Baby Sleep: Naps 101

Baby Sleep: Naps 101

April 24, 2021

Author: Shelly Weaver-Cather

Nap times can be one of the most frustrating parts of baby and toddlerhood. They are so important to help get you all through the day, but often they become a huge fight. Understanding how naps work, the best times to get one in, and when to start dropping them from your baby’s schedule key to avoiding fussy babies parents.

Baby down for a nap

How do I put my baby down for nap time?

Let’s start at the basics—what’s even the best way to put a baby down for nap time? Like with all things parenting, there’s no one correct way, but there are a few things you can do to make things easier on everyone involved. A super dark room (like, cave dark), white noise machine (like the one pictured below), fresh diaper, full belly, and comfy clothes should make sure your baby is ready to crash for a bit. You don’t have to do full jammies, but make sure their super cute glittery tutu from Aunt Susan isn’t going to irritate them while sleeping.

Shop White Noise Machine

For newborns and super-young babies, the routine part of nap time isn’t crucial, but it can help to establish these practices early on so they become recognizable. Condensing your bedtime routine can be a good place to start! A bottle, diaper change, and quick story or song that clues your little one into knowing that it’s time for bed can help make the transition easier.

It’s also best to start winding them down before they become too tired. Move from doing super high energy activities to something quieter and calmer as soon as you see that they are getting tired. This can be tough to spot, but if your kid is spacing out, has red eyebrows, or is starting to rub their eyes and yawn, it’s time to move into their nap time routine.

Toddler Sleeping in a Crib

How long should my baby be awake?

Understanding wake windows can help you and your baby have a flexible, smooth routine that will lead to better naps and happier babies. A wake window is the average amount of time a baby of a certain age can stay awake without a nap. Most babies have pretty predictable tolerances for how long they can stay awake without a nap, but each baby is unique—learn your baby’s sleep cues and track their patterns to develop a flexible schedule. Of course, sleep regressions might throw all of this out the window, but they are temporary and your baby should get back on a baby sleep schedule eventually.

The line between winding down and melting down is a thin one for your baby, so use this baby awake time chart as a starting point for learning your baby’s wake windows. In the first six months of their life, you might be asking yourself how long a newborn should sleep, this can be a handy way to know when your child might be ready to nap.

Newborn–1 Month Old Wake Windows | 45 minutes

1–2 Month Old Wake Windows | Less than an hour

3 Month Old Wake Windows | 1 hour 15 mins

4 Month Old Wake Windows | 1 hour 30 mins

5 Month Old Wake Windows | 1 hour 45 mins

6 Month Old Wake Windows | 2 hours

After six months, you can start to rely on more predictable naps at consistent times during the day, but you should still keep in mind how long your child can tolerate being awake. Each nap should last at least 40 minutes to get a full sleep cycle in, but ideally 1–2 hours give them time to recover from playing.

How many naps?

6–9 Month Olds | 3 Naps

9–12 Month Olds | 2 Naps

12–18 Month Olds | 1–2 Naps

18+ Month Olds | 1 Nap

Baby sleeping

When is it time to drop a nap? When do babies drop to one nap?

Dropping a nap from your baby nap schedule can be tricky, especially when it’s been working so well for both of you for a bit. There are a few ways your little one will typically let you know when they are ready to drop a nap.

Early morning wakings

If your baby is suddenly ready to party at 4:30am when previously they’d sleep until 7am or 8am, they might be getting too much sleep during the day. Try stretching those baby wake windows and dropping a nap to see if they sleep longer overnight.

Fighting naps (Baby won’t nap)

If you’re used to putting your little one down for a nap at 11am, but now they are protesting in their crib until 11:30am or noon, it may be time to move to a later nap.

Fighting bedtime

Sometimes a third or fourth nap in the evening can interfere with bedtime. If babies don’t have enough time to tire themselves out and unwind before bed, they may fuss more and wake up throughout the night. Dropping that last nap should help get them to bed smoother and help them sleep longer.

Suddenly short naps

If your child is normally napping for an hour or more and suddenly wakes 10, 15, or 30 minutes into a nap—they probably need more awake time between naps.

Toddler getting ready for a nap

Can babies nap too much?

Going from sleeping 18 hours a day as a newborn (this is how much newborns sleep generally) to being able to make it through the day with just one nap can have a lot of ups and downs on the way. Your baby’s sleep needs will change as they go through certain developmental phases. Teething, learning to crawl, a cold—all of these things can totally change how much rest your kiddo needs, so don’t stress too, too much if they go through a few days of napping more.

If your child isn’t sleeping enough overnight (10–12 hours) it might be time to start waking them from super long naps, or dropping one. If your little one is sleeping fine overnight and napping a lot during the day, but is otherwise active and engaged during wake times, they may just have a higher sleep drive than other kids.

If your baby is suddenly lethargic and sleeping for most of the day, always check for a fever and call their pediatrician, just in case. A major change can be a sign of sickness, but it can also be a myriad of other normal, expected developmental changes causing them to sleep more.

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