The Sleep Dept’s ultimate guide to nap times for your baby
Isn’t it funny how as adults, we live for sleep and would give anything to be able to take a quick nap in the middle of the day? But for babies, who have all the time in the world to sleep, it’s sometimes the very last thing they want to do!
Here at The Sleep Dept, we’re (unsurprisingly) inundated with emails about sleep every day. Most of the time, the concern is how to get a baby to sleep through the night. But believe it or not, getting a baby to sleep through the night is the easy part! Seriously, it is SO much easier to get a baby to sleep for 12 hours uninterrupted overnight than it is to get a baby to take multiple naps (that last more than 20 minutes!) throughout the day
So, if it’s so easy to give them to sleep at night, why even bother trying to get them to nap during the day? Well, I’m sure most mums can agree this is the time of day where you can finally enjoy some downtime — although, babies seem to have a special talent for waking at the exact moment you’re about to step in the shower or have that first sip of your coffee! Not only that, but babies (especially newborns) have a maximum awake time they can handle — so nap time is essential for both of you.
While writing this blog, I realised that a post about babies and naps — in the detail I want to go into — would be at least 20 pages long. So, we will be running a nap series, broken into weekly blog posts. We’ll explore everything (in detail) from nap transitions, resettling techniques, catnaps and appropriate awake times.
For this post, we really need to start at the beginning. Today, we’ll be breaking down the amount of daytime sleep your baby needs as they go through the many stages in their babyhood.
Ahh, the glory days! The average newborn baby sleeps anywhere from 11 hours to a whopping 18 out of 24 hours per day. All up, this means your baby might be having 6 to 8 naps per day, averaging 45 minutes to 4 hours! An awake time of 45 to 60 minutes is about as much as a newborn baby can handle. A lot of the time, your baby is only awake for their feed before that time is up and they are back to sleep. Don’t stress if your little one’s nap times are erratic during this phase— it’s totally normal.
Newborn bubs give their parents a false sense of how sleep will play out for the rest of their napping life. We wish we could say that the ease with which a newborn falls asleep will last forever…. But, it just doesn’t!
The good news is, your baby begins to need fewer naps at this point — think 4 to 5 naps of 45 minutes to two hours. The bad news is, many babies go through what’s known as the 4-month regression. This is when your baby’s brain starts to mature — which is a good thing but can lead to permanent changes in their sleeping patterns. This can mean more night waking and shorter nap times.
The best advice we can give you is to continue helping your baby fall asleep how you’ve been doing it up until this point — yes, it may create some sleep associations, but we will deal with that in the next stage!
During this phase, it’s perfectly normal to want to hold your little bundle of joy all the time. Believe me, I get it — holding a sleeping baby in my arms is one of my all-time favourite things! Unfortunately, those innocent moments can create some hard-to-shake sleep associations — and this is the stage where you need to start getting serious about introducing regular sleep patterns. During this phase, it’s important to put your bub down for naps around the same times every day: think around 3 to 4 per day lasting around 45 minutes to 2 hours.
At this stage, your baby should be having around 2 to 3 naps per day, for 1 to 2 hours at a time. Your bub may also experience another sleep regression around the 8-month point. Thankfully, this one is temporary and should pass within 4 weeks — so rather than resorting to sleep associations, it’s best to push through and continue doing what you’re doing.
By this point, nap time should be pretty smooth sailing for your little one. 2 naps per day, for 2 to 4 hours at a time is the norm. If you’re still struggling, it may be time to introduce some sleep techniques — which we’ll touch on in upcoming blogs.
Happy 1st birthday to your bub! However, the real gift goes to YOU as nap time should well and truly be down to a fine science by now. 1 to 2 naps for 1 to 3 hours at a time is the sweet spot at this age. However, it’s best to avoid transitioning them to just 1 nap until closer to 15-18 months — so hold onto that second nap if possible.
As your baby transitions into a toddler, it’s completely normal for them to continue having one nap per day. As they tiptoe towards age 3, it’s also normal if they don’t want to nap at all! If they do nap, just be mindful that it’s not too close to bedtime — otherwise, you might have a little trouble getting them to sleep!
You may have noticed that some of the nap times I’ve recommended are as short as 30 to 45 minutes. ‘But wait, isn’t that a catnap? I thought we were meant to be avoiding those!’ you may think. You’re right— for the most part. But if your bub is on a 3 nap schedule, it’s actually very normal for their late afternoon nap to be a catnap. The same goes for newborns — some short naps are fine. As long as those morning and lunchtime ones are the big, juicy ones that last at least an hour, you’re golden. Once your baby moves onto a 2 nap a day schedule, the first one is the nice, long one and the second will start to shorten into a catnap over time.
**You’ll notice that I’ve included the ‘awake time’ on this table. This is because I like to base my nap timings off of awake times, rather than a strict timing schedule. By all means, watch the clock. But if your 9-month-old baby woke at 5 am, then keeping them up until 10 am will actually create an overtired baby — which means it’ll be harder to put them down! Instead, aim to keep them up for their appropriate nap window and include an extra nap or an earlier bedtime on the days that your bub wakes super early.
Our next blog will dive right into the mysteries of the catnapping baby. Keep your eyes peeled!