Note that this question has to do with nap and not night training. Nighttime sleep can start to develop longer stretches as early as 6 weeks of age if certain things are done to encourage those longer stretches (Wanna learn how? Check out The Newborn Sleep Program for babies under 16 weeks old). Naps, however, are a totally different story. The brain doesn’t start to organize daytime sleep until much later, at the earliest of about 14–16 weeks.
When should you start nap training your baby?
I strongly recommend waiting to try to elicit longer stretches of daytime sleep (assuming your baby is not having long naps already) until she is at least 14 to 16 weeks old. In some circumstances, where Mom is completely exhausted or is returning to work and would like to have baby know how to put herself to sleep before leaving her with the nanny, earlier nap training can take place at about 11 weeks. Even when a client wants to move forward at that early age, I evaluate each baby individually; the stronger willed the baby is, the more likely I am to take them on as a client at an earlier age. More laid back babies are often not as difficult to handle, so I encourage Mom to wait it out just a few more weeks.
Why wait to nap train your 3-month-old?
There are a few reasons I don’t like to nap train until at least 14–16 weeks of age, apart from the brain not having reached the milestone of consolidating day time sleep yet. First, it seems to take longer. When I work with little guys younger than the age range above, it seems to take them a little more time to catch on to falling asleep unassisted. Even when they do master that skill, their brain may be keeping them from having nice, long naps anyway, so we do a lot of work and still can end up with short naps. Secondly, it’s really unpalatable to Mom. Any type of sleep training that yields lasting results involves some sort of protest crying (read: we sleep peeps use the euphemism “protest,” when what we’re really referring to is the regular crying babies do when they’re pissed off, tired, frustrated, or upset). Crying, of the protest or any other kind of variety, is reallllly tough on Moms, especially for Moms of newborns. And rightly so! Because crying is so difficult on Mom (and Dad), I try to avoid starting any type of nap training in the newborn stage.
For my tips and tricks on helping your newborn (and you!) get the best sleep possible, purchase The Newborn Sleep Program, created especially for babies under 16 weeks old.
What is Baby Nap Training?
I’ve said before on this blog and I’ll say it again right now – when I say sleep training, I’m almost always referring to teaching your baby to fall asleep without your help. My experience, both professional and personal, has shown me that (most) babies as young as 4–6 weeks are capable of falling asleep on their own. To get there, though, requires an EXTREMELY experienced parent or caretaker. You couldn’t write a book that would explain every nuanced way to sleep train that early since there are many elements that vary so much from baby to baby.
SO, besides the brain’s capability of consolidating daytime sleep into longer stretches, why else wait until 14 weeks to nap train? Because the brain is also starting to excrete melatonin at more regular (not random, like in newborns) intervals during the day at that age. The sun is doing its thing in regulating melatonin and it’s cousin, the circadian rhythm.
Nap training for 4-month-olds, 6-month-olds, and 8-month-olds
In addition to the biological reasons to start at this age, I’m also a proponent of dealing with sleep issues as early as possible. It may be impossible to internalize or accept this as a first time parent, but generally speaking the older your baby gets, the more resistant they are to change. A 4-month-old baby needs more sleep, and needs sleep more, than he will at 6 months of age. A 6-month-old needs more sleep than an 8-month-old, and on and on. The longer you wait, the more upset your little one will be about the change in their sleep habits. I like to tell my clients that it’s easiest to sleep train a baby between the ages of 14 weeks to 6 months, then slightly less easy from 6 months to 8 months, than tougher from 8 months to 10 months.
Nap training at 10 months old
Whatever you do, blog readers, please consider nap sleep training (and night sleep training!) your babies before the age of 10 months. Once baby hits that stage it’s more like dealing with a toddler rather than a baby. A 10-month-old can often stand, yell, and just generally flip out way more than a younger infant. Also, a 10-month-old can go way longer without sleep than a 4-month-old, which means more energy and stamina to protest. Doing it earlier is easier on Mom, and more importantly, on baby.
One thing to keep in mind is you want to count age from your child’s estimated due date. So, if your kiddo was born 2 weeks early, you’ll want to wait until they are 16 weeks to nap train, since that’s 14 weeks from when they were the full 40 weeks. When we talk about brain development in the first 6 months, every week counts.