Naps 101 (Part 4): When and How Will My Baby Drop Naps?


(Revised and updated from an earlier version.)

A well-established truth of parenthood is that as soon as you figure out your child’s pattern, it will change. This certainly holds true for naps, and it can be incredibly frustrating and confusing to have a new nap pattern sneak up on you. (For the previous posts in our Naps 101 series, see Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.)

 

The Science

There is good evidence to support the extraordinary benefits that come from naps in babies and toddlers. We know that naps are important for learning, memory consolidation and motor skill memory. In toddlers, naps are important for emotional regulation and maintaining positive social interaction.

The regulation of sleep pressure (the homeostatic sleep drive) changes with time. This means that as your baby grows, not only will he or she begin to tolerate longer stretches of wakefulness, he or she will also need wider spacing between naps. This will allow an appropriate amount of sleep pressure to build and facilitate a longer nap. Many parents hear the sound bites “keep awake time to less than two hours” and “sleep begets sleep.” These are helpful rules to follow in the beginning of your baby’s life, but it’s also important to recognize that as your baby grows, his or her tolerance to wakefulness increases, and having longer stretches between naps is a good thing. Of course, you don’t want to force too much wakefulness or skip naps when your baby needs them. There is a delicate balance between meeting your baby’s needs and offering too much, too frequent or too little sleep. (Check out our age-by-stage sleep chart for more helpful info.) At sleep transition points in your baby’s life, there are clues that will help you identify and adapt to your baby’s changing needs; you just need to know what to look for.

 

Need More Help?

We offer several options for optimizing your child's sleep:

SLEEP TRAINING CLASS (for well babies 6-15 months)


PHONE CONSULTATIONS (with one of our sleep experts)


THE SECRET TO NAPS (downloadable e-book)

 

From Birth to ~3 months

The Basic Rules

Keep bouts of wakefulness short, to 1–2 hours. Put your baby down whenever you observe sleepy signs (eye rubbing, yawning, crankiness unrelated to hunger/other needs). Keep it dark at night, and let your baby be in well-lit conditions during awake times to promote circadian rhythm entrainment.

How Much Total Naptime

Totally variable. The most important thing to do is to keep wake bouts short.

A Sample Schedule

No schedule; frequent sleep all day and frequent waking all night.

The Clues to Indicate Your Baby’s Needs Are Changing

Naps in the crib become shorter, around 30–45 minutes; your baby doesn’t seem sleepy after 90 minutes of wakefulness. As this happens, start to slightly manipulate your baby’s awake time with the shortest bouts of wakefulness in the morning and longer bouts of wakefulness as the day goes on as described in the next developmental nap stage.

 

From ~3 months to ~6 months