Napping: What to Know at Every Age
How many naps kids need, how long they should last, and how it all changes year by year
Newborns (0 to 3 months)
What's typical: At first, napping is all relative—newborns don't sleep on a set schedule and there's little difference between night and day. (They typically sleep approximately 16 or 17 hours a day, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.)
However, by 8 to 12 weeks, you can finally see a pattern as your child starts to wake for the day and go to sleep at night at predictable times, says Jodi A. Mindell, Ph.D., author of Sleeping Through the Night, associate director of the Sleep Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and chair of the advisory board of Pediatric Sleep Council. "Once you get to that point, you'll likely discover that your baby will be ready to nap after being awake for 1 ½ to 2 hours or so," says Dr. Mindell. Don't worry if you don't detect a pattern until 4 months or so—some babies take a little longer.
How to get on schedule: Look for signs your baby is ready for sleep—crankiness, redness around the eyes, staring off into space, or pulling at his ear. Of course, you can help your baby get ready for naptime. "A routine will signal to your baby that it is time to settle down and go to sleep," says Dr. Mindell. For instance, close the shades, read a book, sing a lullaby, talk in a calming voice, or any shorter version of your usual nighttime routine.
4 to 12 months
What's typical: After you get over the first three months, napping falls into more of a predictable pattern. Between 4 and 8 months, babies usually either nap "by the clock" at specific times each day or take shorter, more frequent naps after they've been awake for two hours, says Dr. Mindell. By 9 months, almost all babies are napping by the clock.
How long do babies typically sleep during naps at this age? At 4 to 6 months, it's typically 3 to 4 hours divided into three naps, while from 6 to 12 months it's two to three hours over one or two naps, says Jennifer Waldburger, MSW, co-author of The Sleepeasy Solution and co-founder of Sleepy Planet Parenting. If your baby is taking three naps, look for clues she's ready to drop that third nap: "When babies begin their transition to dropping their third nap between 6 and 9 months, the third nap often becomes shorter—what I call a "blip nap"—that may last only 20 to 30 minutes," says Waldburger.
How to get on schedule: Stick with the wind-down routine about ten to fifteen minutes before naptime, says Waldburger. Also, put your baby down when she's relaxed, but before she's exhausted. "When babies get overtired, their bodies produce a stress hormone called cortisol that will make it harder for them to settle and can cause wake-ups in that sleep period," says Waldburger.
The ideal time is when your baby is drowsy, but awake. "Allowing her to settle without rocking her or feeding her to sleep means that when she cycles up into lighter sleep during her nap, she'll know how to soothe herself," says Waldburger.
Toddler (2 to 3 years)
What's typical: "Most toddlers take one longer afternoon nap, usually occurring soon after lunchtime," says Dr. Mindell. This usually lasts 90 minutes to 3 hours.
How to get on schedule: "As you transition from two naps to one, you may notice that the second nap gets so late that it affects your child's ability to settle down at night or they simply refuse to take a second nap," says Waldburger. That's when you know it's time to drop that second nap.
"When your child transitions to one nap, it's ideal if that the nap falls in the middle of the day," says Waldburger. A typical start is 11:30 a.m. to noon. "If your child still takes a morning nap, then slowly nudge naptime later by 15 to 20 minutes, moving forward every few days, until you get to an 11:30 a.m. start time," Waldburger suggests.
Preschoolers (4 to 5 years)
What's typical: Many kids give up naps by the age of four, though some continue to nap until age 5. For those who do nap, they usually start their nap anytime between 12 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. (with an average 8 p.m. bedtime.) However, even when your kid isn't napping anymore, that doesn't mean you should forget about rest time altogether. "As your little one gets older, so-called 'naptime' may be replaced by 'quiet time,'" says Dr. Mindell. "This ensures that everyone has downtime during the day and also encourages a nap if needed."
How to get on schedule: It's often easy to tell when are kids are done with napping for good. "You'll find that your little one no longer falls asleep at naptimes, or on those days that she misses her nap, she does fine and doesn't melt down," explains Dr. Mindell.