The 2,3,4 Schedule

Who's read about the 2,3,4 schedule for napping? Read on to find out what my thoughts are on whether this type of schedule can work for your baby.

What is the 2,3,4 schedule?

The 2,3,4 schedule for napping is pretty simple - two hours after your baby wakes for the day, you put them down for their first nap.  Three hours after that nap ends, you put them down for their second nap. Then 4 hours after that 2nd nap ends, you'd put them down for bed. Pretty simple right? Seems like a dream!? Read on :)

Who is the 2,3,4 schedule recommend for?

The 2,3,4 schedule is often recommended for babies 6 months and up.  Some experts recommend it if your baby is napping for a total of 3 hours/day. Other sources recommend that solids are introduced before beginning this nap schedule (not sure what solids has to do with it but hey!)

Hey Pam, what do you think about this schedule?

I'm glad you asked! I personally am not a big fan of the 2,3,4 nap schedule. I'm sure it can work beautifully for some babies (I would think very easy-type babies that are naturally good sleepers and aren't very sensitive to sleep could do okay on this schedule). But for a vast majority of babies that have trouble sleeping (meaning most of the families I work with or families that would be seeking out sleep advice right now!) it can often spell more trouble.  And here's why:

1) Most babies are not ready for 2 naps at 6 months of age

I personally recommend trying to hold off the transition to 2 naps until baby is closer to the 8 month (adjusted) mark.  Reason-being that a 6 month old (unless it's a baby who has consistently always taken very long naps or consistently always slept through the night) will have a very hard time coping with the longer awake times needed to sustain 2 naps. On a 3 nap schedule, baby is generally awake about 1.75-2.5 hours during the day. This is a good number. Once we jump up to 2 naps, baby needs to be awake more like 3-3.5 hours (or even 4 hours if we are attempting a 2,3,4 schedule!) This is a huge jump and many babies will not be able to cope with these long awake times without becoming overtired (which can then lead to short naps, nightwakings, bedtime battles, early wake-ups, etc.)

2) There is a shortage of awake time in the day

If you add up 2 + 3 + 4, that = 9 hours. So on a 2,3,4 schedule, we are aiming for baby to be awake for a total of 9 hours in a 24 hour period. If we take that 9 hours and add the 3 hours of naps we are aiming for with this schedule, that gives us 12 hours. Let's take a 7 month old for example who requires 14 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period. With those 9 hours of awake time + 3 hours in naps (12 hours) that leaves us with 12 hours remaining. That means we would need that baby to sleep for 12 hours every single night in order for them to not start waking earlier than they already are. With this schedule, what can slowly happen is the wake-up time creeps earlier....and earlier....and earlier. Until we're stuck with an early wake-up and no way to get out of it. Here's a visual to help you to process this:

700am - baby wakes up for the day
900am-1030am - 1st nap of the day (great nap baby!)
130pm-300pm - 2nd nap of the day (there's our 3 hours!)
700pm - bedtime

Now this baby needs to sleep for 12 hours that night to make it back to 7am, but baby has already had 3 hours in naps so they only have about 11 hours left in their 'sleep bank' to get them their 14 hours. So baby wakes up at 630am (because baby had 1 feed, so we exclude time awake for that):

630am - baby wakes up, ready to take on the day
830am-1000am - 1st nap of the day
100pm-230pm - 2nd nap of the day
630pm - bedtime (uh oh...we are getting earlier. Now we are expecting baby to sleep 12.5 hours to get us back to 700am, but with those 3 hours in naps, baby still only needs about 11 hours of sleep so chances are, they will now wake at 600am. And the next day 530am.....and so on).

Do you see what I mean!? The lack of daytime awake time can shift the schedule earlier and earlier. At 7 months of age, I would be recommending more like 9.5-10 hours of awake time in the day (and a 3 nap schedule, like the one outlined here) to ensure baby doesn't start waking at the crack of dawn.

3) 2 and 3 hours is too short, 4 hours is too long

For a 6-7 month old baby, a 2 hour interval before the first nap is spot-on. This is exactly what I would recommend. But at 10, 11, or 12 months of age, for many babies (especially those sleeping well at night) this is much too short. We might start to see baby taking a long time to fall asleep or refusing that first nap entirely! Then we're really pooched. 
For a 6-7 month old baby, a 3 hour interval before the 2nd nap is a bit long, but not terrible. At 8/9 months of age, this may still be appropriate, but at 10,11, or 12 months of age, this is often too short. And yet again, what we'd likely see, is short naps or refusals.
For a 6-7 month old baby, a 4 hour interval before bed is WAY too long. Heck, this is even too long for an 8,9, and probably even 10-11 month old baby! Again, some easy-type babies or naturally good sleepers may still sleep well at night with this long awake time, but for the majority, baby will start to become overtired and bedtime battles, nightwakings, sleep-cries, and early wake-ups will ensue (see my blog post here on more appropriate timing for bed). The timing of bed is the most sensitive time of the day and the most important for us to really nail. It's the time we want to mess around with the least.  

In summary...

If a 2,3,4 schedule is working for your family - GREAT! Do not change a darn thing. As I always say, if it ain't broke - don't fix it! But if you're attempting this schedule and it's just not working for you, consider the above reasons to be why. A more flexible and age-appropriate schedule is what I would recommend. I suspect a lot of experts recommend this schedule because it's 'easy'. It's easy to just say 2,3,4 and be done with it! But this definitely does not work for everyone and many babies are more sensitive to those extra few hours in the day - and that's okay :) 


Pam Edwards is a Certified Infant & Child Sleep Consultant and founder of Wee Bee Dreaming Pediatric Sleep Consulting in Grande Prairie, Alberta. Healthy sleep is addicting and she has made it her life mission to help families all across the world get the sleep they deserve - a good night's sleep doesn't have to be a dream!

