Understanding how your baby's nap time works

Here's a guide to help you better understand why babies need naps and what the best strategies are for helping them make the most of their rest.

Do you remember when your baby was asleep for most of the day and for very few hours at night? Sleep consultants always talk about how newborns have day and night confusion. As your baby grows, the amount of sleep needed during the day decreases, whilst night sleep increases and becomes more consistent. 

Naps have an amazing effect on babies but sometimes it's necessary to drop one or all of them so that they can sleep better at night. Dropping naps involves reducing the number of naps your baby takes in a day. It's completely okay if you’re not sure how or when nap transitions should happen because babies' sleep patterns need to change almost every month in the first year of their life.

When is the right time to drop a nap? 

It’s time to start dropping naps and encouraging your baby to stay awake when your baby:

  • Starts having difficulty falling asleep or refuses one or all of their naps suddenly (generally, this is the afternoon nap)
  • Can’t sleep for more than 30 minutes
  • Begins to shorten 1 or more naps consistently over a week-long period. 
  • Gets angry or cries when being put to sleep or when waking up from a nap
  • Starts to wake up during the middle of the night and battles to fall asleep again
  • Wakes up for the day earlier than normal

When should I expect these nap transitions? 

As a general rule, your baby will take fewer naps as they get older. Below is a guide to the number of naps they should be taking at each age in the first few years of their life:

  • 4 months old: 3 to 4 naps (Total duration of naps in a day: 4 hours max.) 
  •  6 to 8 months old: 2 to 3 naps (Total duration of naps in a day: 3.5 hours max.) 
  • 11 to 13 months old 1 to 2 naps (Total duration of naps in a day: 3 hours max.) 
  • 22 months to 3 years old: 0 to 1 naps 

Basic tips for transitioning to fewer naps

  • Wait for consistent patterns of change in your baby’s sleep over the course of 2 weeks. This might indicate a good time to transition down a nap. 
  • At the beginning of the transition, 1 nap might be too little but 2 naps might be too many. During this transitional time, your toddler may be a bit sleep-deprived. To avoid this as much as possible, you can move bedtime forward. You can try as early as 6:30pm.
  • Be open to an occasional 2-nap day when your child seems to need it. 
  • To help the crankiness your baby might experience during this transition, offer calm, silent moments, especially during the morning. 
  • Remember to count wake windows as it's important that your baby isn’t exhausted. 
  • You should try not to let your baby sleep past the suggested nap time, otherwise night sleep will be affected. 

How do you know if it’s too early to drop a nap? 

If, after 2 weeks, your baby’s still in a bad mood, falls asleep immediately for their nap, is overtired for bedtime, wakes up during the night, or wakes up too early during the morning, it may have been much too early to try and drop a nap. If this happens, don't panic. Start offering 1 extra short nap during the day. Just remember to keep wake windows stretched out enough so that bedtime is not affected.

Final thoughts from Kami

It can be tricky to figure out your newborn’s sleep patterns and frustrating if you can’t seem to get it right. However, understanding how naps work will be a great help for your baby’s sleeping routine. If your newborn isn’t sleeping well at night, it can be worth dropping naps so that they’re more tired when evening comes around. However, every newborn is different, so it’s worth keeping an eye on your child and figuring out what amount of sleep is best for them.

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