How to Implement an Eat Play Sleep Schedule for Your Baby

Last Updated: 
February 13, 2024
 | 
8
 minutes read
Written by
Amanda Kule
Parent Contributor
Medically reviewed by
Arik Alper, MD
Pediatric Gastroenterologist and Aerodigestive Specialist

Bringing a new baby into the world is an exciting and special time, but it also comes with its fair share of challenges. One of the most significant challenges for a newborn parent is figuring out a routine, especially when newborns don’t yet know the difference between day and night!

This is why some pediatricians, sleep consultants, and feeding specialists may recommend the daytime Eat Play Sleep schedule for the first few months of life. Read on for more about what is an Eat Play Sleep Schedule, the benefits you make experience, and how to implement it successfully.

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What is an Eat Play Sleep Schedule?

The Eat Play Sleep schedule is designed to help parents create a structured daytime routine for their new babies. It also helps babies develop healthy sleep habits, such as not associating feeding with sleep. By separating feeding from sleep, your baby will learn to not rely on being fed to fall asleep or fall back asleep – this will make nighttime easier as they get older.

The concept of Eat Play Sleep is simple: when your baby wakes in the morning or from the nap, you feed them, then play with them, and at the end of their wake window, put them down for a nap. When they wake, you feed them, then play, and then it’s time to nap again! You continue this cycle until bedtime.

By following this pattern, parents can start to establish a predictable daily routine, which can help build healthy sleep habits in their baby and make their day easier to plan around.

How an Eat Play Sleep Schedule Works and What to Do

The Eat Play Sleep schedule is a simple concept. Here how Eat Play Sleep schedule typically works and ideas for what to do during an Eat Play Sleep schedule:

Eat: This is the starting point of the schedule. When your baby wakes up from a nap or overnight sleep, it's time for a feeding session.

  • Whether you're breastfeeding, bottle feeding, or using formula, offer your baby a meal to satisfy their hunger. The amount your baby needs per feed is unique for them, but their age is a general guide.

Play: After the feeding, it's time for playtime. Engage with your baby in various activities that stimulate their senses and promote development. This can include:

  • Tummy time to strengthen neck and upper body muscles.
  • Sensory play with age-appropriate toys or materials.
  • Talking, singing, or reading to your baby to encourage language development.
  • Gentle physical activities like rocking, swinging, or cuddling.
  • Younger babies may have shorter play sessions, while older ones can engage in play for more extended periods.
  • Diaper changes – many experts suggest you change your baby’s diaper as part of playtime, if possible, as it can stimulate your baby. Of course, you know your baby best, so if it’s a super dirty diaper, use your best judgement.

Sleep: Pay close attention to your baby's sleepy cues, such as rubbing their eyes, yawning, or becoming fussy. When you notice these signs, it's time for a nap.

  • Place your baby in their crib or bassinet drowsy but awake and follow recommended safe sleep guidelines.
  • Make sure the room is dark and a comfortable room temperature. You can use white noise or soft lullabies to create a soothing environment.
  • Newborns often preferred to be held or rocked to sleep, which is developmentally appropriate and okay – just transfer them safely to their crib after.
  • If your baby is a little older, you can try to have them fall asleep on their own in their sleep space, without being rocked or held.
  • If your baby is older than 4 months and sleep training, follow whatever method you’ve chosen for supporting them to fall asleep independently.

An example Eat Play Sleep schedule for a 2 month old with 4 naps:

Wakeup, Feeding and Play 

7:00-8:15 AM

Nap 1 

8:15-9:30 AM

Feeding and Play 

9:30-11:00 AM

Nap 2 

11:00 AM-12:30 PM

Feeding and Play 

1230-215 PM

Nap 3 

2:15-3:45 PM

Feeding and Play 

3:45-5:30 PM

Nap 4 

5:30-6:00 PM

Feeding and Play 

6:00-7:30 PM

Bedtime Routine 

7:30 PM

"Good night!" 

