Baby naps can be a restful time for you and your little one — but the process of getting your baby to sleep during the day can be just the opposite. Consider these tips for helping your baby get the daytime rest he or she needs.
It takes a while for newborns to develop a sleep schedule because they need to develop their circadian rhythms. During the first month, babies will spend around 16 hours a day sleeping. This will usually happen in the form of three- or four-hour naps evenly spaced between feedings. After a newborn has been awake for one to two hours, he or she will need to sleep again.
As babies get older, nap times typically become more predictable. For example:
- Ages 4 months to 1 year. After the newborn period, your baby will likely nap at least twice a day — once in the morning and once in the early afternoon. Some babies also need a late-afternoon nap. You might aim to have your baby nap at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Let your baby nap for as long as he or she wants, unless your baby has difficulty falling asleep at night. If your baby is taking a third nap in the late afternoon, try to eliminate that nap around age 9 months. This will help your baby be ready for an earlier bedtime.
- Age 1 year and older. When your baby is around 10 months to age 1, he or she will likely drop the morning nap. During this transition, consider moving up your baby's nap time and bedtime by a half-hour to help him or her adjust. Most children continue taking an afternoon nap of one to two hours in length until about age 3. After this age, nap length tends to shorten.
Remember, however, that every baby is different and baby nap schedules can vary.
To ease your baby into nap time:
- Set the mood. A dark, quiet environment can help encourage your baby to sleep.
- Put your baby to bed drowsy, but awake. Before your baby gets overtired or cranky, you might try singing soft lullabies or swaddling or massaging him or her. Eventually, your baby will learn that these activities mean it's time to rest.
- Be safe. Place your baby to sleep on his or her back, and clear the crib or bassinet of blankets and other soft items.
- Be consistent. Your baby will get the most out of daytime naps if he or she takes them at the same time each day and for about the same length of time. Occasional exceptions are inevitable, of course, and won't harm your baby.
It's common for babies to cry when put down for sleep.
During your baby's first month, avoid letting him or her cry. Soothe your baby by singing quietly, playing soft music or rocking him or her gently.
At age 4 months, if your baby cries after being placed in the crib, check on him or her and offer comforting words. Then leave the room and give him or her time to settle again. You might also consider putting your baby down for a nap a little earlier. This might allow your baby to get past some fussiness by the time his or her nap is supposed to start.
Also, keep in mind that babies are often active during sleep — twitching their hands and feet, smiling, startling, and generally appearing restless. It's easy to mistake a baby's stirrings as a sign that he or she is waking up or needs to eat. Instead of picking up your baby right away, wait a few minutes to see if your baby falls back to sleep.
Helping your baby get the right amount of daytime sleep isn't always easy. Don't feel bad if some days are more challenging than others. Remember to look and listen for the signs that your baby is tired and try to keep his or her nap routine consistent.
If you have questions or concerns about your baby's napping schedule, talk to his or her doctor.
Feb. 23, 2022
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- Kliegman RM, et al. Sleep medicine. In: Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Elsevier; 2020. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed May 20, 2020.