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Baby Sleep Questions Answered

Making a Sleep Schedule Course Correction (in Quarantine)

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I’m not sure if you’re still answering questions? I’ve read up on the 2,3,4 sleep schedule and found it very interesting and very similar to what my daughter’s daycare would do.

Since being home because of the pandemic, I’m positive I messed up my daughter’s sleep schedule. She is 9 months. She used to sleep from 7pm to 7am. Now she’s been waking at 5 AM. We don’t get her until 6:30 or 7 from her room. She is completely content thank goodness, but when we finally do get her she is so tired and just looks tired for the rest of the day. I can only assume she’s going through a sleep debt.

So my question to you is, if she is waking at 5 AM when do I start the 2-hour wake window? From 5 AM or from 6:3/7 when we get her out of bed? I just feel like if I start it from 7 AM, which means I put her down at 9 AM for her first nap she is over tired and then messes up the entire day. Leaving us right back to 5 AM waking. I hope this email finds you.

Thank you so much,

(First of all, yes! Yes, I am still answering questions! The publishing schedule is a bit more staggered than it used to be because some weeks I just don’t get ENOUGH questions! So please, ask away.)

Yes, you should start the two-hour clock on her actual waking time.

It’s great that she’ll stay content in her crib for 1.5 to 2 hours, but if you want to get her back on the more reasonable 7 – 7 schedule (and out of her current sleep debt and overtired cycle), here’s what I do for a few days:

1. Get her up and out of the crib at 5am.
2. Feed her and set her up for some playtime.
3. First nap comes early — you can try around 7, maybe 8 at the latest. (Watch for those signs of sleepiness and let those guide you as much as the clock.)

The 2-3-4 sleep schedule is a guide and you can work around its structure

I should note here that the 2-3-4 sleep schedule doesn’t have to be completely ironclad — it can vary by 30 or 60 minutes in either direction, depending on your baby’s age and personal sleep needs. Some babies take longer to transition from three naps to two, for example, so there might be an extra catnap somewhere between the second nap and bedtime. A baby who is still waking multiple times at night might need more daytime sleep than a baby who consistently gets a full 12 hours at night. I just find 2-3-4 sleep schedule to be a great starting point for when you’re like, I have no idea when naps and bedtime should even be actually happening so please HELP MEEEEE.

(And like you, I didn’t discover its structural magic until I realized my son was napping beautifully at daycare but FALLING APART in my care on the weekends!)

Specific sleep recommendations for your daughter: 

1. Get her up at her wake time. Even without any physical activity or stimulation, your daughter is already overtired and borderline nap-ready when you get her out of bed in the morning at 6:30/7am. So by getting her out of bed at her actual wake time (currently 5am) and making sure she’s REALLY ready for a nap at the two-hour mark, I think you’ll be better able to break the early-waking and exhausted-all-day cycle.

2. That first nap should hopefully be about an hour, maybe a little longer as she gets caught up on her sleep. Start the three-hour clock whenever she wakes up. So if she went back down at 7/7:30 and wakes up at say, 8:30/9, you want to start watching for those sleepy signals and aiming for another nap about 11:30/12.

3. Typically, bedtime on the 2-3-4 sleep schedule is exactly 12 hours after wake-up time. Which in your case, would be around 5 p.m. Which I know sounds super annoyingly early! That’s right when you’re done with work and able to spend time together! Get bent, 2-3-4 sleep schedule!

But ho! Here’s the secret! It’s easier to shift a baby’s bedtime (and thus their expected wake time) when said baby is NOT overtired and is getting the right number of naps at the right times during the day. Sleep begets sleep, which is a phrase I know we’ve all wanted to pelt tomatoes at, but is annoyingly, actually pretty true. An overtired baby is more prone to overly short naps, extra night wakings, and a super early morning wake time. A well-rested baby who consistently hits the crib mattress in that drowsy-but-awake sweet spot will be the baby of your own personal sleep dreams.

4. See what happens after a few days of starting the nap clock at her actual wake up time. See if her daytime naps get a little longer, and if she stops looking and acting so tired during her scheduled chunks of awake time. See if that 5 p.m. “bedtime” slowly morphs into more of an early-evening catnap (go ahead and encourage this, if you want — if she wakes up or seems restless after 20/30 minutes, don’t feel like you necessarily have to get her back to sleep), and then her actual bedtime becomes more like 7 or 8 p.m. IF those things happen, that 5 a.m. waking should become a thing of the past, and you’ll see a return of her former, more reasonable schedule.

One last thing, which just occurred to me: When you took your daughter to and fro from daycare (back in the pre-quarantine Days of Olde) was she prone to taking a little catnap in her carseat or stroller during your commute? If so, THAT might be your missing sleep link. Awake at 7, then dozing off around…8:30? Or something? Just enough to take that edge off so her daycare had a little window before her first “real” morning nap? Then maybe a second mini-snooze around…5/5:30pm? Or so? Just enough to give YOU a little window at home before bedtime at 7?

I don’t know how useful that little lightbulb moment is (or if it even applies at all, if she didn’t fall asleep at those times), but it might help you to understand WHERE her current sleep deficit started from…and that it wasn’t your fault or anything you “messed up!”

More on the 2-3-4 Sleep Schedule:

1. The 2-3-4 Sleep Routine
2. Night Sleeper, Day Sleeper
3. Newborn Sleep Habits: What Should You Worry About & When?

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


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 Ama...

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 [email protected].

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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