The Nap Bible
** Underlined words are links to blog posts on these subjects **
Naps are an important part of your child’s sleep. It is during this time when your child’s body is able to organize information it has taken in while awake, process that information to form memories and associations, and a time when their body can restore and repair itself. Infants and children need much more sleep than most caregivers anticipate and many of those important sleep hours are lost during the day through unhealthy nap patterns. Something I like all families to acknowledge is that poor napping often is a cause of poor nights. All sleep is related and so it is good to focus on naps being just as important as consolidated night sleep. Of course, every day is not going to be perfect but balance is key!
One of the number one concerns of parents about naps is cat napping or short naps. These short naps are hard on us and also hard on infants. We, as parents are not getting a much needed break and our little ones are not getting enough time for their body to restore itself. If you are stuck in a “cat” napping trap then rest assured there are things you can focus on to work with these!! Let’s begin by covering a few important facts about naps first!!
What is the difference between a “short” nap and a “long” nap?
It is always good to begin with giving a brief definition of this to establish a baseline. Although all children are different, it is crucial to know where to start when looking at your child’s nap patterns.
Short nap - a sleep period that is LESS than one hour. Common short naps include wakings that happen 20-45 minutes after the child falls asleep.
Long nap - a sleep period that is 60 minutes or more.
Now that you have a baseline it is also important to look at your child’s regular habits to establish what may be a short nap for them. For example, if your toddler is on a 1 nap schedule and typically naps for 2.5 hours during the day but then one day wakes at 1 hour then this is a “short” nap for them. You can now implement some methods to help them make up for this lost sleep during the day by moving bedtime a little bit earlier or work on extending that nap.
What is considered “normal” napping?
Newborns, 0-2 months - Newborn sleep is inconsistent and unpredictable due to an immature sleep cycle. They tend to have feedings at least every 2-3 hours and so it makes sense for their days to be made up of many shorter naps with some longer naps.
Sleeping around the clock with some longer and some shorter.
3 months – You may start to see some sort of a pattern emerging although your baby is still quite young. You may also notice that naps are harder to get and this may be due to the 4 month regression beginning. During month three your infant may still be taking 5 naps or may be beginning to resist that last one therefore leaning towards 4 naps and shifting bedtime earlier.
4-5 naps adding up to between 5-6 hours of sleep depending on nights!
** Nap Tip: Start capping naps at 3 hours in length if your baby is a long napper. This helps teach their body that shorter spurts are for the day and longer spurts are for nights!
4 months - In the fourth month naps are now down to 4 a day and should begin consolidating into longer stretches. By the end of this month your baby will again begin to resist that last sleep period as they transition to 3 naps a day and bedtime again shifts earlier. During this transition the 4th nap may remain as a short nap for a few days until the baby learns to drop it.
3-4 naps adding up to around 4-4.5 hours
Naps now consolidating into longer stretches if healthy associations are in place.
During Transition it is normal for the last nap to become a short nap until it is dropped.
** Nap Tip: Really start focusing on a consistent sleep routine when you are putting your baby down so their body starts to learn sleep cues!
5-6 months – Naps are on a good schedule and are typically occurring close to the same times each day.
3 nap schedule
At 5 months daytime sleep adding up to around 3.5-4 hours
At 6 months daytime sleep adding up to around 3-3.5 hours
The morning and early afternoon nap are typically longer naps
The third later afternoon nap is a short nap that will help hold them over until bedtime.
At 6 months naps can consist of 2 longer naps and 1 shorter nap. Every baby does organize this sleep a little different.
** Nap Tip: Cap individual naps at 2 hours in length to have room to fit in all 3 naps. This allows for a bedtime that doesn't have to be super early and a happier baby from a balanced schedule!
6-9 months – During this time your baby will most likely transition from 3 to 2 naps. This transition tends to take a little bit longer than other transitions and so you may find there are some days with 3 naps and others with 2 naps. It will flip flop back and forth for a good week or more until your little one finds a balance.
2-3 naps adding up to between 3-3.5 hours of sleep. As a baby gets older the amount of daytime sleep they need decreases a little. So by 9 months around 3 hours is often enough!
Once on 2 naps they will generally occur in midmorning and early afternoon
During transition that third nap will remain as a short nap
Once on 2 naps I limit total daytime sleep to 3-3.25 total hours so that we are not taking away from night sleep.
** Nap Tip: Embrace the early bedtime during the 3 to 2 nap transition. It helps to keep your baby from getting overtired and also gives you some more time in the evening for YOU. As your baby gets used to 2 naps then bedtime will push later again.
9-12 months – Naps are now well established and happening at very similar times each day
2 naps adding up to 2-3 hours
Naps typically are between 1 and 1.5 hours in length
1-2 naps adding up to 2-3 hours during the day
2 to 1 transition generally happens between 13 &18 months with 15 being the average. **Don’t rush this transition if you don’t have to**
Once on 1 nap the length will be between 2 and 3 hours.
