The main benefit of a rigid baby sleep schedule is the fact that it’s predictable. This isn’t just good for you to plan play dates or errands, but your baby will know what to expect every day, too. By prioritizing your baby’s sleep and making sure she’s in her crib at nap time and bedtime will make it that much more likely that she will sleep through the night and ensure your baby naps longer. You are making sure that you are putting her down during her “sleep windows” and helping “set” her internal clock.
But, what if your baby doesn’t get sleepy at the same times every day? Or, what if your family life is such that your day simply is not very similar day to day? A flexible baby sleep schedule allows you to have much more flexibility in your day. Your play date wants to meet at 10 instead of 11? No problem. That baby swim class is at 1 p.m. twice a week right when your baby’s nap is. No problem. Grandma and grandpa come to visit for two hours making bedtime an hour later? No problem. Having a flexible sleep schedule is definitely appealing in many ways. It feels much less like your whole world revolves around your baby’s sleep and schedule, that’s for sure.
Unfortunately, what’s convenient for us isn’t what works for our baby. As I discussed in my article about schedules for breast-feeding and formula-feeding babies, your personality will likely gravitate you towards one or the other. Your baby will make it a success or a failure. And, sometimes maybe it’s somewhere in between leading to some good days and some bad days.
For highly inconsistent babies, it is usually best to keep a rigid sleep schedule from a sleep perspective (not necessarily feeding schedule), because it helps “set” their internal clock and biological rhythms. If you allow your inconsistent baby to drive the schedule, he is more likely to continue being even more inconsistent than what’s “normal” for him.
For babies who are very sensitive to becoming over-tired leading to less and less sleep, it’s important to keep their sleep at a high priority. It doesn’t necessarily mean keeping a rigid schedule by the clock, but in terms of making sure they are not awake too long before sleep. It means that swim class might have to wait until they’ve changed their schedule.
For babies who can sometimes stay up longer and other times can’t, having a rigid schedule where they are in the crib when they are not tired, could lead to other sleep problems and frustration for your baby. Maybe he needs a more flexible schedule that is driven more by his sleep needs and cues.
The bottom line is that YOU will need to deal with the aftermath, if any, of any decision about scheduling. Everyone else who has an opinion doesn’t have to deal with a cranky baby or get up with your baby at night, YOU do. When it came to my highly inconsistent, supremely over-sensitive to being over-tired son (and still is, but not AS much), I simply could not afford to let too many things disrupt his schedule or routine (especially since he did NOT sleep “on the go” AT ALL after he was a month old!). At minimum, it would set us off course for a week or so with night-wakings and lots of crankiness. I tried it a couple of times and, to me, it just wasn’t worth it. For others, maybe it would be. With my second son, I finally saw how on Earth people had more flexible schedules and could (gasp!) be out of the house sometimes during nap time!
Whether you have a rigid baby sleep schedule or a flexible one will be a personal decision based on your personality, your baby’s personality, and what sleep problems it may or may not bring.