance your rest, creating a structured environment that accommodates your newborn’s frequent waking. A systematic approach ensures you share responsibilities evenly. Here are three types of schedules to consider:

  • Formula-Exclusive Schedule: One parent shifts from 10 PM to 2 AM, while the other covers from 2 AM to 6 AM. This allows each parent to have a solid block of uninterrupted sleep.
  • Pumping-Exclusive Schedule: Divide the night into three-hour shifts, enabling each partner to have multiple blocks of continuous sleep. For example, one parent might take 9 PM to 12 AM, the other from 12 AM to 3 AM, and so on.
  • Combination Schedule: This schedule offers flexibility if you mix breastfeeding and formula feeding. One parent might handle the early-night formula feedings from 10 PM to 2 AM, while the other takes over breastfeeding from 2 AM to 6 AM. Remember, each family’s needs are unique. Regularly communicate and adjust to find what works best as you navigate these changes together.

How to Plan Out Your Perfect Newborn Sleep Schedule

Creating a sleep schedule for your newborn is challenging and you may get derailed a few times. But it can significantly improve the quality of rest for you and your baby. Here are some steps to help you get started:

Learn About Newborn Sleep Needs and Habits

You’ve already taken the first step by reading this blog—great job! Research shows newborns typically sleep 14-17 hours daily, often fragmented due to their frequent feedings.  Understanding why babies fight sleep and finding solutions that work for your family will set you up for success.

Prioritize Your Sleep Hygiene

Reflect on your sleep needs and those of your partner, if you have one.  If you are a single parent, consider your support network and how they could support you in these early months or look into outsourcing to a night nurse or doula. Understanding these habits will help tailor a plan that benefits everyone involved.

Be Open to Tweaking the Schedule

Don’t be afraid to tweak the schedule if things change or it feels too hard. Remember, developing new habits and adapting to a routine like this takes time.

Set Yourself Up for Success Before Bedtime

Organize your space: keep essentials within reach, create areas where a half-awake parent can easily care for needs, and keep the floor clear to avoid tripping.

Communicate and Adjust 

Flexibility and patience are key. Regularly communicate with your partner and adjust the plan to ensure it works for everyone.  Don’t be afraid to hire a sleep expert if you are really struggling to find a balance.  Download The Matrescence App to find providers and products in our free motherhood marketplace.

When Will Your Baby Sleep Longer?

Understanding when your baby’s sleep needs will change is essential for adapting your sleep schedule and ensuring restful nights despite numerous night wakings. Typically, the most significant changes in a newborn’s sleep pattern occur around developmental milestones. For instance, transitioning to longer nighttime sleep spans and fewer naps generally start between three and four months. These adjustments often coincide with physical growth spurts and enhanced cognitive awareness. Gradual changes should also be expected around the 6-month mark. Babies with more regular sleep cycles and a feeding schedule may start sleeping longer at night and reduce daytime naps. Introducing solid foods around this age also impacts their sleep requirements and patterns. As your baby approaches one year, anticipate further nap frequency and duration reductions. Establishing a consistent sleep routine becomes increasingly crucial to ensuring adequate rest. Keeping a close watch on these developments allows you to tweak the sleep schedule to meet evolving needs, improving sleep quality for you and your baby.  

Related Posts

Picture of Lauren Hays, PMHNP

Lauren Hays, PMHNP

Lauren was a licensed and trained registered nurse in the NICU and has since made a career shift to focus on mental health. Lauren is now a board certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, focusing on women’s health and wellness. She is a mom of three precious little men who has turned her pain into passion.

mother with eyes closed pressing her face up against her infant to calm her anxious feelings

Free Download

Anxious, Mama?

Mama, You’ve Got This: Learn How to Distinguish Everyday Mom Worries from Clinical Anxiety – Straight from a Mental Health Expert!