How long should my child nap?
It can be tempting as parents to let our babies and toddlers dictate their own daytime schedule, and allow them to fall asleep whenever and wherever they starting yawning and getting fussy, and let them sleep as long as they want. You might be nervous that strict daytime schedules will be constricting and hard to plan around. But the truth is, babies and toddlers do better with consistency, routines, and set schedules. It's also easier to plan your life and outings around a predictable schedule than an inconsistent one. A new blog post is coming soon with more details about how to create and set up the right daytime schedule for your baby.
How do you know if your baby or toddler is napping too long or not long enough?
These are the guidelines - keep in mind some children may need slightly more or less daytime sleep, but in general, this is what to expect at each age:
(I define "day" as the 12 hours between morning wake-up time and bedtime)
How long should each nap be?
Before 4 months old, naps are typically between 30-45 minutes - 2.5 hours long, and can be unpredictable. After four months, it's typical to see more predictable schedules, and naps start to consolidate and lengthen, ranging anywhere from 1-2 hours each, with a cat nap (usually the last nap of the day; between 30-45 minutes) until they move to a two nap schedule between 6-9 months. The time between 3 months and 12 months is filled with almost constant transition with nap lengths, needs, and wake windows. With two naps a day between 8-18 months, each nap can be between 45 minutes - 2 hours long. Once you transition to one nap a day, it should be between 1-2.5 hours long (a 3 hour nap may be needed for some kids, especially toward the beginning of the transitional time).
Should I ever cap a nap (wake my child up early?)
If your child is napping longer than 2 - 2.5 hours at once, you should wake them up. For infants, this will help ensure they eat every 3 hours during the day, and help them get their long stretches at night. For toddlers, this ensures naps don't interfere with bedtime (*a toddler who is transitioning to 1 nap a day may need a 3 hour nap, as long as it's not interfering with bedtime).
Why are naps important?
Helping your child get good naps is important, because daytime sleep affects nighttime sleep. You may have noticed that on days when your child doesn't get good naps, they usually sleep worse at night. We might think it would be the opposite, but for little ones, sleep begets sleep. Instead of just winging it when it comes to naps, make a plan for you child's naps, help guide them into the schedule, and stick with it as much as possible, while still allowing for flexibility at times, because life happens.
Want to know more about how to set up a daytime schedule, when and how to drop naps or make nap transitions, how to get your child to take longer naps, what to do during a nap regression or a child resisting naps, or how to do naps on-the-go? Stick around for more posts about naps, a LIVE Question/Answer session all about naps in the We Love Sleep Group on Facebook, and a new downloadable guide, the all-inclusive Baby and Toddler Nap Guide, coming out this week!
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Pediatric Sleep Consultant