Are you concerned that your baby might be napping for too long? I might be able to help you out.
How can you change a baby’s nap schedule if he or she naps too late into the day? If your baby’s prolonged siestas are affecting nighttime sleep, it could be time to establish an entirely new nap schedule. Otherwise, you might just need to tweak a few things to get your baby’s snoozing habits back on track.
Changing your baby’s nap schedule might seem like another parental mountain to overcome, but, hopefully, these suggestions will make the transition easier than you ever thought it could be.
Naps are the ideal times for busy parents to finish some long-awaited work, take much-needed showers, or catch a few Z’s themselves. Not surprisingly, a foiled nap can be terribly frustrating.
However, excessive napping should concern you just as much: If a baby naps too often, he or she might have trouble getting to sleep later that night, and every parent knows how utterly crucial a full seven hours of nighttime sleep can be.
Babies under three months of age don’t really have a nap schedule at all. Their sleeping patterns are sporadic and unpredictable. They’ll sleep for a few minutes, wake up to eat, then sleep for hours on end. Newborns’ sleeping schedules should normalize over time, but until then, it’s best to just go with the flow.
Older babies, on the other hand, tend to settle into a more regular pattern of one to two naps per day: one in the morning and one in the afternoon. These naps are followed, of course, by nighttime sleep. Total, your baby should be getting about fourteen hours of sleep, though there isn’t really a definite span of sleep time agreed upon by all developmental experts. But one thing is clear: If the afternoon nap goes on for too long, later sleep could be inhibited.
This doesn’t mean you can just wake your baby whenever you think he or she has slept for too long. Victorian-based sleep consultant Donna McLachlan says, “If babies are constantly overtired, they fight sleep because their cortisol [stress hormone] levels are so high. The more rested a baby is, the easier it is for her to get to sleep and stay asleep.” (Read more from McLachlan’s interview with Today’s Parent here.)
Still, there is such a thing as too much sleep. If your baby wakes up at ungodly hours in the morning or struggles to stay asleep at night, the best solution might just be to drop the afternoon nap altogether.
Sarah Ockwell Smith is a renowned parenting and childcare expert. If your baby is ready to drop a nap, she maintains that he or she will exhibit the following characteristics:
(Read more from Ockwell here.)
If you think your baby is ready to drop a nap, there are generally two things you can do.
I suppose this one is somewhat self-explanatory. Sometimes, your baby simply outgrows on of his or her naps and can drop it naturally.
This process can take several months. Some days, your baby will take the nap. Some days, he or she just won’t feel so tired.
Dropping naps naturally might make your baby unusually fussy or cranky. Don’t worry: this is perfectly normal. Even if he or she seems tired or grumpy, don’t ever force a nap that your child doesn’t want to take.
If you notice that your baby seems less inclined to take a second nap, try to shift his or her first nap to a later time. For instance, if your baby initially napped at nine a.m. and one p.m., try to put him to bed at around eleven a.m.
This approach is often necessary, but it almost imitates jetlag. Just as if you let the nap drop on its own, your baby will be uncharacteristically grouchy for a few weeks while adjusting to this new schedule, but he or she will soon recover from the shock.
Take note of where your baby is falling asleep. He or she should doze off in the same place he or she wakes up. Furthermore, ask yourself what sorts of conditions your baby is accustomed to at bedtime: Does he or she sleep with a stuffed animal? Do you generally sing to or rock him or her to sleep? Do you play music or white noise when putting your baby down for the night? Replicating these same environmental circumstances when you want your baby to sleep and eliminating them at all other times of the day are great ways to hustle the whole nap-dropping affair.
You’ll also want to phase out the routines your baby associates with waking at night. If you generally rock your baby back to sleep when he or she wakes up crying in the night, try letting him or her settle down without your help. Try feeding your baby no later than twenty minutes before bedtime. (If your baby is older than six months, you’ll probably want to phase out these late-night feedings altogether.) Decreasing your baby’s dependency on you to fall asleep will encourage restful nights and, consequently, fewer required naps during the day.
More often than not, changing a baby’s sleep schedule is a bit of a hassle. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be as difficult as it’s often made out to be. Babies adapt quickly—just think of how vastly they develop in the first year of their lives alone!
Of course, even with my help, not everything is going to be easy-breezy. Even after babies learn to settle on their own when waking at night or do without an extra nap during the day, old habits die hard. Not even babies are immune to regression.
If your baby still won’t comply after two or three weeks of persistent sleep training, you might want to see a pediatrician. Odds are, the issue isn’t serious, but there might be something a licensed physician can do that didn’t occur to you before.
You’ll also want to visit a doctor if your baby is only struggling more to sleep as you try to adjust his or her nap schedule. Again, a medical professional might be able to tailor a schedule to your baby’s specific needs.
Whatever issues you may have when changing your baby’s nap schedule, just know that they won’t last for long. As I said, babies adapt quickly. Don’t let this change in schedule add to your stress. Remember: You’re not alone. Every parent has to deal with finicky babies and sleeping schedules. Stay calm. You’ve got this!
How can I shift my baby’s bedtime? The best way to do this is to adjust his or her wake-up time accordingly. If you’re putting your baby to bed an hour earlier, expect him or her to wake up an hour earlier, too. But be careful: They say that every hour of sleep before midnight actually counts as two, so you don’t want to push your baby’s bedtime back too far, unless he or she already takes a nap that runs into the early evening.
Is a three-hour nap too long for a baby? Most newborn babies need about four to five hours of daytime sleep. If one of a baby’s naps is three hours long and another is two, that’s just fine. But keep in mind that babies of six months and older need fewer and fewer naps. Eight-month-old babies only need two hours of sleep during the day. You can refer to this Baby Nap Chart if you’re unsure about whether or not three hours of sleep are too many for your baby.