Naps are a hot topic in the parenting world! In this blog I will review with you what you can expect in the first few years of your child’s life when it comes to naps, how much day time sleep is needed and what you should be doing to help improve their naps. Before I delve into the specifics of the timing for naps, it’s important to review how much day and night time sleep your child actually needs. Check out the chart below from Dr. Richard Ferber’s book Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems. There are a lot of key sleep recommendations out there by other sleep experts but I always found this chart to be on point with my daughter’s true sleep needs. This chart is an overview of the average sleep needs; some children need an hour more or a little bit less than these guidelines.
The first 3 months of a child’s sleep there is no set schedule when it comes to day time sleep. Night time sleep is becoming more organized and some babies may be sleeping through the night (sleeping a 6-8 hour stretch of sleep uninterrupted). The first few months of a child's life is the best time to start putting them down for naps in the same place as where they sleep at night time. The ideal nap sleep space is covered in my blog The Peaceful Sleep Environment.
At 4 months of age is when a child’s circadian rhythms start to develop and is when you can begin implementing a nap schedule. Typically naps at this age are still on the shorter end (less than an hour) but if you put your child down at the times they have sleep waves, their naps will be both mentally and physically restorative. Nap times at this age are 8:30/9am, 12/12:30pm, 3:30/4pm (cat nap-less than an hour). If your child is an early riser, this morning nap will be closer to 8am. Around this age, morning nap develops first and the afternoon nap comes later on. Bed time then becomes about 3 hours after the last nap ends. If your child is taking naps that are shorter than an hour, you will want to start building them up an hour either gradually or by enforcing a rule that no matter what, your child will be left alone for an hour for each nap. If you have more questions about “cat naps” check out my blog called Cat Nap Solutions.
At 8-9 months of age, a child usually drops the third nap, and bed time becomes earlier. Bed time occurs 3.5 hours after the last nap ends. If your child is still taking shorter naps around this age, try to push the second nap start time a bit later by 30 minutes to help encourage a longer nap (12:30/1pm nap time). If the second nap becomes longer, then the need for the third nap will disappear and bedtime can be 3.5 hours after that second nap.
Between 11-18 months is the typical age range where a child will drop down to 1 single longer nap, with the average age being about 15 months old. For some this will be a smooth transition and with others, it will be very confusing to figure out. The best way to be able to see if your child is ready to drop that morning nap and only take a single afternoon nap, is to observe their behavior. If a child able to happily go through their morning playing and is not too cranky, you can phase out the morning nap and put your them down for a 12/12:30 nap. If your kid is going down easily for the morning nap but not going down until past 2pm for the afternoon, you will want to gradually start pushing the morning nap forward by 10-15 minutes every few days until the morning nap is closer to 12pm. After a few weeks of consistently taking a single nap around 12pm, you can start to push nap time to be closer to 12:30/1pm as this is the ideal timing to catch the sleep wave associated with circadian rhythms and it is most mentally restorative.
Once a child is down to a single nap at around 11-18 months old, this will be the same nap time until the child drops the nap completely. Some children stop napping around their third birthday while others will hold on to it until they are 5 years old! There is such variability with when a child will stop napping entirely. I think it’s best to hold on to that nap as long as possible however, you have to limit the duration of the nap so it does not interfere with night sleep. At 3 years old a 1.5 hour nap is the maximum and by 4 years old, a 1 hour nap should be the maximum.
My child started to fight her nap closer to her third birthday and while she is 3.5 years old right now, she will take a nap 35% of the time. She is outgrowing her need for the nap and I see it in her behavior. Some days at around 3-4 pm the crankiness sets in from her not taking a nap. If your child has started to do the same thing, hang in there, it is just a phase! What you can do on the no napping days is still encourage some quiet, rest time in a bed or lounging on the couch for your child. The rest time can be something you do for years with your child so start the process at this age to instill the healthy habit. Studies show that quiet/rest time has many health benefits for children that are no longer napping. We are doing “family rest time” at the time when my child would have been napping and we find that an hour to hour and a half, is enough to get us all through the “witching hour.” Now, that my kid has mostly stopped napping, I make sure to put her to bed around 6:45-7:15pm and she will sleep through the night uninterrupted until 6:30-7am. Some days she goes to bed a little earlier and other days a little later, but this time frame seems to work well for her, while also giving my husband and I some much needed alone time once she’s asleep. Date night is at 7:30 in my home!!!
Take a look at the chart from the beginning of the blog. Where does your child fall with those sleep averages? If your kid is way below those averages, then it may be time to intervene and make some changes. If their sleep falls within that range, then you are killing it and way to go!!!