Naps are necessary for babies to stay rested because of all the growing they're doing! Napping plays a key role in restoring your baby's mental and physical body. So why is it notoriously challenging for many families to get their babies to take adequate naps?
Let’s dive into the basics of baby naps, how long and how often they should be napping according to their age, what to do if your baby skips a nap and when to be concerned about the amount of daytime sleep your baby is getting.
Baby Naps By Age
Baby’s age plays a huge role in how often and how long they are napping. Your baby's wake windows change as they get older, but these should be used as a general guideline as every child is different.
What Are Wake Windows?
Wake windows are the times in between naps that your baby is awake. Wake windows are important to track because it can help us make sure that baby is actually tired enough to have another nap, or to prevent baby from becoming overtired from being awake too long.
Your newborn, up until 6-8 weeks of age, is napping constantly. They can’t tell the difference between daytime and nighttime, so they are waking up to feed, and going back to sleep (more or less). They usually nap with relative ease but some may have longer wake windows on occasion.
As your baby gets a bit older, their wake windows start to stretch a bit. Oftentimes the wake windows are shorter earlier in the day, and get longer toward the evening.
In the 4th and 5th month, you’ll usually start seeing a more regular sleep schedule. You may start to have a 10-12 hour stretch at night (with some wake-ups for feedings) then a morning nap, a midday nap, 1-2 catnaps in the afternoon, and then bedtime again. Be aware of the “4 month sleep regression” that may happen (read below!).
Wake windows are steadily stretching. Sometimes they have longer wake windows in the late afternoon than they do in the morning. Around this time you will start to see biological sleep waves around 9am and 12pm, where your baby will often fall asleep faster and/or stay asleep longer around those times.
Usually babies are having 2 naps a day around the 9-12 month mark, and their wake windows are pretty regular.
Most of the time, baby is headed to daycare in this period, which can make naps challenging! Usually they are dropping down to just one afternoon nap somewhere between 15-18 months of age.
4 Month Sleep Regression
Around 4 months of age, your baby is meeting developmental milestones and their world is expanding. They are more aware of their surroundings and interested in the people and things around them! All that excitement can make it hard for your baby to sleep.
Before 4 months of age, some babies may nap quite easily, either falling asleep quickly and/or having long naps. But after this 4 month developmental milestone, naps can often take a hit and the long naps may become short, or they may not fall asleep as easily as they used to.
Know that this sleep regression is totally normal!
What To Do If Your Baby Skips Their Nap
If your baby skips their nap, you’re going to have to bring the next sleep time forward by an hour or more (nap time or bedtime). You should not just keep them awake until their next “scheduled” nap time because they will get overtired, and it will be much more difficult for them to fall asleep.
What If It’s Close To Bedtime?
If a nap is falling too close to bedtime, you’re probably wondering what to do. It is important to have a cut-off time to differentiate between day time sleep and night time sleep.
After 4 months of age, the cut off should be 5 or 5:30pm. If your baby can’t have their nap and wake up before 5:30pm (for those 4-5month olds) or 5pm (for babies over 6 months of age), then you should help them extend their last wake window just a little bit and aim for an early bedtime --> as early as 6pm. You don't want them to get too over tired, but giving that little extra push at the end of the day will help your baby differentiate bedtime from a nap.
By the way, 8pm is the latest bedtime I would recommend for most kiddos under 8 years of age!
When Should I Be Concerned?
Because every baby is different, it can be hard to know when to be concerned about the amount of sleep your baby is getting.
Ask yourself these questions
Final Thoughts On Naps
Naps are a huge topic, and since every baby is different, it can be hard to know if they are getting enough sleep or are capable of better sleep.
There's no need to count or restrict naps before four months of age. After about four months of age, your baby would ideally be getting 2 to 2 hours 30 minutes of daytime sleep at a minimum. You don’t need to limit day time sleep unless it is causing a problem with overnight sleep.
If you're not sure, or you think some changes need to happen in the nap department, and you'd like a bit of help with that, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can chat about your specific situation.
You can also read more about preparing for your baby to go to daycare, and tips to help when your baby is waking up too early.
Both Lindsey and Ashley contribute to the blog! Sometimes also with guests and sometimes from conversations with guests :)