Knowing how many naps a baby or toddler should have is a huge piece of the sleep puzzle for your little one! Whether or not you choose to sleep train your baby, following an age-appropriate sleep schedule will hugely help your family stay on a good course. Too much or too little daytime sleep can drastically effect nighttime sleep. Continue reading to figure out the best nap schedule for your little one!
Why the Amount of Naps Your Baby or Toddler Takes is Important
Here’s where I answer the “why” portion of the original question of how many naps your baby or toddler needs.
The first nap of the day for baby is mentally restorative and the second nap of the day is physically restorative. All subsequent naps are simply “bridges” to bedtime. They are necessary, but are of little cognitive or physical importance. They also have a tendency to be problematic, either because they are difficult for baby to fall asleep for or because they start and end late in the day. Many parents allow their babies to take 3rd (or 4th) naps that occur way too late in the day.
As a general rule all daytime sleep should end by no later than 3:30 or 4:00 pm. Sleeping past 4pm is the same as adults taking a nap at 7pm. Maybe once in a while if you fall asleep so close to your normal bedtime it’s not a big deal, but if you went to sleep every day at 7pm for 45 minutes, you would quickly develop a problem falling asleep for the night before 2am. Sleeping too late in the day causes nighttime sleep issues for babies.
Ideally babies need to complete more than once sleep cycle per nap. Each sleep cycle is about 30–60 minutes in length, depending on the baby and their age. So, I like to aim for naps that get past that pesky 45 minute mark many kiddos seem to love so much. You’ll find a strong correlation between babies that don’t know how to put themselves to sleep, and those who don’t nap long enough. That’s because they’re finishing a sleep cycle during a nap and then waking up and not being able to fall back to sleep because they don’t know how to without your help.
Certainly babies who are sleep trained often struggle with short naps, but those struggles are usually short lived, and the short naps are usually addressed by dealing with other sleep-related problems (cutting off other naps, not letting naps go too late, timing naps appropriately, etc).
Newborn and 1-month-old nap schedule (0–8 weeks)
Babies do some crazy stuff those first 8 weeks. Sometimes they sleep around the clock, sometimes they sleep in 10 minute increments, sometimes they’ll only sleep one, 5-hour block from noon to just before dinner, and then they’ll be awake all night. Whatever they’re doing, they’re supposed to be doing it.
Instead of telling you how many naps a day your (very) newborn should be taking, I’ll instead tell you one of the biggest favors you can do for your little one and yourself is to wake that baby up once it’s been asleep for two hours for a nap.
In other words, from 7 am to 7 pm, don’t let that little guy or girl sleep longer than 2 hours at a stretch without getting them up, feeding them, and keeping them awake for a little while before putting them back down.
However, even doing that will be next to impossible with most 2-3 week old babies. So, just try your best. If you start to get stressed or anxious, immediately stop what you are doing and go back to what was working.
Those first two months are tough enough and babies are just figuring out how to eat, digest, and keep themselves warm, so give them a little break. You’ll both get there eventually. Get more detailed advice in my article on newborn sleep schedules, or check out my Newborn Sleep Program which has every tip and trick I know for getting your newborn sleeping their best sleep.
2-month-old and 3-month-old baby sleep schedule (Infants 8–14 weeks)
Around this age is when kiddos should be having 4–5 naps. You may very well have a cat napper, which is totally typical and totally okay. That might mean your baby is taking 5 short naps a day. Or, say your baby has a nap or two a day that are nice and long, then short naps the rest of the afternoon. That’s okay too! Just follow the rules above about not letting her sleep longer than two hours for a single stretch and you’ll be well on your way to establishing a good nap pattern.
Towards weeks 11–14 you should try to gently guide your baby to a four nap pattern, if they’ll allow themselves. Aim for a 2.5 to 3 hour cycle where baby is awake for about an hour+, then sleeping for about an hour+ (if possible, do NOT beat yourself up if you can’t get your baby to sleep longer than 30 minutes. This is normal and with some hard work down the line, it will pass).
3-month-old, 4-month-old, 5-month-old, and 6-month-old sleep schedule (14 weeks to 6 or 7 months)
This is the age range when you want to solidly move your little guy into a 3 nap pattern. If you have a fourth nap that’s hanging on, work hard to get rid of it.
Ideally you’d have a baby napping sometime in the 8am hour, again in the 11am hour, then once more in the mid afternoon. This is also when it’s a good time to start sleep training. A lot of people, (like A LOT), advocate not sleep training until 4, 6, or even 9 months. Sometimes I think when I talk about sleep training and other people talk about sleep training, we’re not talking about the same thing…
When I talk about sleep training a 3.5 month old, I’m talking about teaching them how to fall asleep without any help. They can still eat at night, they can still nurse, they can still do all the things babies do, they’re just also capable of falling asleep for naps and at bedtime unassisted. So, this is the age where you can work towards setting a firm start time of the day and also teaching your baby to fall asleep without your help. This is also where you can start to work on lengthening naps.
If you can teach your child to fall asleep unassisted, using whatever method you wish, then you are well on your way to getting your kiddo on a consistent three nap schedule.
You want to aim for naps that are about an hour or longer.
6 to 7-month-old, through 14 to 18-month-old schedule
By this age your little one should be taking two solid naps, one at about 9 am and a second around 1 pm. Each nap should be lasting about an hour or more in duration. Follow my guide on transitioning from 3 naps to 2 naps.
Toddler Sleep Schedules
14-18-month-old babies to 2-year-old and 3-year-old toddlers
Somewhere around months 14 to 18 babies will drop down to one nap. They should maintain this nap until they’re about 3 years old, and perhaps on into the fourth year. Ideally this nap should last anywhere between 90 minutes and 2.5 hours.
Once a child goes down to one nap, the benefits of the morning and afternoon nap are combined into one. Follow my instructions on transitioning your toddler from 2 naps to 1.
So there you have it! Please post any comments below and be sure to subscribe to my newsletter for regular tips and tricks that will help you and baby thrive!