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The complete guide about napping: When, how long and when to drop naps

Getting your baby’s naps right can often be a bit of a battle and you might be wondering how much and when your baby should be napping or you might have a serial catnapper on your hands and just can’t figure out how to extend their naps. Maybe you are your baby’s sleep prop and cannot get your baby to nap anywhere else but on you?


If any of these statements apply to you, then this is the guide for you.


Benefits of napping


A very big benefit of your little one napping is that it gives you time to catch up on everything you didn’t get done while your little human was awake and if you're lucky you might even be able to sneak in a little nap yourself.


In other words it’s your needed time-out in order to continue to function as a parent and not burn-out.


For your bub the benefits of napping are numerous. Several studies show that day-time sleep specifically supports your little one’s learning, memory and language development.


Not only that but napping helps to keep your bub happy during the day and more capable of dealing with stress, meaning you’ll have less temper tantrums to deal with. Double win!


While napping helps your child to regulate their emotions, it also helps to regulate their appetite, meaning that they will feed much better when awake.


How much day-time sleep does my little one need?


0-3 months


Newborns need between 4-5 naps per day and should be spending at least 6 hours every day napping.


3-12 months


A lot happens in terms of naps in this age group. Your little one will transition from 3 naps down 2 naps around 7-8 months of age. But if you have a catnapper your 3-4 month old might still have 4 naps a day. Day sleep also reduces down to 4.5 hours at 3 months, 3.5 hours at 4 months, 3 hours at 6 months, and 2.5 hours at 8 months - 12 months.


What does this mean?


This means that awake windows will increase to ensure your little one is tired enough for their naps and will settle easier.


This is also the age where motion sleep (car, carrier, pram etc.) becomes less restorative and your baby becomes a bit less mobile and should have at least 1 of their 3 naps at home in their cot.


This is also a good time to start working on more of a routine and getting the sleep environment spot on to help your little one have longer naps.


How can you tell that your baby is ready to drop from 3 to 2 naps?


I recommend that you drop your baby’s third nap by 8 months the latest by following your bub’s readiness cues. These will become quite obvious as your little one will repeatedly refuse the third late afternoon nap. If it has been 7 days of your baby not napping in the late afternoon, it is time to drop it.


12-24 months


In this age group another nap transition usually happens from 2 down to 1 nap around 15-18 months of age. This means that day-time sleep reduces from 2.5 hours to approximately 1.5-2 hours. Every baby is different so some babies are ready to drop their second nap earlier while others will still happily nap twice a day at 18 months.


How do you know that it is time to drop down to 1 nap?


Dropping down to 1 nap can be a bit of a tricky transition and your little one might need 1 nap on some days and 2 on others. Signs that your baby is ready to drop the nap are:


  • They refuse to sleep until after 10 am for at least one week

  • They happily stay awake all morning (7am - 12 pm)


Your baby refusing their afternoon nap is not a sign that they need to transition to 1 nap. This usually means that it is time to further cut down the morning nap, to as short as 15 minutes in order to preserve that very important afternoon sleep. So as long as your baby is tired enough to fall asleep between 9 and 10 am, they still need 2 naps.


2-3 years


Your little one will most likely still be napping at this age but the nap is likely starting to reduce from 2 hours down to 40-60 minutes.


Most kids are ready to drop their nap completely between 2.5 and 3 years of age and the best indicator for this if your little one’s sleep starts to get disrupted at night. So if your child has been sleeping well at night and suddenly starts to wake up during the night or early in the morning, it is time to drop the nap.


The tricky bit here is that your child will still appear tired during the day but they will get used to not napping in no time and night sleep should then consolidate again.


During the transition you can also offer a nap every other day instead of dropping the nap cold turkey.


Catnapping


Catnapping can start to emerge from 8-18 weeks of age and is biologically normal. The issue is that as your baby gets older, catnaps are no longer as restorative and your baby will need to learn to consolidate their naps to avoid them getting overtired and night sleep falling apart.


Strategies for great naps


There are a few things you can do to help your little one settle to sleep easier for naps and consolidating their naps.


1 ) Look at your baby’s sleep environment


Ensure your baby’s sleep space is nice and dark to promote the production of melatonin. A dark sleep space will also avoid your baby getting distracted when waking up too early from a nap.


2) Use the right sleep props


Introducing some independent based sleep props such as white noise, swaddles, and sleeping bags is a great idea to give your baby lots of cues that it is time for sleep.


3) Teach your baby to self-settle


Once your baby falls asleep without any sleep props (patting, rocking, feeding etc.), they are more likely to connect sleep cycles. It wouldn’t be fair to expect your baby to go back to sleep on their own during the night if they were fully assisted to sleep at the start of the night.


4) Teach your baby to re-settle


Re-settling is just as important of a skill. Getting your baby up after each 45 minute nap, teaches your little one that it is the end of the nap so there is no incentive for them to sleep longer. As the weeks go by, your baby will get more and more overtired due to the short day time naps and will start to wake up more frequently at night, so working on longer day time naps is important to avoid your baby getting overtired.


5) Get on top of the overtiredness


It is important to ensure your little one is not awake too long in between naps or you will have an overtired baby on your hands. When babies get overtired they get a second wind, which makes settling them to sleep very difficult. Further strategies to help with your overtired baby:


  • Early bedtime (as early as 6 pm)

  • Add another nap if your baby is catnapping during the day

  • Do assisted naps for a few days (carrier, pram etc.) and work on self-settling at night

  • Reduce awake window for a few days


Do you need support with your little one's naps?


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