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The 2-3-4 Sleep Routine

Nov30

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Photo by treehouse1977
Dear Amalah,
I have three-month-old twins and this is my first week back at work. Now that I have to get us all up and out of the house by a certain time each day in order to drop them off at the sitter’s house and then get myself to work on time, I find myself wondering when these little people will start to get on some kind of schedule. They both sleep through the night (more or less), with one waking pretty regularly to eat around 4 or 5 am and then both of them around 7 or 8. They also both usually have their last feeding of the evening around 9 or 10. But other than the first and last feedings, it’s all kind of a crapshoot. I can’t really discern any kind of pattern to when they sleep and eat during the day. Is this something I just have to wait for? Can/should we be doing anything to help establish more of a routine? Will my going back to work and therefore setting up more of a routine for myself help the babies do the same?
Thanks,
J

Does your babysitter send home any kind of daily schedule/update thingie? Because mine did, and for my entire first week back at work I was convinced they were sending home a James Frey novel on that little handout everyday, what with the regular set nap and eating times and various other schedule-type things that did not resemble my maternity leave at all. And then Saturday came, and 10:30 am on that Saturday came, and I figured that hey! The daycare sheet says he takes a nap right now! HA HA, let’s try that out.
And…he slept. Huh.
So. First thing: the 2-3-4 schedule. Will likely change your life. It’s not universal, by any means (but what the hell IS, in the universe of little babies), but MOST babies WILL settle into a 2-3-4 schedule by six months old or so…usually around the time they start sleeping through the night. I first read about it over at Ask Moxie, while I was pregnant with Ezra, during one of those late-night panics because OMG! No daycare this time! How will I get the baby on a schedule like they did? How did they do that? Witchcraft? HALP ME INTERNET.
2-3-4, is how. I even went back and looked at Noah’s daycare schedule handouts and sure enough, it wasn’t witchcraft at all. IT WAS MATH.
Two hours after your baby wakes up, put him down for a nap. Three hours after he wakes up from that nap, put him down again. Four hours after he wakes up from the afternoon nap, it’s bedtime.
Using those sleep times as the overarching grid of your day, fill in everything else as needed. Usually, for three-month-olds, you’re talking a big feeding right after they wake up and likely a smaller “topping off” before they go down for morning nap — a few ounces, or so. They eat again when they wake up, and another small feeding before afternoon nap. The stretch between the second feeding and bedtime should contain at least another two feedings. Bedtime should include a set, consistent routine. (Bath, book, boob/bottle, bed.) Annnnnnd OUT.
The beauty of the 2-3-4 routine is how naturally it segues into an older baby’s day, once he or she is on solids. The big post-sleep feedings become breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the smaller pre-sleep nursing sessions or smaller bottles eventually become snacks or sippy cups of water or milk. Ezra, at 13.5 months and completely weaned from both boob and bottle, still religiously follows this schedule, and likely will until he abandons the morning nap in favor of one long afternoon nap (this usually happens sometime between 16 and 18 months, but again, EH. CRAPSHOOT.). I put him down for his naps and bedtime while he’s still awake (but NOT overtired and restless), and…he just goes to sleep, like a perfectly reasonable person.
And while I KNOW I somehow managed to completely luck out and get two of the weirdest easiest sleeping-type babies on the planet and there are going to be four dozen comments on this column telling me to go straight to HELL, there was no getting their babies on a safe and healthy sleep schedule, no way no how…I really do believe that getting my boys on a DAYTIME schedule had a huuuuuuge impact on their nighttime schedule. Before the 2-3-4 thing, or some rough approximation of morning nap/afternoon nap, we never knew what would happen at night, I always fretted over how much or how little they ate, and I never could possibly guess at when I could take a shower or get any work done. I still may not necessarily have TIME to take a shower or get any work done, but at least I know when I’ll have a decent shot at it, once I hear that first morning squawk from the crib and do the nap-math for the rest of the day.
So…try it. A weekend is a good time to experiment, if your daycare provider doesn’t seem to be whipping them into schedule-shape. If your babies wake up at seven, get them changed and fed and happy and aim to have them back down in the crib by nine. 9:30 at the latest. Do whatever it takes to get them settled (milk, rocking, swaddling), but generally try to get them in bed while they’re still a little awake, if you can. This isn’t sleep-training, by any means, but getting babies to heed their own natural schedules can require a bit of gentle nudging. Don’t be afraid to start ANTICIPATING their need for a nap instead of RESPONDING to it, in other words. Let them sleep for as long as they want — hopefully for at least an hour or two. Once they’re up, change and feed them again, and spend a little more time interacting with them. Show them around the house, do some tummy time, go for a walk. If they wake up around 11, try for an afternoon nap around 2. The afternoon nap might be the same length as the morning nap or longer. Four hours after they wake up from that, it’s bedtime.
During the week your commute may impact the schedule — Noah always took extra catnaps during my drive that shifted his “real” naptimes back a bit — so ask your sitter to write down sleep and meal times for you every day, if she isn’t already. Babies really do thrive with consistency, so even if your sitter is reporting something other than a 2-3-4 schedule, go with it on your days off, and stick to it on the weekends. At three months, you’re definitely RIIIIIIGHT on the cusp of scheduleability with your babies, but if you CAN start discerning any patterns and jump on them now, you’ll all be so happy you did later on.