** Nap Tip: Once on 1 nap try and have this nap in a motionless environment where they can get the best sleep possible! Enjoy the long break!
18 months – 2 years
1 nap for around 2-3 hours.
1 nap between 1 and 2.5 hours
0-1 nap for 1-2 hours
Naps typically phase out sometime during this age range
** Nap Tip: Once they drop a nap then try and have a quiet time in the middle of the day to give their body a break from stimulation.
**Each child is different and so the above are to be used as guidelines. Your child may transition a little earlier or later from naps or may nap a little more or little less but the above information is a great place to start!
Is your child taking short naps?
As you just read above I mention that at around 4 months of age naps occurring during the day should be beginning to consolidate into longer stretches. This is the average but if it is not happening yet and naps are still a little under an hour then your baby may need a little bit more time. Keep in mind that one of the main factors that contribute to short naps are sleep associations. Read my blog here to see if this may be the cause.
If your baby is at the 6 month mark and is not taking naps longer than an hour then I would begin to take a look at the sleep habits and begin using tools to help extend these nap periods. Between 5 & 6 months really work on having these naps extend to long naps throughout the day with one cat nap happening at the last nap of the day if needed. It is beneficial to help our little ones to be getting the day sleep they need to ensure optimal overall health and help improve nights if needed..
Tools to help encourage healthy naps
So, what can we do to help our children reach their nap goals?
Ensure a healthy room environment – Have naps occurring in the same location as they are sleeping at night. We want a positive feeling towards sleep to be built and so by providing a consistent and healthy sleep environment we can have our children feeling safe and secure in their environment. Have the room just as dark for naps as it is at night which should be about an 8 out of 10 for darkness. Use white noise to help your newborn feel safe by resembling sounds of the womb and to help your older infant and children to block out outside noises and disturbances. Keep room temperature between 19-21 degrees Celsius which is a comfortable sleeping temperature. Cover any green, red, blue lights coming off any monitors or machines in your child’s room to prevent focal spots which can distract them during their nap.
Prevent your child from becoming over-tired – Infants and children that are over tired are not able to have as restful of a nap as if they are put to sleep at a more appropriate time. Over tiredness causes restless naps, short naps, and can make it very hard for them to fall asleep. Work on not keeping your child awake too long in between sleep periods.
Don’t skip on sleep routines – Just as bedtime routines are important so are nap routines. These consistent sleep routines help to cue the body to get ready for nap time. Nap routines do not need to be long like bedtime routines but they do need to give the body time to relax. Take the last couple steps following the bath in your bedtime routine and apply this as a nap routine. It may look like this:
- Walk with your baby into their room and say “it’s time for sleep.”
- Dim lights and turn on white noise
- Change them if needed
- Read a short book
- Hum a lullaby beside their crib and lay them down
Maintain a level of consistency – Once your baby is 6 months having a predictable daytime schedule can be very beneficial. Infants and children LOVE routine and so keeping things the same each day can help with nap sleep and nighttime sleep. Have a regular morning wake-up for your child. This will allow for naps to happen close to the same times each day. Have an appropriate bedtime. This also goes with not letting your child become over-tired! Early bedtimes are best to allow for optimal restorative sleep.
Work on reducing negative sleep associations – Sleep associations are cues that your child relates to falling asleep. This can be rocking, walking, feeding, or anything else that you may implement to put your baby to sleep. If your little one is waking frequently in the night and after a short nap it may be because they need help falling back asleep using you! Implement habits that your child can use to self-soothe and use the cues of the nap routines to trigger calmness to allow for an easier transition into sleep for your little one.
** I always say that “something is ONLY A PROBLEM if it is a problem.” What I mean is that if you rock your baby to sleep and they have great naps and sleep all night then you do not have to change anything. The rocking is not causing a problem. But, if you are doing something to help your baby fall asleep and then they need that every time they wake up to fall back asleep then this is something that I would suggest working on so that your baby can get some longer sleep stretches for their growing body.
Follow a baby-led approach for sleep – There are many different parenting approaches but one I like to follow for sleep is a baby-led approach. This means that you are allowing them time to nap that works best for their bodies! Often times as parents we let our children nap around our schedule, in between errands, or only on days that you don’t have something planned and this can make it very difficult for infants to learn healthy sleep habits. Even if it seems like they nap O.K. during the times that “work out” always make sure they are reaching their recommended sleep hours for the day as outlined above. Have them nap in their usual sleep environment and not on the go as much as you can!
If you are looking for a more personalized list of suggestions to suit your family’s needs feel free to contact me from my website www.nurturingsleepsolutions.com We can set up a phone consultation or package to get your little one on track with their sleep!