GUEST POST: Rob Lindeman on How to do Bedtime Fading

This guest post is brought to you by Rob Lindeman of Sleep, Baby! He is a sleep coach, entrepreneur, and writer living in Massachusetts. He blogs at http://www.essentiallyhealthychild.com.

 

How to Do Bedtime Fading: Best Sleep Training Method?

The so-called “cry it out” techniques for sleep training are getting a lot of attention. Meanwhile, there is another method that gets very little press, but which is highly effective. It’s called “bedtime fading”.

What is Bedtime Fading?

Bedtime fading is a method for teaching a child to fall asleep that is based on a simple principle: a child who is not tired will not go to sleep!

Babies and children are famous for “fighting” bedtime. Parents tell me that their child “fights” sleep. Or they tell me the child fights the parents at bedtime. The truth is that the child is fighting neither sleep nor the parents. She is fighting the time. She isn’t ready to sleep yet. Forcing the baby to bed earlier than she wants to is a recipe for conflict. Worse, the baby may develop negative associations surrounding sleep. This is never a good thing.

The Three Key Features of Bedtime Fading

One key feature of bedtime fading is finding the child’s “natural” time of sleep. This is presumably later than the perplexed parents want, but it’s what the baby wants. There are a couple of ways of finding out what the natural time of sleep is. See “The Bedtime Fading Technique” below.

Another key feature is “sleep onset latency“. This is nothing more than the amount of time it takes a person to fall asleep after getting into bed (or the crib in this case). Sleep experts agree that it’s never a good idea to have a long sleep onset latency, with a limit at about 20 minutes. Anything longer than that suggests the individual will not or cannot sleep. Ideally, you want the child to be falling asleep within 10 minutes. Less than 5 minutes, though okay, suggests that the child has a “severe sleep debt”. This is another way of saying “she’s totally exhausted”.

The third feature are good sleep associations. We want the child to associate going to sleep with calm and quiet. We want her to feel comfortable and safe. This step is essential to teaching the child to self-soothe, and to wind herself down to sleep on her own, without assistance from caregivers.

How to Do Bedtime Fading

Step One

The first step is to determine the baby’s natural sleep time. There are at least two ways to figure this out. The first is to keep a sleep diary. Parents or caregivers write down the times the child falls asleep every day. They should do this for every nap as well. Doing so provides useful information for them and for the sleep coach. The last time she falls asleep is probably the time she is “set” to fall asleep.

A second method for determining baby’s sleep time is called the “response cost” method.

[A Digression: The official name of this method is called “bedtime fading with response cost”. I never liked this expression. It’s high-tech expression for a truly low-tech idea.]

It works like this: you put the baby to bed at the time you want (the desired bedtime). If the child doesn’t fall asleep within 15 minutes, you remove the child from the crib or bed and allow her to play (quietly) and otherwise stay awake for 30-60 minutes. This is the “response cost” to the child. Then you try again. If the child still won’t fall asleep within 15 minutes, you repeat the procedure. You do this until the child falls asleep rapidly. Now you’ve found the child’s natural bed time.

Step Two

For at least two days, you treat this later bedtime like the normal bedtime. This means establishing a steady, consistent bedtime ritual.  You want to aim for any activity that promotes calm and quiet.  I recommend starting the routine at dinner time, no matter how late. From then on the routine is completely predictable. It’s usually a mix of these activities: a warm bath, brushing teeth (if she has teeth), book reading, lullabies, prayer, etc.

Step Three

From here, you gradually fade bedtime earlier to your desired bedtime (hence “bedtime fading”). Experts differ as to the number of minutes to fade and the number of days to stay at each bedtime. Some recommend fading 30 minutes earlier every night until hitting the target. Others recommend moving in 15 minute increments. This is my preference. Half an hour is too big a jump for some children. I also recommend two days for each bedtime. This means the entire bedtime fading technique may require two weeks or more to complete. It is well worth the effort.

Setbacks can happen. Sometimes the child will revert to her previous “natural bedtime”. If so, I recommend repeating the fading technique, but this time taking it more slowly. Perhaps spend three days at each time point.

Other children might fall asleep well as a result of a successful bedtime fading campaign but will continue to wake up frequently at night. In this case, many experts recommend using an extinction method (since we don’t want to call it by its more infamous name. Okay, okay: cry it out.)

This is Great! How Come I’ve Never Heard of It?

Good question. Here’s a baseball analogy: Say your team has a power hitter batting in the clean-up spot (fourth in the order). He’s having a monster year. By the end of April he already has 12 home runs. People are already starting to compare him to Barry Bonds or even Babe Ruth. Camera crews follow him to every ballpark. He’s all they talk about during the sports segment on the evening news. Meanwhile, the guy hitting in front of him (the number three hitter) is quietly having a career year. He’s in the top 5 in just about every offensive statistical category. Why? Because pitchers don’t want to face the monster following him. So they throw strikes to the number three hitter, trying to get him out. And instead of getting him out, he’s getting hits. But no one pays attention because the monster sucks up all the headlines.

That’s kind of like what’s happened to bedtime fading. Extinction methods are like the home run hitter hitting clean-up. Bedtime fading is like the number three guy racking up all the amazing numbers that no one notices. Bedtime fading is an amazingly successful technique that is based on all the principles we know are essential for good sleep: a tired child, consistency, routine, and good sleep associations.

 


Pam Edwards is a Certified Infant & Child Sleep Consultant and founder of Wee Bee Dreaming Pediatric Sleep Consulting in Grande Prairie, Alberta. Healthy sleep is addicting and she has made it her life mission to help families all across the world get the sleep they deserve - a good night's sleep doesn't have to be a dream!