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The 2-3-4 Sleep Routine

By Amalah

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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 schedule 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.

Photo by treehouse1977

Read more about the 2-3-4 Sleep Schedule here.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

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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Karen
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Karen

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!

Cobblestone
Guest
Cobblestone

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.

Molly Chase
Guest
Molly Chase

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.

annemarie
Guest
annemarie

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

GMom
Guest
GMom

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!!

Della
Guest

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?

Heather
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Heather

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.

liberrian
Guest
liberrian

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?

Brynn
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Brynn

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.

Olivia
Guest
Olivia

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.

Bitts
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Bitts

@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… Read more »

Christine
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Christine

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… Read more »

Alissa
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Alissa

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… Read more »

Kate
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Kate

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).

TwinMamaTeb
Guest
TwinMamaTeb

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… Read more »

Kate
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Kate

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… Read more »

Lisa M
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Lisa M

@ 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… Read more »

Lisa M
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Lisa M

Oops…that was supposed to be @ liberrian.

Olivia
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Olivia

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.

angie
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angie

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… Read more »

Sarah
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Sarah

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.

Katie
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Katie

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… Read more »

stacy
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stacy

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… Read more »

Jaymee
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Jaymee

@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… Read more »

kathy
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kathy

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

Tired mommy
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Tired mommy

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… Read more »

Isabel Kallman
Admin

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.

Heidi
Guest
Heidi

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… Read more »

ashley
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ashley

My son slept through the night from 2 mon til 4 mon. Then it stopped. Since then he gets up on average 2x a night. Some nights are worse and it is every 1 /12 hr to 2 hrs. He breastfeeds every time for 10-15 minutes so I assume he is hungry. Is there anything I can do to get him to sleep better through the night. I would be happy with 1 night feeding. He has set his own daytime schedule and rarely deviates from it: 5:30-6am: wakes, nurses ~15min 6:30: 40min commute to daycare (usually cat naps, but… Read more »

ashley
Guest
ashley

by the way he is almost 6 months old

Allison smith
Guest
Allison smith

Think I will try and implement this 234 schedule. My daughter *was* a pretty good sleeper but lately everything has been off the rails so something needs to change. A question for those who follow this routine: what do you do if you’re out and your baby falls asleep in the car for a short while? Still go by time from last “true” Nap or reset the clock to be from when they woke from the car nap?

Clare
Guest
Clare

My d is. 5 months n wakes at 6/7amfor feed but goes back down til bout 9.30/10 do I just start it from the 9.30/10

Lisa
Guest
Lisa

My 5 month old son will not sleep in his crib for naps, even when he is clearly exhausted. He sleeps like a nap champ when he’s in the swing, and he has no problem crib sleeping at night. Should I swing him to get on the schedule then try to wean the swing? Or try to wean the swing then try to get on schedule? HELP! I live for schedules and it’s driving me bananas!

Isabel Kallman
Admin

I’m very sorry but for a variety of reasons, Amalah doesn’t respond to new questions submitted in the comments section of posts. If you have a specific question, please submit for consideration directly to Amalah at amyadvice[at]gmail[dot]com. In the meantime, we will leave the question up in case our fantastic community sees this and decides to answer, but this is an older post and I am not sure people are actively reading anymore.

Anda Turturean
Guest
Anda Turturean

I ve read that by 6 months you shouldnt keep your baby awake more then 2 hours. so if she wakes up at 3pm from the afternoon nap for example should i keep her up these 4 hours even if i see cues of tiredness? if she cats nap in these 4 hours do i count 4 hours since she woke up from the catnap? Any answer would be much appreciated. My daughter is 4 and a half months old. I started sleep training her 1 month ago since she was only sleeping at the breast and it was exhaustinng… Read more »

Sarah-jane Wile
Guest
Sarah-jane Wile

My six month old is tiered afterr an hour and a half he takes 4/5 naps its only supposed to be 2 but its kinda working atm couldnt imagine keeping him awake 3/4 hrs since we cnt even make 2 hrs without a grouchy screaming baby

Brittany
Guest
Brittany

Hi Sarah-Jane, I feel the same way. If my 4 month old is awake longer than 1.5 hrs he gets FRANTIC and then all bets are off. I’m so confused how this 2-3-4 schedule could work!

Brittany
Guest
Brittany

Hi Heidi, I know you posted this 3 years ago, but I’m just reading this now and am in the EXACT same situation with my 4 month old. What ended up working for you?