Normal or Not: How Does A Baby's Nap Schedule Change Over Time?
Wondering how baby naps work and how many naps they should take each day? Read on to find out more about how baby nap schedules change over time.
Daytime sleep is important for babies. Even though they get plenty of sleep at night, their bodies are changing and growing so rapidly that they need to rest during the day. Your baby's naps will change over time as they develop, and daytime sleep might look different for different babies. No matter how many naps a day your baby takes, daytime sleep is essential for a baby's overall wellness.
How long should the baby sleep during nap time?
Your little one's nap schedule will change frequently during the first year of life. Newborns typically sleep for 14-17 hours each day, and a lot of that is daytime sleep.
Around three months old, babies might take two or three naps, sometimes several hours in length. Usually by a child's first birthday, they take two naps each day that last 1-2 hours.
Naps help with nighttime sleep as well, because babies can practice quality sleep routines. A baby nap schedule looks different for every family, and the length of naps varies widely among babies. Some babies will take one long morning nap, while others prefer several shorter naps throughout the day.
As long as your baby is getting enough nap times during the day, and enough nighttime sleep, they can grow up healthy and happy.
How many naps does a baby need each day?
A baby's nap schedule depends on their age.
Newborns need three to five naps each day (or more!). Babies between 4 and 6 months old need two or three naps each day. Babies between 6 and 12 months old need two naps every day.
Try to establish a nap time routine that is similar to the bedtime routine.
If your baby gets good nighttime sleep, it's probably because you've set up a quality, consistent routine you use to help your baby understand that it's time for bed. The best way to make sure a baby's daytime sleep schedule is reliable is to follow a similar routine to the bedtime routine.
It is helpful to set up a sleep schedule where your baby goes to bed at the same time every night, and similarly, takes naps at the same time each day. Help your baby nap better by following a consistent schedule for feeding, playing, and sleeping.
Should I let my baby cry it out for naps?
If your baby naps very inconsistently, some experts recommend a form of sleep training similar to the cry-it-out method. This should only be done for older babies that are at least 6 months old. Do not leave a baby to cry indefinitely. You can allow your baby to cry for short periods of time, and then go in to check on them and comfort them. This process usually helps infants learn to self-soothe and put themselves back to sleep when they're still tired. Eventually, your baby falls asleep on his own.
What to do when babies nap for only short periods of time:
Sometimes, your baby's nap is very short, which can be frustrating. Here are some ways you can adjust your baby's nap routine to help them sleep longer.
1) Check the environment.
If you want your baby to have a consistent nap schedule, be sure to set up a good sleep environment for daytime naps.
An environment that helps with baby naps is a dark bedroom with a cool temperature, and using white noise can help as well. Nap times can really become longer when the room is nice and dark, so don't be afraid to invest in some good blackout curtains if your baby's room is very bright. A dark sleep space helps signal to a baby's body that it is time for sleep.
Sometimes baby naps take place in other places besides their room, so it isn't always possible to have a very dark space. That's completely fine. Your child's sleep will become flexible and you can figure out what works best with your child's personality.
If your little one has trouble falling asleep, the first thing you can troubleshoot is how dark the space is where you let your baby nap!
2) Adjust the schedule.
Help your child nap by figuring out their wake windows. Try starting the nap routine before your baby becomes overtired. This can take some trial-and-error, and wake windows do change during your baby's life, but it can be helpful for parents to pay attention to the times when their baby goes down for a nap easier and stays asleep for longer periods of time.
Sometimes, as babies grow older, they skip the afternoon nap and instead take a long morning nap or midday nap. You might notice your baby sleep more during growth spurts, after achieving certain milestones, or after receiving routine vaccinations. Some babies like long afternoon naps, while others prefer short naps in the morning and later in the day. There is no one "right" baby nap schedule, and your baby's patterns often change as they grow and develop.
3) Look at routines.
Whether your baby takes one or three naps a day, it is important to set up a good routine. Help your baby fall asleep easier by giving them plenty of cues that nap time is near. You can read a few books, do an infant massage, turn off the television, close the curtains, or clean up toys. Just be sure to set up a naptime routine that stays consistent so that your child can ease into sleep mode.
The nap time routine is just as important as the nighttime sleep routine. Most babies are calmed by knowing what to expect, and a good naptime routine can help babies know what signals to look out for when it is time to relax and go to sleep.
4) Give them a chance to fall back asleep.
It is common for babies to toss and turn between sleep cycles, even waking up briefly. Don't rush into the room to get them out of bed the second you hear your baby cry or make noise. Give your baby a few minutes to self-soothe and go back to sleep.
Your baby's nap length might become longer if you give them a chance to fall asleep after waking up briefly. Play soft music, rub their back, or gently pat their bottom as you stand by the crib or bassinet and wait for them to fall back asleep. You might be surprised - your baby might fall asleep and stay asleep for even longer!
During the early weeks and months, babies tend to be restless sleepers. While caregivers might jump at their infant's first stretches, grunts, or squeals, giving the baby a chance to fall back asleep might help extend the nap length and help the baby get enough sleep.
5) Think about how your baby's sleep relates to their age and development.
Nap changes are developmental and based on your child's age, personality, and family schedule. If your baby was an amazing napper as a newborn, but at six months old suddenly takes frequent short naps, don't fret. Your little one is probably transitioning into a new nap schedule.
Typically, newborns take many naps throughout the day. As they get older, they start to form a nap schedule that usually includes two to three naps each day. As they get older, this drops down to two naps, and eventually, your baby will transition to taking one nap each day.
There isn't a one-size-fits-all solution to nap schedules. Babies have different sleep needs, and some babies prefer taking two naps that are short versus one nap that's several hours long. As long as your baby is growing and seems happy, there is no need for concern.
Should a baby sleep in the stroller or car seat?
While it is acceptable (and very common) for babies to fall asleep in the stroller or car seat, this is not the ideal sleep location for them. It is not safe for infants to sleep in the car seat for extended periods of time, especially if the car seat is taken out of the vehicle.
Practice sleep safety by helping your baby take daily naps in a safe sleep environment (a crib or bassinet, without pillows and blankets).
When will your baby start to drop naps?
Just when it seems like you've mastered your baby's naps, many babies will eventually begin to drop naps and change up their schedule as they grow. If you notice your little one has a hard time falling asleep during his normal nap times, he might be ready to drop a nap.
Babies drop naps as they age, and between ages 3 and 4, most kids stop napping altogether. Your baby's nap schedule will never be set in stone, and it can take some troubleshooting to figure out their "new normal" as they grow. Your baby might grow to prefer one long, early afternoon nap. Or your baby might drop their third nap, and take two short naps earlier in the day. Your baby might move to only one nap around their first birthday, or much sooner. All babies are different!
Follow these daytime sleep tips to help your little one get enough sleep to help with their healthy growth and development.
Your baby's sleep is essential to their growth, which is why it is important to set up the best nap schedule for your little one's unique personality and needs. The more sleep your little one gets, the better your child's growth will look overall. Whether your baby takes a long afternoon nap, or prefers several short naps in the morning and later in the day, all babies need daytime sleep to help them grow up healthy and happy.
Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Kaitlyn Torrez
I’m Kaitlyn Torrez, from the San Francisco Bay Area. I live with my husband and two children, Roman and Logan. I’m a former preschool teacher, currently enjoying being a stay at home mom. I love all things writing, coffee, and chocolate. In my free time, I enjoy reading, blogging, and working out.