Are you struggling to find a nap schedule that works for your child? If so, it’s not surprising. Children’s sleep needs are constantly changing during the first few years of life – just when you have things figured out, everything changes!
Although every child is different, the following guidelines are a good place to start.
BIRTH – 3 MONTHS
Number of naps: on demand
Average awake windows: 45 minutes to 2 hours
Average amount of daytime sleep: wide variation
Because infant sleep is disorganized it’s completely normal for naps to vary in timing and length. 20 or 30 minute naps are common, as are much longer stretches of sleep. Watch for sleepy signs (yawning, zoning out, rubbing eyes, fussiness) and give your child the opportunity to sleep often throughout the day. Do what feels right. If your baby needs to be held, fed or rocked to sleep, don’t worry about creating bad habits. Nothing you do now to help your newborn drift off to sleep will get in the way of them learning long term sleep skills when the time is right. Awake windows (time awake between naps) vary, but are typically between 45 minutes and two hours.
4 – 6 MONTHS
Number of naps: 4 + naps at four months, 3 naps by six months
Average awake windows: 2 to 2.5 hours
Average amount of daytime sleep: 3.5 to 4.5 hours
Between 4 and 6 months of age, many babies are still taking brief, frequent catnaps. 30 to 45 minute naps are common. Now is NOT the time to try to extend naps with sleep training – most babies in this age group are not developmentally ready to connect sleep cycles with consistency.
If your baby tends to wake from naps fussy and still tired, holding, strolling or lying down with them may help to extend their naps. You may also have success extending naps by anticipating wake ups and doing some preemptive patting, shushing, or rocking to keep them from waking up fully.
6 – 9 MONTHS
Number of Naps: 3 naps at six months, 2 naps by nine months
Average awake windows:
Average Amount of Daytime Sleep: 3 to 4 hours
By 6 months many babies are taking three naps a day and logging 3 or 4 hours of day sleep. By 9 months the third nap typically disappears and awake windows stretch to more of a 2/3/4 pattern. Most babies in this age group are capable of sleeping for two or more consecutive sleep cycles, so if your child is struggling to nap well and the lack of daytime sleep is impacting their mood or ability to sleep well at night, now is a good time to consider implementing gentle sleep coaching strategies to improve the quality of naps.
9 – 12MONTHS
Number of naps: 2
Average awake windows: 2.5 hours before nap one, 3 hours between naps one and two, and 4 hours between nap two and asleep for the night
Average amount of daytime sleep: 3 to 3.5 hours
By 9 months most babies are on a two nap a day schedule and sleeping about 3 hours a day. Morning naps tend to be easier to achieve, and are ideally at least one hour in length. Typical awake windows fall into the 2 – 2.5/3/4 pattern. Most children are ready for bed within 4 hours of waking up from the afternoon nap.
12 – 18 MONTHS
Number of naps: 2 until approx. 15 to 18 months (some sooner), then transition to one
Average awake windows:
Amount of daytime sleep: 2.5 hours +
Somewhere in the first half of the second year of life children drop the morning nap and transition to a one nap a day. The transition can be tricky – your child may fall into a “one nap is not enough, two is too many” pattern. My May 2014 FCMB article on How To Transition From Two Naps To One will help you determine when your child is ready, and offers tips to make the transition as easy as possible.
18 MONTHS – 3 YEARS
Number of naps: 1
Average awake windows: 5-6 hours before nap, 4 to 5+ hours awake before asleep for the night
Average amount of daytime sleep: 2 hours +
Once your child is taking one nap a day, their schedule will remain fairly consistent for quite a while. Avoid catnaps if possible – they can rob the real nap of length or prevent it from happening at all. Also be careful of naps that end too late in the day, which can interfere with your child’s ability to fall asleep at night.
3 YEARS – 4 YEARS
Number of naps: 1 then none
Average awake windows: 6 hours before nap and 5 to 6 hours before asleep for the night
Average amount of daytime sleep: 1 to 2 hours
Sometime between 3 and 4 years of age most children stop napping. Until that time, be sure to keep offering your child the opportunity to sleep every day until they can consistently make it until bedtime without an afternoon snooze. Some children benefit from naps every third day or so while they’re transitioning out of daytime sleep – others do well with quiet time well past the time that they no longer need to nap.
Alison Bevan is a Baby and Child Sleep Consultant that has helped thousands of families get a good night’s sleep.
She is a Certified Gentle Sleep Coach SM, founder of Sleepytime Coach and the Pediatric Sleep Consultant at The Center For Advanced Pediatrics, one of the largest and most comprehensive pediatric practices in the tri-state area. She is also a mother that has lived through the challenges of having a child with sleep problems.