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About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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28 Responses to “The 2-3-4 Sleep Routine”

  1. Karen Nov 30 at 1:47 pm Reply Reply

    I am so dying to get E on this schedule, but what to do when your 3 month old thinks a 45 min nap is totally awesome? Bedtime at 4 pm? I suppose that’s a whole different problem!

  2. Cobblestone Nov 30 at 1:57 pm Reply Reply

    Loved the 2-3-4 even though ours was closer to a 3-2-4 but at least I had some idea what to aim for.

  3. Molly Chase Nov 30 at 2:06 pm Reply Reply

    Man oh man, this has the potential to save my everlovin’ life. Because this baby? She is driving me stark raving crazy with her unwillingness to get into any kind of a pattern. Thanks.

  4. annemarie Nov 30 at 2:09 pm Reply Reply

    I highly recommend “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child” by Mark Weissbluth. It is a genius book that explains baby sleeping. Read it!

  5. GMom Nov 30 at 2:27 pm Reply Reply

    I started following this schedule the day Amalah posted it. It was magical. My son fell into a predictable sleep pattern that day and has been a great sleeper ever since. Thank you!!

  6. Della Nov 30 at 2:31 pm Reply Reply

    But what if the kid is asleep before the schedule nap? Are you supposed to spend a couple days keeping ‘em awake until the appropriate nap time?

  7. Heather Nov 30 at 2:47 pm Reply Reply

    Yes, I agree with Karen – my 5 month old takes 4 40 minutes naps – she gets pooped after being awake for 1.5 to 2 hours. I would LOVE to get her to sleep for longer, but she seems to like to catnap.

  8. liberrian Nov 30 at 3:08 pm Reply Reply

    So I was totally doing with my first. I find that getting into a schedule with the 2nd is trickier because my older’s schedule doesn’t always match up in useful ways. Any suggestions for getting #2 the schedule they need while not cramping #1′s style?

  9. Brynn Nov 30 at 3:24 pm Reply Reply

    I tried this with little B and it was an absolute disaster- there is just no way he can make it 4 hours without a nap (or without being a cranky mess). At 4 months, he’s settled more into a 1.5-3-3 schedule, but it still works. I think any variation is OK, depending on your kid.

  10. Olivia Nov 30 at 3:52 pm Reply Reply

    Karen, my baby is a cat-napper, too. Her naps are all over the place, 20 min here, 40 min there….
    But, dude, I totally had the 2-3-4 thing backwards. I thought it was 4-3-2, and am always baffled when she wakes up at 10:30 am (which is typical) and seems ready for a nap at 1 pm. Good thing she stays at home with her dad.