8:00 PM

To figure out the perfect daytime and sleep schedule for your unique baby, download the Smart Sleep Coach by PampersTM app. The app's Smart Schedule creates the optimal sleep schedule for your baby to align with their circadian rhythm. This helps you figure out when they should sleep, how long they should sleep, and around when they should wake up.

Find your baby’s suggested sleep schedule by age.

When to Start an Eat Play Sleep Schedule

The concept of then Eat Play Sleep schedule can be started immediately! Feeding your baby then playing with your baby after they wake up in the morning and after each nap helps them learn the differences between day and night.

When your baby is around 3 months old they will likely be able to follow a more predictable schedule and routine. This is because this is the time your baby’s circadian rhythm starts to mature – and they can biologically understand the difference between day and night.

As your baby ages, their sleep schedule and wake windows will continue to change. This is because their sleep needs change. They’ll start to sleep more at night and stay awake for longer periods during the day. You can continue to fill their wake windows with feeds and more playtime – the Eat Play Sleep schedule adjusts with them!

Tips for the Eat Play Sleep Schedule

Here are tips for successfully implementing the Eat Play Sleep schedule:

  • Keep consistent: Babies thrive on routine! Try to maintain a consistent Eat Play Sleep schedule each day to help your baby adapt to the routine and get used to daytime being a time for play, and nighttime being a time for rest. Even if the times are different every day, keeping the same order of Eat Play Sleep will do wonders.
  • Adjust as your baby gets older: The duration of your baby’s awake time, or wake windows, and the number of naps they take change as they get older. Therefore, each phase of the Eat Play Sleep schedule (eating, playing, sleeping) will change as the months go on.
  • Be flexible! While the Eat Play Sleep schedule provides structure, be prepared to adapt it to your baby's changing needs and developmental milestones.
  • Keep nighttime quiet and calm: One goal of Eat Sleep Play is to get your baby used to a daytime routine and learn the differences between day and night. If your baby wakes at night to feed, respond to their needs but keep the lights low and speak soft and calm. You want to keep reinforcing that night is for sleep and not accidentally stimulate them or rile them up.

Pros and Cons of an Eat Play Sleep Schedule

Pros of an Eat Play Sleep Schedule

  • The benefits of a predictable routine: A predictable daily routine can be comforting and reassuring for your baby, and for all children in general. It helps them feel secure and understand what to expect, which can reduce anxiety and promote a sense of stability. Not to mention knowing when you have a little time to yourself during the day is good for you, too.
  • Growth and development: Adequate sleep, proper nutrition, and regular playtime contribute to the healthy growth and physical, cognitive, and emotional development of your baby.
  • Healthy sleep habits: Eat Play Sleep helps your baby learn to fall asleep without relying on feeding, which will make future nighttime sleep, and sleep training if you choose, much easier to achieve. For more support in proactively building healthy sleep habits in your baby, download the Smart Sleep Coach by PampersTM app which can step-by-step walk you through everything you need to do to raise a strong sleeper.
  • Longer sleep stretches: Eat Play Sleep is a great way to teach your baby the differences between day and night. Plus, structured routines are known to help babies sleep better at night! Keep in mind, oftentimes babies need to be fed during the night until closer to 9 months of age, or older.

Cons of an Eat Play Sleep Schedule

  • May not work at the beginning: Eat Play Sleep may not be the best for the first couple weeks after birth, since often newborns don’t do anything but eat and sleep! They also get super sleepy during feeding, so parents may not be able to sneak much playtime in there.
  • Lack of flexibility: A strict Eat Play Sleep routine may become rigid and inflexible for both parents and babies. This can be challenging and stressful for you – especially if it’s not always aligned with the child's natural rhythms or needs. Infants and young children's needs can change super quickly and adhering too strictly to a routine can sometimes make it difficult to adapt to these changes. It may lead to frustration for both the child and the caregiver. The Smart Sleep Coach app’s Sleep Schedule is all about flexibility and will adjust if your baby’s naps don’t go as planned – download it to try it for free.
  • Overstimulation: While play is crucial, excessive stimulation, especially before bedtime, can disrupt night sleep patterns. It's important to strike a balance between active play and relaxation, especially as the day progresses.
  • Excessive pressure: Parents and caregivers may feel pressured to adhere to a strict routine, which can lead to stress and anxiety. It's important to remember that every child is different, and flexibility is key to meeting their individual needs.

