Written by: Austin Meadows
Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Sherrie Neustein
Updated March 9, 2021
One of the biggest frustrations new parents face is figuring out a baby's sleep schedule. You might have heard that newborns sleep a lot and that most babies consolidate their naps into about two per day by six months and a single nap by toddlerhood. But what are the best nap times for babies? And when do kids stop napping altogether?
As babies grow, their sleep cycles follow developmental patterns (1) that can make it easier to understand what they need. Of course, every baby also has their own unique schedule. By combining these two factors, it’s easier to know the best nap time for your baby.
Newborn babies typically sleep between 14 and 18 hours every day (2). They divide their sleep into periods of two to four hours, at all times of the day and night. In the first few weeks of life, babies have little understanding of day or night, and the need to eat drives their sleep cycles.
There’s not much you can do at this stage but try to start gently encouraging feeding and bedtime routines, letting your baby guide you with their hunger and sleep cues. By the time they’re 6 weeks old most babies can start picking up on cues that it’s time to sleep, though sleeping through the night is still highly unlikely.
By around three months of age, you will likely begin seeing some big changes in your baby. Morning nap routines may slowly start replacing frequent middle-of-the-night awakenings. At this age, babies develop the circadian rhythms that govern sleeping during the night and staying awake during the day. But it’s a slow process.
You can help your baby learn to sleep longer by making sure they’re as comfortable as possible in their safe sleep environment, blocking out light and disruptive noises, and adjusting bedtimes if needed. Also, consider offering a late-night “dream feeding,” in which you provide a feeding two or three hours after bed. The goal is to give one late night feeding without fully rousing them from sleep so they can sleep until morning without eating again. This method will not work for all babies, but is a good option to try out.
No matter how much your baby sleeps at night, they still need a lot of daytime sleep at this age. On average, you can expect three or four daytime naps (3) that last anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours each.
By this age, most babies are ready to respond (4) to sleep training. Some parents let babies cry it out when they awaken at night, while others prefer one of the many no-cry sleep training methods. Either way is fine, but make sure you’re consistent.
Parents should follow the guidance of their pediatrician as to when to decrease nighttime feedings, as there are many factors that influence the correct timing. Open the curtains in the morning to let light in, and close them at night. Don’t be too quick to respond every time your baby makes a noise at night – as long as they are sleeping safely – and make sure you put them to bed before they become overtired.
With these techniques, your baby should learn to sleep through the night when their own unique body is ready. This reduces the number of daytime naps but does not eliminate them. The baby’s first nap of the day should be in the mid-morning, with two or three more naps spaced evenly throughout the day.
By the time your baby is seven or eight months old, their sleep schedule should become more predictable. Many babies begin to sleep through the night at this age. They should gradually consolidate their napping schedule down to just two naps per day: a morning nap a few hours after waking and an early afternoon nap.
As your baby enters the latter part of their first year of life, they will naturally start sleeping fewer but more predictable hours. If you haven’t yet gotten your baby on a daily schedule, this is a great time to do so. Some babies are down to a single nap by their first birthday, but this is uncommon — most keep to a two-nap schedule.
Most babies in this age range will still need two naps a day, though some transition to a single nap prior to turning 1. The morning nap is usually the first one to drop off.
18 Months to 2 Years
Your baby should transition to one afternoon nap, if they haven’t already, at some point during this age range. But knowing when to schedule that nap is essential. The sweet spot is usually in the early afternoon, which allows them to sleep for long enough without interfering with dinner or affecting their natural rhythms.
Your baby will give you signs that they’re getting tired, from rubbing their eyes to nodding off. From that point, you have about 30 minutes to get them into their crib before they start becoming too tired and cranky to sleep. Try tracking your baby’s natural cycles for several days and then building a nap schedule that works with both your schedule and their biorhythms. Start creating routines that teach your baby’s body that it’s time to sleep. For example, you might put them in the crib, dim the lights, and play some soft, soothing music. Most experts suggest not letting your child nap for more than three hours, as this can make it harder for them to fall asleep at night.
Most toddlers still need an afternoon nap. However, they’re highly active and will need to be awake for several hours between napping and bedtime.
Determining your toddler’s sleep schedule can be difficult. Children still need at least 10 hours of nighttime sleep (5) at this age, and morning activities — such as preschool — can complicate their schedule. There are 3 steps to working out when your toddler should sleep:
- Set a bedtime by counting back at least 10 hours from the time your toddler needs to get up in the morning.
- Count back at least four to five hours from bedtime to determine the latest your toddler should wake from his nap.
- Plan for a nap of approximately two hours.
Many toddlers will give up their afternoon nap by the time they’re 3 to 4 years old. They still need to sleep for at least 10 hours a night at this age (more likely 11 to 12 hours), but maintaining this schedule can be difficult due to a busy schedule or their insistence on waking up early. If your toddler becomes cranky or shows other signs of daytime sleepiness, it may be worth putting them down for a nap. If they can’t or won’t nap, 30 minutes to an hour of “quiet time” can also be effective.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to when your baby should sleep. Learn to tune into your child’s natural rhythms and build a nap schedule that fits their sleep-wake cycles. As they grow their napping needs will change, but continuing to pay close attention to their cues can help you determine how best to shift their schedule.
- https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1527336908001323 Accessed on February 18, 2021.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5440010/ Accessed on February 18, 2021.
- https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002392.htm Accessed on February 18, 2021.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2757435/ Accessed on February 18, 2021.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5078711/ Accessed on February 18, 2021.