In my previous post Baby Sleep Training Methods Explained, I covered the common sleep training methods and how to choose the right one for you and your family.
So now that you’ve got the nighttime sleep training down,
It’s time to master naps!
I get questions all the time about how often a child should be napping, how to get them down for naps when they’re fighting it, when they should be dropping naps, etc.
So I wanted to cover the basics of what I like to call “Nap Training” to help you get your little one sleeping like a champ during the day and night!
Why Are Naps Important?
Some people wonder why children need naps even when they sleep through the whole night. Shouldn’t they be getting all the rest they need overnight?
The answer is no…
There’s a common saying that a newborn’s life consists of eating, sleeping, and pooping and as simplistic as it may seem, it’s true!
Infants spend the majority of their lives sleeping… and for good reason!
Newborns, infants, and children are in a constant state of rapid growth and brain development. And guess when those things happen most?
…. thats’ right, during sleep!
While they sleep, their brain cells and tissues are developing, synapses are being made between those brain cells, memories are being stored, cells are turning over and growth hormone is being released.
Naps also help to restore energy and prevent children from becoming overtired during the day.
Those are a lot of essential processes that take place either exclusively or at least more efficiently during sleep.
And explains why a growing, developing baby or child would need more sleep than an adult.
So, as a person ages, their sleep requirements decrease with the average adult needing about 7 to 8 hours of sleep per day.
And the average newborn needing about 14 to 17 hours of sleep per day.
After birth, the sleep cycle is usually interrupted by periods of awakenings every 2 to 3 hours as required for an infant to feed.
As that infant grows, the total sleep time is condensed into longer periods of nighttime sleep, with the remainder of the sleep requirement being made up during the day with naps.
So, in order for an infant to attain the needed amount of sleep and accomplish all the things that need to happen during that time, they have to achieve some of that sleep time during the day.
So How Much Should My Baby Be Napping?
Well, that depends on how old your baby is.
As I mentioned in Sleep Training 101: A Guide to Getting Your Baby to Sleep Through the Night, babies start to consolidate their overnight sleep roughly around 4 months of age.
Prior to that time (0-3 months), they are really just cycling between awake and sleep states without usually sleeping for longer than 4 to 5 hour periods during any one time whether it be day or night.
After 3 to 4 months of age, when your baby starts to consolidate their nighttime sleep, they start to have more consistent periods of consolidated daytime sleep (naps) as well.
So at around 4 months, your little one will require about a total of 14 to 17 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period.
This will typically include about 3 naps during the day lasting from 1 to 3 hours at a time.
The first of these naps usually occurs in the morning, the second during the early afternoon, and the last during the late afternoon
Between the ages of 6 to 8 months, your child will require a total of about 12 to 15 hours of sleep per day and at this point may drop from 3 to 2 naps lasting 1 to 2 hours each.
9 to 12 Months
By 9 to 12 months, your child will require about 12-14 hours of sleep total. And if they haven’t already, they usually drop the 3rd nap and are down to just the morning and early afternoon naps, lasting about 1 to 1 1/2 hours each.
So now that you know how much your little one should be napping during the day, let’s discuss how to get them to nap in the first place!
Tips for Napping Success
The key to successful napping is the same as the key to successful nighttime sleep training…
And that is establishing a consistent schedule and routine that will train your little one’s sleep drive to induce sleepiness at the same times every day.
The easiest way to help you establish this routine is being aware of your child’s sleepiness cues and then using them to help shift their schedules to more desired times.
What are sleepiness cues you ask?
These are the behaviors that signal to you that your child is getting sleepy and likely more amenable to napping.
Some of these signs include yawning, rubbing their eyes or their ears, becoming fussy and of course drooping eyelids.
Different babies can have different telltale signs that alert you to the fact they are ready to hit the sack, so pay attention to your baby’s specific sleep clues.
The earlier you learn them, the better!
What Makes a Good Nap Time Routine?
Now that you’ve learned to follow your baby’s sleep cues, you can use them to adjust your baby’s daytime naps so that they are on a consistent (and desirable) schedule for you.
Now on to the naptime routine.
Your naptime routine should be similar to your bedtime routine in that it should include a few soothing rituals that require minimal stimulation and that can easily be done at the same time every day.
An ideal naptime routine should last only about 10 to 15 minutes ( a little shorter than your bedtime routine).
It can include things like feeding, reading a story, and then putting your little one to bed drowsy but awake! (remember that golden rule from Sleep Training 101?).
And remember, consistency is key!
How Can I Avoid Naptime Pitfalls?
As great and beneficial as napping is, there are some potential pitfalls that some nap training parents can fall into.
Some of these pitfalls can even affect the nighttime sleep, disrupting an already set ritual or just making it even more difficult to establish one.
Pitfall #1: Napping in a Different Space Than Overnight Sleep
This is crucial, especially when attempting to sleep train overnight.
Ideally, your baby should be put down to nap in the same place they will be expected to sleep overnight.
Sometimes this is not always possible. In that case, just try to keep the sleep space consistent and make sure it is a quiet and dark environment.
Pitfall #2 Using Television or Screen Time Before a Nap
Remember that pesky blue light we discussed in my previous posts? Well, that blue light can be just as disruptive during nap time as it is during bedtime.
It can prevent your little one from falling asleep at all, or just make their nap shorter than it would be otherwise.
Pitfall #3: Allowing Your Child to Nap Too Close to Bedtime
This is a VERY common pitfall that I see a lot of my nap training parents fall into.
They’ve got the nighttime schedule and bedtime figured out, then their little one decides they want to throw out all of those sleep cues 2 hours before bedtime.
So they give in only to encounter a war at bedtime because their child is no longer ready to fall asleep at the normally scheduled time.
Ideally, there should be a solid 3 to 4 hours of awake time between the last nap and bedtime to help ensure that your little is sleepy enough to be put down to bed at that time.
So there you have it! You are now equipped to master the sophisticated art of nap training!
As you embark on this journey, don’t forget that every child is different and may not fit exactly within the mold.
So don’t be afraid to make some adjustments and changes as needed to fit you and your family.
If you’ve found other helpful napping jewels, feel free to drop them in the comments below.