  11. Bitts Nov 30 at 4:27 pm Reply Reply

    @Karen, bedtime at 4pm is totally legit — but it might be a 3rd nap (4-4:45?), in which case bedtime would probably be about 2 hours (7pm maybe?) after E wakes up. There were a few months when our bedtime was 5pm. It was a little inconvenient but general happiness was so improved that it was worth it. If you can, give it a try. My 14 month old goes to bed at 6:30 now and the 3 y/o goes down at 7:30. But DH gets home from work at 4 so they get their time with him a little earlier than most. HTH.

  12. Christine Nov 30 at 8:18 pm Reply Reply

    I found that before my two (not twins) settled into 2-3-4, there was a period where there were more or less doing it, except with a catnap around 5pm that wasn’t bedtime but just kept them going till bedtime a couple of hours later.
    My daughter is now just a little younger than Ezra and won’t go down till about 3 hours after she wakes up – she’s more in a 3-3-4 pattern now.
    However, even though I read Moxie before I had my first kid and religiously did the 2-3-4 thing as soon as he stopped randomly napping like a newborn, neither child was/is a good night sleeper. My son was 2 before he slept through the night, and at 12 months his sister is still waking at least 2 or 3 times a night. So don’t count on that side of it working out. (/Bitter)

  13. Alissa Nov 30 at 9:19 pm Reply Reply

    Ah, the putting them to bed AWAKE thing is such a key component to this. I love just being able to lay my 10 month old down and walk away, and all is fine.
    My 10 month old followed a kind of 2 – 2.5 – 4 with a catnap thrown in there kind of schedule until he was at least 8 months old. He’s one of those short napping kind of kids. And truthfully? He’d wake up happy after 45 minutes and I’d leave his butt in his crib for another half hour or so. I figured if he wasn’t going to sleep, he could at least get some “quiet time.”
    Now we’re on a 2.5 – 3 – 4 kind of schedule and it works great!

  14. Kate Nov 30 at 10:27 pm Reply Reply

    My son is a cat-napper too so for the vast majority of his life (he’ll be 7 months old on the second) he’s taken 4-5 45 min naps a day including one in the early evening. It’s only in the last two weeks or so that’s he’s started napping longer and now we’re down to 2-3 naps a day (depending on how long he sleeps for each one). It’s not a 2-3-4 schedule quite yet but it’s getting there (today it was more like 2-2.5-4.5 which was the closest yet).

  15. TwinMamaTeb Nov 30 at 11:12 pm Reply Reply

    I don’t know if this is common, but my twins (12m) have difft schedules depending on if they are at day care or not (I work 3 days/wk)..it’s too noisy there and they only nap once (2x at home).
    But we basically follow the schedule outlined above (although I didn’t know about it, they just kinda fell into it). V. important is to learn your childs sleep signs. Mine is eye rubbing. As soon as one rubs and eye, game over. BOTH go up for a nap. I don’t care what time it is. One may not sleep as long as the other, but both go up together. Bedtime here is 6:30 at the latest. Both have slept thru the night (8hrs)since 3 mos.
    I think there is a Healthy Sleep habits book for twins now too, that might be helpful (I read the normal one)…HTH!

  16. Kate Dec 01 at 6:11 am Reply Reply

    My now 11-month old was the King of the 30 Minute Nap for many moons. I would have loved to get him on the 2-3-4 schedule, but he just wasn’t ready for it. So until about 7 months, he took 3 naps a day.
    Then he started being able to stay up longer between naps without getting the uber-crank, and his first nap got shorter and shorter (like, 15 minutes), so we finally decided to try the 2-3-4 schedule. It worked! I don’t think that some babies are ready for it until a little bit later…but just watch for the signs and eventually (hopefully) they will be.

  17. Lisa M Dec 01 at 8:44 am Reply Reply

    @ Karen,
    With my 2nd son, we juggled the routines as much as we could, but inevitably, someone always gets shortchanged.
    What we tried to keep in mind was the general well-being of the family. That means if it’s in my best interests to make sure the baby got his naps on time, then the older one might miss something…but the trade-off is a happier baby, a happier mom, and a little more quiet time for the older boy. And sometimes, it’s more important to not miss something, and then it’s an early bedtime for everyone.
    It’s all a balancing act. :-)

  18. Lisa M Dec 01 at 8:47 am Reply Reply

    Oops…that was supposed to be @ liberrian.

