Nap Schedules- The First Year & Beyond
Buckle up and take notes!
Anticipating a nap schedule with your baby is a coveted prize for parents. The beginning months are unpredictable and exhausting, let's be honest.
I get asked ALL the time, “when will my baby take better, more scheduled naps?”
I specifically remember an “AH-HA” moment with my twins. We had just returned from their 4-month well-visit with their pediatrician and they were taking nap in the car. I transferred them to their swings under my supervision, and they took a 1.5-2 hour nap. From that day forward, their first nap of the day just fell into place right around 8:30/8:45 and soon enough the rest of the day was that way, as well. I felt like I had won the lottery.. at least for a little while.
The first nap of the day is typically the nap that regulates first. The body treats it as a continuation of night sleep, and melatonin is still being produced. Around 16 weeks, you may start to see patterns emerge that look like this:
Nap 1: 8:30/8:45 for 1.5 to 2 hours
Nap 2: 11:30/11:45 for 1 hour
Nap 3: 2:15/2:30 for 1-2 hours
Nap 4: 5/5 PM for 30 minutes
One of two things will happen as you near and enter the 5th month. Either naps will be long enough where the 4th is pushed out OR, more commonly, naps will be short therefore a schedule change is needed to promote longer naps.
A settled, predictable 3-nap schedule for a 5-6, even 7-month old looks can look like:
Nap 1: 9/9:15 for 1.5 hours
Nap 2: 12:30/1 for 1-1.5 hours
Nap 3: 4/4:30 for 30 minutes
Then, before you know it, your first big nap transition will be upon you! Your baby, who was once taking their naps like a champ, will start to fight you on them. The need to drop a nap can present itself in a few different ways.
Here are some common examples of what that looks like:
· Refusing the 3rd nap altogether for many days
· Difficulty falling asleep for the 3rd nap despite it being pushed later and later
· Bedtime is getting too late, falling asleep past 8 PM
· Taking a long time to fall asleep at bedtime
· Naps altogether have become very short (30-45 minutes)
2-nap schedules are GREAT because sleep times become completely by the clock. No more counting wake times! During the transition, bring bedtime earlier. There’s a sweet spot for this age that puts bedtime around 3 hours after last nap ends. 4 hours can be too long for many babies and cause night wakings and early morning wakings. The range to transition fro 3-2 naps is 6-9 months.
Ideal 2 nap schedule*
Nap 1: 9:30 for 1.5 hours
Nap 2: 2PM for 1.5 hours
Full disclosure, this transition was by FAR the hardest for my twins. Especially, my Baby B. She chronically took 30-minute naps, before and after the transition. It took her weeks to connect sleep cycles. It was like clockwork… I would count it down- 3, 2, 1 BAM! Eyes open. She would then roll around quietly or fuss for almost an hour and never fall back asleep. It was one of the most trying times for me. It gave me a lot of anxiety knowing she wasn’t getting the sleep that she needed in addition to keeping her synced up with her sister. If she only napped for 30 minutes, she was begging to be in bed by 6PM, showing me every sleep cue there is. Poor girl! We got through that regression with her and she went on to take great 1.5 hour naps until we moved to 1 nap…. Speaking of
The 2-1 transition happens within a broad range of ages; 13-18 months old, with 15 months being the average. It can be difficult because wake times used to be in the 3’s and now will jump to the 4’s.
Keep in mind, that a child who holds onto it longer, may experience disrupted sleep at night and overall shortened night sleep. As you near the transition, there are warning signs:
Difficulty falling asleep for 1 or both naps
Early morning wakings
Taking a long time to fall asleep at bedtime
Just like the other transitions, this one will also take some time. Generally, it takes 4-6 weeks to settle into the new schedule.
Delay morning nap by 30 minutes and settle there for 5-7 days before adjusting again. Eventually settling at 12PM.
Catnaps will happen in the beginning... This is okay.
Bedtime will need to be moved earlier during the transition.
*Check that your 2-nap schedule doesn't have some room for manipulation first i.e. capping nap lengths and lengthening wake times.
7am wake for the day
Lindsay Loring is a certified pediatric sleep consultant who is passionate about sleep. Lindsay has helped many families restore sleep balance in their home after a birth of a child.