I read countless books on sleep before my son was born. I was hoping to head off sleep problems by starting on the right track. Everything started out according to plan. Most of the books recommended a common schedule:
2) Play (30 min to 1 ½ hours)
3) Sleep (45 min to 2 hours)
4) Repeat – During the day each cycle took 2-4 hours and at night ideally the sleep portion would start to stretch out to longer and longer periods of sleep between feeds.
We tried our best to keep him awake after feeds, except at night, and eventually found ourselves right on schedule. Success! By 3 months he was sleeping better at night but still taking six naps a day. So, I revisited my trusted sleep books sure I would figure out how to move to three naps a day. Unfortunately, the books seemed to skip directly from the eat, play, sleep plan right to now that your baby is taking three naps a day…. Did I miss something? How did they go from taking a nap between each feed to taking three regular naps a day?
It turns out babies don’t settle on three naps a day until they’re somewhere between 4 and 6 months old. Before that, they can take up to 6 naps a day, which can be unpredictable in timing or length.
|Time before 1st nap
|Time between naps
|Naps per day
At around 4-6 months, babies will start to stay awake longer during the day. Most babies will take their first nap of the day only 1 ½ hours after waking up in the morning! They are usually awake 2-3 hours between naps at this age, and may be ready for bed only 1-2 hours after the third nap of the day.
The transition to two naps occurs at around 9 months. At this point babies usually stay away a little bit longer before their first nap, about 2 hours. The second nap begins 2-3 hours after the first nap and they gradually drop the third nap. It is usually best not to start an evening nap after 5-6 pm and – instead, move bedtime up a little during the transition phase. Most babies are sleeping about 3 hours total during the day at this point. By 18 months children drop down to one nap. This nap often occurs mid-day and may vary in length from 1-3 hours.
1) Put your baby down for a nap at the first signs of fatigue. Babies that are over-tired sleep poorly and tend to take shorter naps. Pay close attention to signs of fatigue such as eye rubbing and fussy behavior.
2) If your baby wakes earlier or later than usual adjust naps accordingly. You will have more success and a happier baby if you move nap times to complement the wake up time. If they wake up early, they will probably need earlier nap times.
3) Babies who easily fall asleep in the car or stroller may not be getting enough sleep. Most babies will stay awake during car/stroller rides unless it is nap time or has been an unusually tiring day.
4) It is easy to feed babies to sleep when they are young, but a word of warning: making this routine can lead to sleep problems later on, especially the transition to more regular naps.
5) Babies who do not have a regular bedtime routine may struggle with nap time. If both nap times and bed time are a battle, you will have more success by fixing the bedtime routine and then working on the nap time routine. For more information see Solving Babies Sleep Problems.