Schedule versus Wake Time

I often get asked by families when is it appropriate to have a set schedule (also referred to “By the clock” or BTC). There are so many factors to consider. It is very hard to state “by age ___ you should have a set schedule”.

What are the factors to consider when deciding if a set schedule is for your family?

  1. How flexible are you?
  2. How much sleep does your child require?
  3. Your child’s temperament.
  4. Your temperament.
Is a set schedule what you really need?

Before I answer this question let’s discuss the difference between a set schedule (“by the clock”) and a routine. A schedule incorporates specific activities set at a reoccurring time. A routine is a set of activities that occur in the same order.

Once you have a routine in place you will figure out roughly when sleep times happen and you can plan accordingly. Some days you may have to reschedule events or plan to have a nap on the go. A nap on the go on occasion is not the end of the world. It may feel like the end of the world if you are very “Type A”.

Now to answer the question, “Is a set schedule what you really need?”. Usually, the answer to this question is “No”. You need to have a routine in place so you know what to expect during the day. Your child will thank you! When your child has a routine in place they figure out at an early age what happens next and they will start to prepare for it. When your child moves to 2 naps you will start to feel like your day is getting more predictable. When your child moves to one nap you will feel a bit like you have achieved a set schedule. It is important to be a bit flexible even at this age.

Is there ever a time that a set schedule works best?

The short answer is yes but I personally believe it is rare. I feel that wake times are more beneficial. A set schedule is best when your child is not responding well to wake times. It may feel like you are constantly misreading your child’s sleep cues. I would then try a set schedule.

Pros and Cons of a Set Schedule
Pro Con
 Predictable Not very flexible
Can easily plan activities around sleep times Child gets overtired or is not ready for sleep at set time
Pros and Cons of Using Wake Times
Pro Con
 Flexible Difficult to make plans
Child is well rested You can feel like your life revolves around your child’s sleep
Conclusion

My preference is to use wake times. As our son has aged, I still look at what time he woke up and how much time he can tolerate being awake. He will be 6 years old in September. Just because I prefer using wake time does not mean it is not best for you. I would recommend starting with wakes times and then switch to set times if it is not going well. I would wait until your child has dropped down to at least 2 naps if possible. Whatever you choose, do so wisely and stay consistent.

Please feel free to comment on this post if you have any questions.