  19. Olivia Dec 01 at 9:22 am Reply Reply

    Christine, I think you have a good point about the 2-3-4 affecting night time sleep. One reason my husband and I don’t fret about our daughter’s short, irregular naps is because she almost always sleep 13-14 hours at night.
    She wakes up twice during that time, once on her own to nurse and I wake her before I go to work for a diaper change and to nurse. I put her back to bed before I leave and she finishes up her 13 hour stretch.

  20. angie Dec 01 at 10:35 am Reply Reply

    Wow, I didn’t know our schedule had a name! We did exactly that with my four and two year olds and are now working on it with my three month old. It does work, but my kids have always been excellent sleepers – all of them sleeping twelve hours at night by eleven weeks. My four year old will still take two hour naps two to three hours a week, and my two year old is good for at least two and a half hours every afternoon. I also read the book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child and used a lot of the information to figure out my babies’ schedules. I recommend that book to everyone, even if you’re out of the infant stage, it has great information about kids and sleeping.

  21. Sarah Dec 02 at 9:02 am Reply Reply

    How am I supposed to get her to lay down awake?! My 6 month old will ONLY fall asleep on me and if I try to move her at all she immediately wakes up. If I lay her down drowsy it ends in a screamfest!
    Good to know that our routine had a name though! She tends to take a third nap most days, but it seems those have been dropping lately.

  22. Katie Dec 02 at 2:42 pm Reply Reply

    Kids are so different!
    My first did 4 x 40 or 45 naps until she was 6 months old. She became so overtired and cranky if she was awake for longer than 2 hours that she just had to have 4 naps a day. It took a while for her to drop down to 3 naps a day and finally 2 naps at 9 am and 1 pm (7 pm wake up and bedtime between 6 & 7 pm). She slept 12 hours straight at 4.5 months.
    My second is 5 months old and seems to be naturally conforming to the 2-3-4 rule. She’s doing it all on her own. But this one is still waking at night at 5 months. I swear I’ve done the exact same things for both kids with different results.
    Some babies get on a schedule sooner than other or with greater ease. It’s frustrating when your baby is taking their sweet time. With 2 under 2, scheduling both of them is a nightmare but we’re finally coming up for air. Maybe. I’ll let you know tomorrow. :)
    I can’t recommend Dr. Weissbluth’s “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child” enough. He explains the science of infant sleep very well.

  23. stacy Dec 06 at 4:22 pm Reply Reply

    throwing my hat in the ring. From 4 months to 9 months, my daughter was quite happy with a 1-2-2-3 routine…(crazy math, LOL) For some reason she went back to sleep 1 hour after waking (woke at 7:30am), slept an hour, then up 2 hours, slept 1, then up another 2, slept 1, then up for 3 hours and in bed at 7:30pm. So a total of 3 hours a sleep a day.
    I think she’s switching things up now as she hits some developmental milestones and sometimes skips the first morning nap (is quite happy to lay in her crib wrestling her bears for 40 minutes before I finally decide she is not ever going to sleep and go in and get her), and more often than not these days is skipping her last nap (also lying in bed talking to herself for up to an hour before I go get her) — making her a cranky mess by 7pm, so we do a quick bedtime routine and get her down asap.
    Until 4 months she slept in bed with me, then I transitioned her into her own room, but I still breastfed her 2x per night until 6 months, then quit night feeding but she still woke up 2-3x per night, until she self-weaned and started formula at 7 months. So even though she napped beautifully during the day – the night was basically sh!t until she weaned. *shrug*
    I might try for the 2-3-4 and see how that works out. The other routine worked so beautifully and consistently that I’m loathe to see it go…. :-(
    @Sarah: due to a myriad of factors, my daughter actually slept exclusively on my or my husband’s chest ALWAYS (I slept sitting up at night) until she was 3 months old. At 3 months, I started putting her into her crib for daytime naps. I started when she was already asleep – sometimes she’d wake right up, other times sleep for 15 minutes, but i just kept putting her down as soon as she was calm and sleepy again. It took a few weeks before she really slept for any decent amount of time. I also got her to attach to a little blankie (had to cry-it-out over the end of pacifiers as she’d spit it out and cry – over and over and over, so that had to go). Eventually, after a few consistent weeks of NEVER allowing her to sleep on me, I could lie her down drowsy, give her the blankie, and she’d roll over and go to sleep. Just stick with it, and slooooowly it will happen. hope that helps. :-)

