(While setting up this site in September 2020 I went looking for articles to add to it from my scattered archives. This is one that I came across that might be of interest to some, slightly edited for clarity and formatting.)

When our first child was due we looked at other people’s experience of being parents and noticed that one of the biggest problems they had was sleep, both for the baby and for the parents. Their babies seemed to keep them awake all night. Yet babies need a lot more sleep than adults so it ought to be possible to get a good night’s sleep.

On closer observation the problem seemed to be that the babies were sleeping too much in the day and therefore not tired at night. This was often exacerbated by the parents’ perception that the babies weren’t sleeping so when they did fall asleep, at any time, they were treated with kid gloves and allowed to sleep as long as they wanted.

The obvious solution seemed to be to keep the baby awake during the day so it would sleep at night. However a baby can easily become over-tired and then impossible to deal with. So the question arose: how much sleep does a baby need? If you could manage a baby’s sleep during the day so that it got just enough, just often enough, then it should sleep well at night.

After looking around a bit we came across a book called The Contented Little Baby Book by Gina Ford. This book advocates a draconian regime in which a baby’s life is timetabled minute by minute with a precision that we didn’t think we would be able to keep to even if we wanted to. However, this regime obviously suggests the amount sleep, and frequency of sleep periods, that a baby needs. The suggested sleep pattern is summarised in the table below (lifted from the book and created by a hacked-up perl script; hopefully it will look OK in your browser):

91011121234567 Total
 hours sleep 
 0-1                                                                                                   15.5-16 
 1-2                                                                                                   15 
 2-3                                                                                                   14.5 
 3-4                                                                                                   14.5 
 4-6                                                                                                   15 
 6-9                                                                                                   14.5-15 
 9-12                                                                                                   14.5-15 

Each row is for a different age range (in months) over the first year of the baby’s life. The row shows when the baby sleeps during the day, starting at 7am (lighter, green sections are sleep periods). The last column shows the total number of hours sleep per day recommended for the age range. You can see that the regime is based on a 7am-7pm timetable and, most importantly, you get a full night’s sleep (except during the first couple of months when an extra nighttime feed is required). The wake periods shown during the night up to 4 months are for those nighttime feeds and if you do it right, the baby doesn’t really wake then.

We used this routine (roughly) for both our children and found it very effective - certainly we rarely had our sleep disturbed.

Merlyn Kline