When should I drop my Baby's nap?
From around 4 months old, regular sleep patterns will start to emerge and your baby will generally develop a 3 nap per day routine. As baby grows and becomes stronger, they will drop one nap at a time. Naps usually disappear around the following ages;
· Afternoon Nap – around 6-8 months old
· Morning Nap – around 15-18 months old
· Lunchtime Nap – around 2.5-3.5 years old
How do I know when baby is ready to drop a nap?
Signs that baby is ready to drop a nap include;
· Delayed sleep onset at naptime
· Settling well at naptime, but waking early from the nap
· Napping well but delayed sleep onset at Bedtime
· Waking overnight for extended periods
· Waking before 6am and not resettling back to sleep
· Can skip a nap and not be a handful at the end of the day
It can be tricky to spot when baby is ready to drop a nap. Be patient and don’t try to rush it. If you suspect it is time to drop a nap try shortening it a little bit for a few days first to see what changes. If shortening the nap isn’t enough then drop it altogether.
If you have dropped the nap too soon you will likely find that your baby’s mood, behaviour and/or sleep patterns change. This is because they can’t cope with their Awake Window which causes them to be Overtired. You can read more about Awake Windows here.
When should my baby nap?
Offering babies sleep during their natural Sleep Windows will help make falling asleep and staying asleep easier to achieve. Sleep Windows are when there is a natural dip in Cortisol levels during the day. Sleep Windows are;
9am and 10am – Morning nap
Keeping this nap short encourages a longer lunchtime nap. Around 6 months old this nap could be 60-90 minutes. By the time baby is 18 months old it could be as short as 15-30 minutes. This nap is a great time to get errands done as it works well on the move in the frontpack, car or pushchair. I encourage parents to get out for a walk in the morning to give everyone some fresh air and avoid feeling like you’ve been stuck at home all day. Of course a cot based nap at this time is great too!
12pm and 2pm – Lunchtime nap
The most important nap! This nap is designed to be longer so it can be really restorative and allow time to file memories, rest well and regulate appetite. It also allows time for parents to take a break during the day! This nap stays in the Routine until 2.5-3.5 years old so I strongly recommend this is the one we focus on and encourage a good cot-based nap. This nap is typically 1.5-2 hours. Once baby is on just one nap a day we want to try and time this nap so it breaks the day in half with two reasonably equal Awake Windows.
6pm and 7.30pm – Bedtime
This window is the “best” time to put baby down for bed each night as there is the naturally occurring Cortisol dip at the same time as a rise in Melatonin. These changes in hormone levels help baby to unwind and relax with a high drive for sleep. Missing this Bedtime window can mean baby gets a second wind and will become more difficult to settle.
You’ll notice there isn’t a natural Sleep Window for the Afternoon nap and this is what we often refer to as the “Forbidden Sleep Zone”. This nap can be tricky to achieve but it is still really important as it helps you avoid an Overtired baby at Bedtime. This nap is usually around 4.30pm and lasts about 15-30 minutes. This nap is easiest when offered as an Assisted Nap.
Why are naps so important?
When babies don’t nap well, they become overtired and their Sleep Debt slowly rises, compounding day after day. When this continues for an extended period of time we see moody, unsettled babies, Early Morning Wake Ups and disrupted night sleep. Sound familiar?
Waking approximately 45 minutes after they have gone to bed for the night is a classic sign that your baby is overtired and we need to work on increasing total daytime sleep.
A rested baby who naps well is more tolerant to changes in routine such as a missed nap due to appointments. By having a reasonably predictable routine, you can schedule appointments around naps, rather than the other way around! If you know you won’t be able to offer naps as usual, a routine of some kind will also help you adjust naptimes to suit the commitments. For example if you have to be somewhere at 1pm and it’s likely there will be no Lunchtime nap, you could leave baby to have a longer morning nap or you could offer an earlier Bedtime.
Does development affect sleep?
The short answer is yes! Keep an eye out for developmental milestones that can affect nap time particularly around 4, 8, 12 and 18 months old. It is not uncommon to see babies resist their naps or nap less predictably for a week or so while they master their new skill (eg walking). These nap strikes are often confused for signs that it is time to drop a nap. If/when you first notice baby resisting a nap, persevere for a few days (especially if they are not at an age where we would drop a nap) as it could be just a developmental nap strike! If the resistance continues for longer than a week, and your baby is around the ages mentioned above then it is probably time to look at shortening or dropping the nap.
If anyone tells you to keep baby up to make it easier for them to sleep at night, tell them it just isn’t true! Remember overtired babies actually sleep less so let’s get them napping better today!
Rest well to live well
Your Baby Sleep Consultant
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