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How Many Naps Does a Child Need?

November 19, 2021

Parents everywhere are wondering what the ideal amount of naps is for their little ones. And because sleep is developmental, there isn’t just one clear answer. Studies and research can give us the best guess for the majority of babies at certain ages, but your baby is unique and may need a unique amount of sleep to feel rested. Sleep is definitely important for healthy growth and development, but also just for feeling like our best self! The best indicator for if your little one is getting enough sleep, is how they are feeling and acting! Do you have a happy little one? Then you’re on track!

When your baby is first born, their circadian rhythm (the biological clock that determines the difference between day and night) is not yet established and won’t be for months! Your baby will look to you to help them recognize the difference between daytime and nighttime by following your social cues. They will require plenty of sleep throughout the day and night but as they grow, their sleep needs will decrease giving them longer stretches of sleep at night and longer stretches of wake in the day.

Because sleep is developmental and all babies hit those stages at different times, the best advice for naps is to meet your baby where they are rather than just by age.

Newborn cat naps

A newborn’s nap schedule can be impossible to predict. They can nap anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours, 4-6 times a day. Because they have such tiny stomachs, they wake to feed frequently. So at this stage, your nap schedule is following their hunger schedule. Around 12-16 weeks, their naps will start to develop and their circadian rhythm starts to set which means they should be getting less daytime sleep and longer stretches at night!

4 naps a day

Around 3-5 months of age, your little one will be taking anywhere from 30 minute to 1 hour naps with wake windows from 90 minutes to 2 hours. This is the transition period to more consistent napping and is a sign that naps are developing. This is also a great time to start introducing the concept of self soothing. Self soothing typically develops closer to six months so be kind to yourself and your baby as you practice. Give your baby access to their hands, a pacifier if they take it, and try laying them down still awake before naps and bedtime when possible.

3 naps a day

Around 4-5 months, your baby will start to stretch out their naps closer to 1-2 hours and lengthen their wake windows 90 minutes to 2.5 hours. You will find their fourth nap is getting shorter or closer to bedtime or they’re refusing it altogether. It’s time to drop that fourth nap! Now that naps are getting longer, offering a feeding before the nap can help with nap disruptions from hunger. Your baby will need three naps until closer to or even after 8 months old.

2 naps a day

When your baby is showing no signs of feeling sleepy around their usual nap time and they’re stretching their wake windows closer to 3 hours while maintaining 1-2 hour naps, then you know it’s time to drop that third nap! This usually happens between 8-9 months. The transition can be bumpy, some days they’re happy with two and the next they need three. Don’t worry, it’s normal to go back and forth but in a few days they should be on track to consistency. Pulling bedtime earlier by 30 minutes or so can be a great strategy to get through that transition.

1 nap a day

Dropping down to one nap a day can happen anytime between 12-18 months. It’s the longest range for sleep development so it can be hard to notice when it happens. If your kiddo is staying awake longer than 3 hours between sleep and then napping anywhere from 2-3 hours, then they are ready to move to one afternoon nap a day. This typically lands in between their wake time and their bedtime, giving them equal wake windows between the two. After lunch is a great nap time as their bellies are full and our bodies feel sleepy after a good meal.

No naps

You toddler may begin refusing naps anywhere from 3-5 years old. Some days they call the shots, and some days they need more assistance with getting a much needed nap. Pulling bedtime earlier on no nap days can help them from feeling overtired. But just because your toddler is no longer napping, doesn’t mean you don’t need a break and some quiet time. Putting them alone in their room to play alone and quietly can help them take a sensory break and help you get some quiet time too.

When you can’t follow their lead

The number of naps needed can be determined by biological factors but also environmental or social factors. As busy parents, sometimes we don’t get to call the shots throughout the day for our baby. For example, some daycares have set nap times based on age. If your baby needs three naps, but has moved to their two-nap room, then they’re only getting two naps. And that’s absolutely okay! Follow your daycare’s schedule and lead on days you have your baby, because consistency is key to great sleep. School can be another reason we have to adjust naps. Typically this happens when your toddler wants two naps, but needs to have one because of school. Plan for an earlier bedtime to help them get the sleep they need to feel happy and healthy.

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Michelle Smith

Michelle Smith is a Registered Sleep Specialist and Newborn Care Educator with specialties in Baby Sleep Training, Lactation Support, and Care of Preemies and Multiples. She has over a decade of clinical experience in sleep medicine offering guidance in Behavioral and Sleep Hygiene practices. Michelle is a mom of twin girls and a boy close in age. At one point she had three occupied cribs in her home and quickly realized how important it is to build healthy sleep habits in the newborn to toddler stages and how critical that can be for parents’ survival and sanity. She has chosen to focus her career on proactive sleep solutions for chronically sleep-deprived families.

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