  24. Jaymee Dec 08 at 10:29 am Reply Reply

    @Sarah: Just let your baby cry. My son did the same thing. He would only fall asleep while eating, and then I was able to move him from my boob to my chest but that was it. There was no putting him down in his crib or else he would freak out. After 3 weeks of allowing him to just sleep on me resulting in me not really getting any sleep I decided to put an end to it. He still eats until he falls asleep and I move him to my chest for about 5 min. After that he goes straight to his crib. For a couple weeks he kept waking up and screaming at the top of his lungs. I just closed the door and let him scream. After 10-15 min 20min at the very most of screaming/crying he would fall asleep and stay asleep. Some people might not aggree with the whole “let them cry” method, but I don’t aggree with alot of things that those same people think is pertinent to raising a child.
    On a side note I have a nephew that is exactly one week older than my son and my brother and his wife jump at their sons every whimper. Well let’s just say my life is a hell of alot less stressfull than theirs. Plus I get much more sleep, in my bed, on my stomach, without the baby.
    My only problem with this nap schedule is I don’t know what is considered a full nights sleep. My son usually goes to bed around 10pm or 11pm(my husband gets home late and that’s the only way he can spend any time with him). Well I wake up no later than 7am everyday and my son wakes up around 730am. For me that would be a full nights sleep and then a little extra. Is 8-9 hours considered a full nights sleep for an 11 week old baby? I feed him right when he wakes, and then he ends up falling asleep again right after and sleeps for another 3-4 hours. So do I need to keep him awake for 2 hours after the 8-9 hours or do I start the nap schedule after the 3-4 hours?

  25. kathy Dec 08 at 10:33 am Reply Reply

    my son takes doggie naps for maybe 20 minutes but when it hits sevenpm he sleeps all the way to five in the morning

  26. Tired mommy Sep 18 at 10:04 am Reply Reply

    Hi! A friend of mine did this as well and she said it worked wonders. Question when you mention to put your baby asleep 2 hours after they wake is that after their mid night time feeding. IE- my son started to wake at 3 or 4 am for a feeding but will then sleep for 3 hours after that. So if he is getting up at 6am start from that point right? Also he’ll be goin to daycare and well need to leave the house at 530am do you suggest setting the schedule around that? I go back to work in 6 weeks and would really love to get him in a schedule I’m losing my mind bc I am a schedule type a freak!

    Thanks!

    Severely tired mommy :(

    • Isabel Kallman
      Isabel Kallman Sep 18 at 12:42 pm Reply Reply

      Yes, it’s after the start-of-the-day wake-up time, not the mid-nighttime feeding. You don’t mention the age of your baby, but we don’t discuss baby sleep routines for babies under 3 months or so.

  27. Heidi Apr 11 at 11:30 am Reply Reply

    Would this work for an almost 5-month old? I’ve been trying for WEEKS now to get him on some sort of nap schedule but all he does is take 40 minute naps – about 5 a day – and it’s EXHAUSTING! I feel like I spend all day feeding and trying to put him to sleep. I just don’t think he can stay awake for 3, let alone 4 hours at a stretch and all the ‘experts’ say no longer than 2 hours at a time, which is what I’ve been doing, but it’s not working! I don’t know if I’m just reading his cues wrong or if I’m trying to put him down for a nap too early, but I’m at my wits end – HELP!

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