The Eat Sleep Play schedule has both advantages and disadvantages. It’s easy to implement, so worth a try if you’re looking for a way to establish routine in your little one. It’s all about finding what works best for your unique baby, so don’t stress if Eat Play Sleep isn’t for you!

Eat Play Sleep Schedule by Age

Your baby’s schedule changes frequently during their first few months, even years. Between changing sleep needs and developmental changes, it often feels like every day is a surprise. However, establishing a consistent schedule, even if the times shift each day, is helpful for both you and your baby.

Here is a breakdown of how many naps your baby may take by age and how long your baby’s wake windows are by age, along with a link to a. general sleep schedules by age.

Age

Naps per day

Wake windows

Newborn

4-5 naps+

10 minutes - 2 hours  

While newborns can stay awake for certain periods of time, those periods are so sporadic and shift day-to-day and hour-to-hour, that we can’t say there’s a newborn wake window.  

1 month

4-5 naps+

45 minutes - 1 hour 15 minutes 

Some 1-month wake windows are as short as 10 mins. Remember to take cues from your baby, rather than the clock. 

 

2 months

4-5 naps+

45 minutes - 1 hour 45 minutes 

3 months

4 naps

1 hour 15 minutes – 2 hours 

4 months

4 naps

1.5 - 2 hours 

5 months

3 naps

1.5 - 3 hours  

Depends on nap schedule 

6 months

3 naps

2 - 3 hours 

7 months

3 naps

2 hours 15 minutes – 3.5 hours 

8 months

3 naps

2 hours 45 minutes – 3 hours 

9 months

2 naps

2 hours 45 minutes – 3.5 hours 

10 months 

1-2 naps

3 – 4 hours 

11 months

1-2 naps

3 – 4 hours 

12 months

1 nap

3 hours 15 minutes – 4 hours 

The Bottom Line

Once of the biggest parts of building healthy sleep habits in your baby is consistency and eliminating sleep associations. The Eat Sleep Play schedule is designed to give your baby a predictable and consistent schedule and teach them not to rely on food to fall asleep. This can help make it easier for them to sleep longer stretches at night, and for you to sleep train them, if necessary.

Keep in mind that every baby is unique, and what works best for one may not work for another. It's essential to observe your baby's cues, be flexible, and adjust the schedule as needed to ensure their well-being and development. If you’re curious about other approaches to building healthy sleep, try the Smart Sleep Coach app for free. Developed by pediatricians and baby sleep experts, it’s proven to help your baby become a strong, independent sleeper – and ensure parents get your beauty rest, too.

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FAQs:

The Eat Play Sleep schedule is a daytime routine for your baby. It’s simple – when your baby wakes, you first feed them then you play with them during their awake time. When they wake up after their next nap, you begin the cycle again until the end of the day. The goal is to separate feeding from sleep, so your baby will develop healthy sleep habits and not rely on external factors such as eating to fall asleep.

Your baby should eat right after they wake from their sleep in the Eat Play Sleep schedule. This is to separate feeding and the next sleep as much as possible.

Sleep schedules will change often as your baby grows and their sleep needs change. It often continues to change all through toddler hood and childhood, too! For example, naps change as your baby gets older and can stay awake for longer stretches at a time. The Smart Sleep Coach app can help you create a developmentally appropriate sleep schedule for your baby that adjusts as they age and their sleep changes.

Your baby should feed when they wake up from their nap. This is to create enough time before their next sleep. By separating feeding from sleep, your baby will not develop a sleep association where they rely on eating to fall asleep. This is helpful for when they are developmentally able to sleep through the night.

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How We Wrote This Article

The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

Sources

“How Sleep Works: Your Sleep/Wake Cycle,” National Institutes of Health.

“Development of the circadian system in early life: maternal and environmental factors,” Journal of Physiological Anthropology.

“Sleep and sleep ecology in the first 3 years,” Journal of Sleep Research.

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