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.
Try our CAT NAPPING MASTER CLASS
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.
Emma is the owner and founder of Baby Sleep Consultant, she is a certified infant and child sleep consultant, Happiest Baby on the block educator, has a Bachelor of Science, and Diploma in Education. Emma is a mother to 3 children, and loves writing when she isn't working with tired clients and cheering on her team helping thousands of mums just like you.
Our Baby Sleep Program helps tired parents TO DEVELOP HEALTHY SLEEP HABITS BY FOCUSING ON NAPS, SETTLING AND NIGHT SLEEP.
- Empowered: Feel empowered as a Mum as you learn to understand your growing baby's needs and cues.
- Simple effective settling: Gentle, proven self settling, evidence based techniques.
- Content happy baby and parents: Better sleep creates content babies & happy parents.
- Freedom: Predictable routines and longer nights creates freedom. Solve your sleep problems for more freedom.
- Work with your babies circadian rhythm: Work with your babies biological clock for faster easier results.
- Awesome naps & nights: You'll create consistent naps and nights with our support.
Try our online sleep program, complete with FREE email support.
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My baby has reflux can you help?
When your baby has reflux, feeds can be difficult and your baby can be in a lot of pain both during and after feeds. This pain can cause feeding aversions and failure to thrive. This is why true GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease) needs to be treated by a doctor. Once your baby's doctor is satisfied your baby is feeding well, and you have the right medication or formula then we can start a sleep plan and you will be successful.
My baby has colic will this help?
Colic is defined as 3 or more hours of crying per day in infants. Crying subsides in the second second trimester. If you are still experiencing colic symptoms speak to your baby's doctor about whether this could be reflux, an allergy, or over tiredness. We can help you work on better sleep with this program at the same time as your doctor investigates the pain and crying.
What if the program isn't working?
We have a dedicated help line to ensure your success. Just email our team via the details in your program and a certified, experienced and friendly sleep consultant is ready to stare you in the right direction to ensure your success!
My baby was born early, can you help?
Sleep is neurological so we always work off your babies neurological age, that is their corrected age. When you look at our sleep programs purchase the program that your babies corrected age fits into.
What if I have questions or need more help?
Our sleep programs come with private email support. You don’t have to post in any public forums or groups, just email the exclusive helpline that our team of certified sleep consultants look after and we’ll answer all your questions and help you on your way.
Can this program help with my babies night sleep?
Yes, all our online sleep programs contain night sleep plans. We will teach you how to move from multiple night feeds to 2 or 1 or none (depending on what is age appropriate and appropriate for your baby.) Don’t worry we will show you to figure this out too. If your baby is unsettled at night but not feeding, our plans will help you with consolidate night sleep and self settling when age appropriate.
My baby is cat napping can you help?
Cat napping is a very normal physiological stage that your baby goes through. At this stage (3-8 months old), cat napping can start to be a long term issue and compound into over tiredness and affect night sleep and your babies happiness. Good news, this is a great age to work on re-settling, self settling and better longer naps!
I have 3 children, can this work with my family?
I totally understand how busy life is with 2, 3 or more children! Even if you need a flexible schedule we can still work on settling regular naps (some on the go!), and better evenings and night. Flick our consultants any specific questions about your family's schedule of activities and we can help you work out what is possible nap wise.
I don't want a fixed routine, can you still help?
Yes. A fixed routine is one option, regular naps and regular awake times is another. Both are valid and you are welcome to do what works for your family. We understand you are all different and what works best for one family won't be best for another.
I'm formula feeding, can you still help?
Yes we have specific advice for formula feeding parents, and we support your decision to feed any way you choose. We even have a special video series on formula feeding and everything you need to know. Just ask our consultants about this extra if you need it.
I'm exclusively breastfeeding, can I follow your plans?
Yes! While breastfeeding babies need to feed frequently they still need quality sleep day and night. We have specific advice for breastfeeding mums and an exclusive discount on Julia Daleys breastfeeding course if you need extra help.
I'm bed sharing, can your program help me stop?
Yes. We often fall into bed sharing, we call this reactive bed sharing. Or we have simply changed our mind, and moving on from bed sharing we need some support. Our programs and consults will guide you through gentle sleep methods, which are more appropriate for most bed sharing babies who are moving towards independent sleep in the cot.
I'm feeding to sleep, can you help me stop?
Yes. Feeding to sleep is a common sleep association and one that works well for lots of newborns. Often we need to move on from feeding to sleep when it starts to cause short naps, or prolonged settling or frequent night wake ups as baby looks for their association to go back to sleep over and over again at night. We can teach you how to teach your baby to self settle and move on from feeding to sleep when the time is right.
I'm rocking to sleep, is their a solution?
Yes. These are common sleep associations, we refer to this as assisting to sleep. Let us show you ways you can develop independent sleep and settling strategies with our online sleep program, or one on one consult.
Is this program based on Cry It Out?
No. Cry it out is the common name for a sleep training method where you put baby down and don’t respond or check until they are fast asleep. There is no CIO involved in this program as we feel this should be only done under proper supervision. Instead we have included all our very gentle approaches and more mainstream techniques for you to choose from.
Is this based on Science or Art?
Both! As a scientist I (Emma) have spent over 8 years researching the science of sleep. I have educated and certified over 500 consultants around the world as sleep consultants, and have worked with thousands of clients. I love the scientific explanations of why we see the sleep patterns we see, and this science helps us to shape plans and solutions that we know will work. But there's an element of art to getting a baby to sleep, understanding the right combination of things that will work best, and this is where your instinct comes in.
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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