When it comes to setting great baby sleep routines, nap times can be one of the most notoriously tricky problems for parents to solve. There are numerous debates about how long they should be and when they should happen.
Although there is a lot of literature about the importance of naps to prevent overtiredness – the number and timing of naps is less evidence based and very much based on the experience of the parent in relation to the individual baby or child.
Why is it important to maintain baby nap times?
Studies show that problems occur when babies miss their naps, or their awake windows are too long between their naps. This leads to a build-up of cortisol which in turn can lead to frequent night wakings and early morning rising. In addition it can impact on your child’s sleep architecture over the course of the night leading to more periods of REM- active sleep in which your baby is much more likely to wake up.
It can help when looking at naps to imagine your baby has a sleep tank. When they wake in the morning this is full and as the day progresses it empties. Naps are crucial in order to prevent the level of fuel in their tank becoming dangerously low and causing overtiredness.
What can you do to prevent the sleep tank from running dry?
Whist there are recommended guidelines according to age for how much sleep on average your baby needs in a 24-hour period, each baby is unique. This is very much the case when it comes to the amount of sleep that they need during the day.
Babies tend to fall in the following two categories – those who have frequent cat naps and those who have longer infrequent naps.
As for which type of nap is best for your baby, at present there is little evidence to suggest one way is better than the other. For parents longer naps are easier as it means more predictability and the freedom to get on with things whilst your baby sleeps.
What is important however, is the distribution of your baby’s naps throughout the day which will enable them to fall asleep easily when it comes to their next nap and subsequently bedtime.
How do you know what the right awake time is for your baby between naps?
Again, this is very much age dependent and varies from one baby to the next. If your baby becomes overtired before their first nap of the day, it can then make it difficult to fall asleep and can also affect sleep duration. This then has a knock-on effect on subsequent naps and bedtime.
Ideally the awake window between when your baby wakes up and their first nap wants to be the shortest of the day. A 1 month old baby may have a window of around 45 minutes from waking. This then tends to increase to around 2 hours by the time your baby is 6 months old and becomes increasing longer as they head towards their one year birthday.
As the day progresses your baby’s awake windows may increase slightly in length dependant on the duration and quality of their previous nap but the trick is to try as much as possible never to exceed the maximum age appropriate recommended awake time.
Recommended Awake Windows
1 month old. 1st Awake Window 45 mins max Subsequent Awake Windows 1 hour max
2 months old. 1st Awake Window 45 mins -1 hour max Subsequent Awake Windows 1.5 hours max
3 months old. 1st Awake Window 45 mins -1 hour max Subsequent Awake Windows 1.5 hours max
4 months old. 1st Awake Window 1 -1.30 hour max Subsequent Awake Windows 2 hours max
5 months old.1st Awake Window 1 -2 hours max Subsequent Awake Windows 2 hours max
6 months old. 1st Awake Window 2 hours max Subsequent Awake Windows 2 – 3 hours max
7 months old. 1st Awake Window 2 hours max Subsequent Awake Windows 3 hours max
8 months old. 1st Awake Window 2 – 2.5 hours max Subsequent Awake Windows 3 hours max
9 months old. 1st Awake Window 2 – 3 hours max Subsequent Awake Windows 3 – 3.5 hours max
10 months old. 1st Awake Window 2 – 3 hours max Subsequent Awake Windows 3-4 hours max
11 months old. 1st Awake Window 2 – 3 hours max Subsequent Awake Windows 3-4 hours max
12 months old. 1st Awake Window 2 – 3 hours max Subsequent Awake Windows 3-4 hours max
With older babies it can also be helpful to ensure that nap times, meal times and bedtimes happen around the same time every day to help reorganise your child’s body clock. This helps to set a predictable routine when your baby’s body will come to recognise sleep time.
Nap time routine:Do you feel like you could use some extra support ?
There is no doubt that naps are highly personalised. It can often lead to parents scratching their head as to when and for how long their baby should be sleeping. This is why sometimes it can be helpful to have a personalised sleep consultation, alternatively I also offer a trouble-shooting call service. Find out more about my packages here.