Baby Sleep Consultant – Comprehensive Guide to Baby + Toddler Nap
Naps. As parents, we know we need them – and we’re fairly sure our children do too, although they sometimes take a bit of convincing. And then there are all the misconceptions and comparisons – who is having what amount of sleep, who is catnapping, and how you deal. So here I thought I’d put together my most comprehensive guide to baby and toddler naps.
Benefits of a bit of daytime sleep
In some ways, I imagine you don’t need me to spell these out to you – you’re well aware of them. Nap-time is your sacred time out and, while you’re at home with really small humans, is often the time that you eat, shower, and catch up on life admin.
Or just rest sometimes, I hope.
Either way, it’s the time out that you need to regulate your emotions.
It’s not a large leap then to understand that naps are also helping with that for your child. Children who nap are happier and more capable of dealing with stress (i.e. less likely to have meltdowns). As well as regulating their emotions, healthy, age-appropriate naps also help to regulate your child’s appetite, so they will feed better during their awake times.
Not only that, studies have found that naps also play an important faciliatory role in memory consolidation, as well as language development. In fact, it is a child’s day-time sleep (not what they’re doing overnight) that most strongly correlates with language development. I believe it is likely that these two effects are linked – and better naps lead to the consolidation of all the language input children receive during the day (which they’re not getting through the night!)
So, how many naps does my child need? How long should they be sleeping during the day?
As you might imagine, this completely depends on their age – so let’s take a look.
Newborns (0-4m) – Our tiniest wee humans need between 3 and 5 naps, and ideally should be spending 6 to 6 hours of their daytime asleep.
4-12 months – In this period, there’s a big change in the number of naps, with children transitioning from 4 naps, down to 3, and then to 2 (this final drop happens, on average, between 6-8 months). During this time, a child’s total time spent day sleeping will reduce to somewhere between 2.5 – 3.5 hours. This means that parents need to increase awake times dramatically to ensure their wee ones are tired enough to sleep well at naptime. Key to survival here is understanding how long your child can (and should!) manage to stay awake in one stretch.
The other thing to note during this time is that Dr Wisler says that ‘motion naps’ – those taken in the front pack, stroller, or car – become less restorative. For this reason, we recommend that at least one nap a day is done at home, or at least in a stationary space, like a cot.
12 – 24 months – During this time a child’s daytime sleep needs reduce to 1.5 – 2.5 hours. From here, until a child turns three, things become way more variable. Most children move from 2 naps to just 1 between the 15-18 month mark, and the majority of children (but not all!) drop this final nap before they turn 3. All children are different, however children who don’t nap well – either because they’re catnapping or aren’t having the right sort of daytime sleep for their age and stage – may start to find their night sleeps are impacted. If you suspect your child’s naps are interfering with their night sleeping, don’t be afraid to talk to your child’s preschool and make some changes.
Consolidating the cat-napping
Catnapping typically emerges around the 8-18 week mark and, far from your child’s sleep being broken, it’s a completely normal developmental stage that occurs as their biological sleep cycles emerge. However, the research points to the fact that as babies get older, shorter naps are not as restorative as longer stretches, so it is important to help your child resettle and consolidate their catnaps.
Settling: When night and day are as different as, well… night and day
We’re often asked about why babies are so much easier to settle and resettle at night-time, while daytime naps remain a battle. There’s a scientific reason for this. Our baby’s physiological drive to sleep is felt more acutely at night-time (as is ours, in theory!) Daytime sleep is important, but their body won’t be hanging out for it in the same way.
When it comes to settling techniques, newborns often respond well to hands-on settling techniques, while older children find these methods frustrating (especially at nap-times!) and need time and space to settle.
To us, sleep is sleep, so apart from the bath, do everything else in the same way that you would for their night sleep for each of their naps. The same conditions will indicate to them that it’s time to sleep.
Some of the things that make naps easier
- Pre-sleep rituals: As mentioned above, having some calm and consistent things that you do before bedtime is important. Whether it be reading a book, singing a favourite song, or having a snuggle, implement your little routine before every sleep; day or night.
- Positive sleep associations: In the same way that you want to be consistent in the little things you do in the lead-up to sleep, keep their other conditions the same. If they are swaddled or wear a sleep sack overnight, do this for their naps too.
- A quiet and calm environment: Avoid too much stimulation and interactive stuff in the room as you are getting your child ready for sleep. Consider what you might be able to do to make their sleep environment darker, more boring, or more sleep-inducing.
- Consistent settling approach: You’re probably already getting the idea that consistency is key but never more so than in your settling methods. Don’t try a bunch of different techniques each time – pick what you want to try and stick to it.
- Consistent timing: Keeping naps around the same time each day is important – not as a routine necessarily (if that really doesn’t appeal to you!) but instead as a way to work in with your baby’s natural circadian rhythms and allow their body clock to settle.
- Avoiding overtiredness: Understanding the need for regular naps means that you can recognise and respect the signs of overtiredness, working around your baby’s needs.
- Naps not following straight after food or milk: We often assume our baby should go down straight after they’re fed to get the longest possible stretch before they’re hungry (and hence, awake!) again. However, for some children this can cause or exacerbate reflux and digestive issues. Ideally wait 20 minutes to an hour after food before you put your child down to sleep.
Need help with your babies naps?
Our online sleep programs contain all of our nap plans, solve your cat napping problems, teach your baby to settle easily for naps, take regular naps, establish a nap routine, and have more time to yourself while your baby takes awesome naps.
Read about night sleep HERE
Read about self settling HERE
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