Just as soon as you think you know your child’s nap pattern it can, and will, change. This is because naps are far different than nighttime sleep. They will regularly shift and change in duration as your child develops.
Take a look at the chart below to see the drastic change in nap numbers and duration from newborn to age 4.
In this article you will learn realistic expectations for naps at each age range and how to help your child make a smooth transition between stages.
During the first 5 months of your baby’s life his sleep cycles are changing on a near weekly basis. So, it’s ok if his naps seem unpredictable in their length and timing because they really are. In these early months you should move to put your infant down for a nap when you see his sleepy signs such as staring, fussing even when full and clean, pulling ears, or rubbing eyes. In the first 4 months, I recommend that you use whatever means safely works for your child - a swing, a bouncer, or even sleeping in a carrier - since sleep is critical to his emotional, physical, and neurological development. You won’t spoil him at this stage!
Newborns need as much sleep as possible and 4 to 5 naps per day is not uncommon. Between 12 and 16 weeks newborns will begin to settle into a first “morning nap.” You may also see the glimmer of a “schedule” forming in her day in terms wake up time, nap times and bedtime (which starts to move earlier).
Between 6 and 8 months your child should settle into a morning, an afternoon, and a short late afternoon nap (3 total). It’s important that your child’s morning nap is only a maximum of 90 minutes. Wake him if you need to - I know this goes against the rule of “never wake a sleeping baby!” But, I only want you to do it for the morning nap if you notice that when she takes a long morning nap she doesn’t tend to nap as well in the afternoon and then is overtired at bedtime.
The late afternoon “bonus” nap is no more than an hour and typically starts around 3:30- 4 p.m.
See a typical sleep schedule for a 6 to 8 month old here.
Between 9 to 12 months most children typically drop their late afternoon nap, retaining just two naps - especially if they are napping well for the first two naps. If the morning nap begins to lengthen and the afternoon one shorten, consider shortening the morning nap to 90 minutes maximum. As your child gets closer to 12 months old, shorten the morning nap to only 60 minutes. This will smooth out the upcoming transition from two naps down to one.
See a typical sleep schedule for a 9 to 12 month old here.
Sometime between 15 and 18 months, most babies transition from two naps down to one. This transition can feel a bit rocky, for sure.
Typical signs that your toddler is ready to make a transition to one nap:
If you see one or more of these signs consistently for 10-14 days straight then it is likely time to transition from two naps to one.
Gradually push her morning nap later over the course of 7-10days. Start the one, afternoon nap at about 11am or 11:30am and then shift it later in 30 minute increments until you get to 1 p.m.
Eventually your child will settle into a 2-hour afternoon nap that begins between 12:30 and 2 p.m.
If your child wakes up cranky and tired (after an hour and a half) go in and coach him to sleep a while longer. Give him a few minutes and see if he settles down. If this doesn’t work he may nod off later in the day while on a walk or even sitting down while playing. It’s ok to let him doze for just under 30 minutes but wake him so that he can also be tired for bedtime later on. During this transition time he may need to go to bed at 7 o’clock. Once his one afternoon nap routine is established it can return to 7:30-8 p.m.
After a few days of taking only one nap your child may become excessively cranky and need an occasional short morning nap. Let him take one, but let it go no longer than 45 minutes. Wake him up so that he can be ready for his afternoon nap.
See a typical sleep schedule for a 13 to 18 month old here.
Your child will continue with their established one-nap pattern until they are ready to transition to quiet time. On average your child will stop napping between 3 and 4 years old.
See a typical sleep schedule for an 18 month to 2 ½ year old here.
And a typical schedule for a 2 ⅕ to 5 year old is here.
Making these transitions will take some extra attention and patience because your child will inevitably feel extra tired at times. But, using this information and advice can help you make them much smoother.
KIM WEST is a mother of two wonderful daughters and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for 25 years. Known as The Sleep Lady® by her clients, over the past twenty years she has helped tens of thousands of tired parents all over the world get a good night’s sleep without letting their children cry it out alone.
Kim has appeared on the Dr. Phil, Today Show, NBC Nightly News, Good Morning America, TLC’s Bringing Home Baby and CNN, and has been written about in a number of publications including The Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, Baby Talk, Parenting, The Baltimore Sun, USA Today, The Telegraph, The Irish Independent and the Washington Post.
Kim is the author of three books: “GOOD NIGHT, SLEEP TIGHT: The Sleep Lady’s Gentle Guide to Helping Your Child Go to Sleep, Stay Asleep and Wake Up Happy”, the “Good Night, Sleep Tight Workbook” and “52 Sleep Secrets for Babies”.
Dedicated to providing tired parents with excellent sleep advice and coaching, she started training Gentle Sleep Coaches® all over the world in 2010.