From when your baby comes home from the hospital you will see that a regular nap schedule will feature in their lives. Naps are where your child will further restore and recover from their day of stimulating activities. Naps help embed your child's memories and in the first three years of their life form an integral part of the overall sleep jigsaw. A solid day time napping routine will actually help your child sleep better at night. We will often see children present with broken sleep at night who are also not sleeping well during the day – they are biologically linked. A healthy napping routine will not just benefit the baby but also parents themselves. Baby will be getting the consolidated restorative sleep they need and parents will be getting a much needed and deserved break.
I get lots of questions about what nap and day time routine babies and toddlers should have so let's have a quick look at them here;
Newborn to 4 months
I often hear parents at this stage say that their child is asleep more then they are awake. Usually, you will find that during this age period your child may only be able to stay awake 1-2 hours between sleep during the day. I advise parents to start and end the day at very regular times (7 am-7 pm) that way you are putting shape and moulding healthy sleep from the outset. In order to form a napping routine at this point, you should watch your baby for their sleeping cues. They will hold the key as to how long they can stay awake for so allow them to guide you. A baby that is overtired will fight sleep, find it difficult to settle and will also be more likely to wake after short periods of sleep. A baby that is under tired will present in a similar way. So, you are looking for the nap sweet spot. This can be difficult to find but with consistency, you will get there.
At this age, your child will have 3-4 naps a day. They will vary in length but the key is to lead your baby to bedtime using the naps as a stepping stone. Remember a refreshed baby that has had consistent naps through the day will settle and sleep for longer periods than one who has had fragmented sleep during the day.
I advise that at least 2 naps a day are in the baby’s cot with the 3rd, later nap, being one where you get out and about for a walk and fresh air. In making cot napping a priority you are placing a focus on healthy sleep habits for your child's future.
Between 4 and 6 months is where your baby’s sleep cycle and biological rhythms are starting to mature and show regularity. If you have been practising consistency in trying to establish a napping routine you should start to see a pattern emerging for your child. At this stage 3 naps, a day would be where you would like to see your napping routine headed. A morning nap, an afternoon nap and a late afternoon nap. That later afternoon nap should go no later than 5 pm that way you will have a child that is ready for bed at 7 pm.
Aim for approx. 3 hours total day time sleep at this age however don’t get stuck on the numbers, this is a guide and every child will have a different sleep requirement.
Around the 8 month mark, you may see that the 3rd nap is becoming a struggle. Either it is having a negative impact on your child's ability to settle for bed at 7 pm or your child simply is refusing the 3rd nap. If this has emerged and is consistently happening over a 10 day period then I would advise dropping the nap and moving to a 2 nap routine. You may also see that your child can do longer stretches between naps, perhaps 2.5 to 3 hours. Again, watch your child's sleepy cues and allow them to guide you to the place that suits them best.
Aim for approx. 2.5 to 3 hours total day time sleep at this age however don’t get stuck on the numbers, this is a guide and every child will have a different sleep requirement.
15 months – 2.5 years
Somewhere between 14 and 16 months, your child will start to transition to 1 nap a day. This can present its self in many ways. Examples include, early morning waking starts to occur where it wasn’t present previously or your child starts to refuse their afternoon nap after taking a great morning nap. If these start to happen then it is time to start moving to 1 nap a day. This often needs to be taken super slowly over a period of a few weeks and in doing this, with an early bedtime, you should avoid overtiredness setting in.
When your child has made the move to one nap a day you would like somewhere in the region of 1.5-2.5 hours of sleep to avoid overtiredness setting in. This will help avoid early morning waking and also produce fewer occurrences of a fragmented nights sleep for your child.
When to drop naps totally!
Having recently gone through this myself with my own toddler I can empathise with the panic of your child no longer napping during the day. Oh god, will I ever drink a hot cup of coffee again! It comes to it all and my advice is to embrace it. If you keep on top of the changes that occur through your child's sleep stages you will have less trouble with sleep than you thought! Your child will start to take a long time to settle at bedtime or simply start to refuse the nap totally. They may also start to wake earlier in the morning. Don’t jump to cut the nap out totally at first – simply reduce its length until you hit a sweet spot. In doing this you may be able to retain the nap for longer and keep your child from getting overtired. If you find however that the nap simply must go keep your routine consistent and I always advise bringing bedtime earlier to avoid overtiredness.