If you are frustrated by naps, you are not alone! Naps are hard work! Most parents struggle with short naps or babies that simply won’t nap. Some of our best nap tips are here for you to embrace and use to help your little one get the proper daytime sleep he or she needs.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you are simply going to keep your child up all day so they sleep better at night. The exact opposite happens! Babies need adequate daytime sleep. Sleep equals sleep, so the better the daytime sleep, the better the night time sleep. For example, if they don’t sleep during the afternoon, you may find they are too tired to eat their evening meal. As they are so tired, you put them to bed early. However, if they wake in the early hours of the morning, it is difficult to know if it is from habit or hunger.
Suggestions to help your child to settle for a nap include:
- Make sure your child has plenty of fresh air and physical activity.
- Establish a routine so the child expects to have a nap at certain times.
- Give your child time to relax beforehand with gentle activities. Perhaps you could read them a story.
- Make sure they are comfortable, fed and wearing a fresh diaper.
- Provide your child with an opportunity to settle themselves. Then, if they are anxious without you, stay in the room for a few minutes.
- Even if they don’t nap, the rest is still beneficial.
- Put them in a darkened and quiet room.
Natural Sleep Rhythms 101
Most babies are physically capable of sleeping through the night from 4 months, although this varies considerably. Even newborn babies are familiar with the long, still and quiet night.
They have been listening to the sounds of the family through the wall of your uterus (womb) for about two months before they are born. Don’t worry about tiptoeing quietly around the house during the day, as your new baby is comforted by all those familiar family sounds.
Much like you, your baby’s sleep-wake cycle relates to his/her daily rhythm of feeding, body temperature and hormone release. All these things influence the natural biological cycle, or Circadian Rhythm, our bodies pass through every 24 hours. We fall asleep as our level of adrenal hormones and temperature drop, and then we come to wakefulness as our levels of hormone and body temperature rise.
It’s actually quite difficult to fall asleep when our body temperature and hormone levels are high, and equally difficult to wake up if they are low. This is why we get jet lag when we travel across time zones, and why shift workers have to train themselves to manage their unusual hours.
How many naps a day should my baby take?
As a newborn, your baby will sleep for two to four hours at a time, day and night. At this stage, you just need to go with the flow. You shouldn’t expect any sort of regimented napping pattern. Just let your baby sleep as much as he/she needs.
When your baby is 6 to 8 weeks old, you will find that sleep will start consolidating—they will sleep less often and for longer stretches at a time. Two to four naps a day, perhaps more, will become the norm.
At 3 to 4 months of age, many babies begin to follow a more predictable pattern of daytime sleep. This is a good time to start developing a nap schedule and be more regimented.
By 6 months, your baby will probably be taking two or three naps a day (hopefully each over an hour)—one in the morning, one in the early afternoon, and maybe another later in the afternoon.
At 9 to 12 months, most babies are down to two naps a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. This is where you can really count on a pretty consistent day and life becomes easier.
And, by 13 to 16 months, most children give up their morning nap altogether but continue to nap in the afternoon. They’ll continue with this schedule until they’re 3 or 4 years old.
These are typical patterns, but of course each baby is unique, so not all babies follow them.
How to start scheduling your baby’s naps
When your baby is 3 to 4 months old, you can work on developing a nap schedule that’s compatible with his/her natural sleep cycles.
Read the signs.
Pay attention to your baby’s sleep signals and watch the clock. Be aware and really take an interest in the signs.
- Does he begin to rub his eyes and get fussy midmorning or right after lunch?
- Does he often fall asleep in the car, in the early afternoon?
- Do you notice a difference in his alertness and overall mood when he sleeps for longer or shorter periods?
You might want to keep a record of your baby’s sleep signals (We love the Total Baby app) and naps for a week or two. This will help you see your baby’s patterns so you can anticipate naps.
For example, if your baby gets cranky and is ready to nap by 10 every morning, you can ease them into it before they get overtired. Start 10 to 15 minutes before you expect his sleep signals to show up—change, read a short story, snuggles and a song, turn down the lights, and keep your voice low. That way your baby is already on the road to sleep when that tired feeling overtakes him.
Stick to a schedule
Consistency is the goal: Try to schedule your baby’s naps for roughly the same time every day. Also keeping an eye on your child’s optimal awake time is key to timing a good nap.
Try to avoid activities that conflict with your baby’s nap schedule. If your Mom & Tot yoga class happens during naptime, for example, see if there’s one offered at a time when your little one tends to be more alert.
If your baby is in daycare during the week and has a regular nap schedule when he/she’s there, follow a similar schedule on the weekends when they are at home with you.
Don’t stress over interruptions
You won’t be able to arrange it so your entire household revolves around your baby’s nap schedule—especially if you have other children. Life events will interrupt your schedule, and if naps are skipped or delayed from time to time, it isn’t a disaster. Do the best you can to honor your child’s sleep and life will be easier. If you have a regular structure that you can rely on, it’ll be easier to get back on track after the inevitable disruptions that may come up. Figuring out the best nap schedule for your baby will take some trial and error, and it will change as your child grows and reaches new developmental milestones. You’ll need to assess your baby’s sleep needs and habits regularly and alter the schedule accordingly.
More nap tips!
- Put your baby to sleep safely by gently placing her on her back on a firm mattress and in a space without toys, blankets, or pillows.
- Pajamas aren’t necessary, but make sure your child is dressed in comfortable clothing that’s neither too light nor too heavy.
- Playtime right before your baby’s nap should be quiet. Avoid loud noise and stimulating play that could make it hard for your child to settle down and go to sleep.
- When you can, put your child down for her nap in the same place she sleeps at night, which he/she’ll associate with going to sleep.
- If you’re going on a trip or you know you’ll be away from home at naptime, be sure to pack books and anything else your child has come to associate with sleeping. This will help you maintain your baby’s sleep routine wherever you are.
- Don’t wait until your child is overly tired before beginning your going-to-sleep routine. If you do, your child may be too wound up to sleep well—or even to go to sleep at all. If your child isn’t much of a napper, don’t blame yourself or your parenting skills—even if your best friend reports that her child is taking three-hour naps every day. All you can do is offer your child the opportunity to sleep by preparing them and putting them down on a consistent schedule.
- Your baby may be a natural cat napper, consistently snoozing for less than an hour at a time. As long as he/she doesn’t seem too tired, fussy, or difficult during waking hours, he may just be getting the sleep she needs (BUT, we still believe the best naps are over an hour). If your baby wakes after 30 or 40 minutes, leave them for a few minutes to see if they will fall back to sleep and get a nice long nap. You will be amazed how often they drift back off to sleep.