You know how it feels like as soon as you get your baby into a sleep schedule that works, it’s suddenly time to revamp the schedule again? Ya, that’s because it’s not your imagination- their sleep schedule IS always changing. This is the epitome of having a baby, and dropping naps is to blame.
When babies are first born, naps are all over the place as you both try and get sleep whenever you can. Then things start to follow a bit of a routine, and you work hard to get your baby on a 4 nap schedule. The first time you have to drop a nap is when you move to 3 naps. Then a few months later, it’s already time to drop to 2 naps. And before long it’s time to drop to 1 which is the nap schedule your baby will be on for the longest; until they drop that last nap around 3 years old.
Dropping naps is a constant throughout the baby and toddler years but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming! I’ve got you!
In this post I will go over:
How much sleep does my baby need?
Let’s dive in!
How much sleep does my baby need?
Sleep is SO important for babies. It promotes their social, intellectual, physical and emotional development! Which is huge, when you think about it! Baby’s bodies physically grow when they are sleeping, and well-rested babies usually develop faster socially and they often learn faster. A lack of sleep takes a huge toll on their emotional regulation and can lead to mental health issues down the road.
So with this in mind, how do you ensure your child is getting the sleep they need?
It’s important to remember that every baby is different, and therefore every baby has their own sleep needs. Some babies are “higher sleep needs” which means they need more sleep than the average baby, and some babies are “lower sleep needs” which means they need less sleep than the average baby.
Below is an average sleep needs chart that outlines the average amount of sleep babies require at each age. It is meant to be used a guide, or starting point, and for you to tweak as you learn what your baby’s individual sleep needs are.
|Age||Number of naps per day||Ideal length of naps||Awake time between naps||Awake time before bed||Average amount of daytime sleep||Average amount of nighttime sleep||Average amount of TOTAL sleep|
|0-3 months||4-7||45-60 min||60-90 min||1-2 hours||5-8 hours||9-10 hours*||16-18 hours|
|4 months||4||60+ min||90 min||2 hours||3.5-5 hours||10-11 hours*||15-16 hours|
|5 months||3||60+ min||2 hours||2.5 hours||3.5-4.5 hours||11-12 hours*||14-16 hours|
|7 months||2||60-90 min||2-3 hours||4 hours||3-4 hours||11-12 hours||14-15 hours|
|14 months||1||2 hours||5 hours||5 hours||2-3 hours||11-12 hours||13-14 hours|
*broken for nighttime feedings
When should I drop a nap?
It can be tricky to know when to drop a nap, so here are the main telltale signs:
1. It is an age-appropriate time.
2. Their current sleep schedule is suddenly no longer working. This can look like short naps, fighting naps, fighting bedtime, nighttime wakings or early morning wakings. Basically, all signs that your baby can handle longer wake windows and/or less overall sleep.
With this in mind, here are the age-appropriate times when most babies drop a nap.
Around 5 months old is when babies usually drop to a 3 nap schedule. Their naps start to lengthen and they can handle longer wake windows. This is usually a fairly natural process, especially if you are working on sleep learning – teaching independent sleep skills.
During this process, it is normal to have a cat nap (4th nap) that is shorter (less than an hour) in the evening. This is often needed to help prevent overtiredness and make it to bedtime. It may not happen every day, but it may be needed some days as your baby learns to consolidate their sleep and button up their 3 nap schedule.
This is also when many parents find it best to move their baby to a “by the clock” schedule. This means that nap times are a relatively set time each day, instead of basing nap time on sleepy cues and wake windows.
In order to know what “by the clock” schedule will work best for your baby, I suggest keeping a sleep log for your baby for at least 2 weeks. This will help you determine when their usual wake-up time is and the optimal time for when their naps and bedtime should be. Once you determine this, you can follow this schedule each day, keeping in mind that + or – 30 min is totally fine. So if your baby usually wakes up at 7 but they wake up closer to 6:30 one day, you can bump up their first nap by 15ish minutes and still be following a “by the clock” schedule.
Need help lengthening naps? Click here or on the image below:
Between 6 and 9 months, most babies drop to 2 naps. Around 6 months you may notice that one of the three naps a day becomes a cat nap (it is usually the last nap of the day, but if the first naps of the day are short, the last one can be longer to compensate and help your baby meet their optimal total daytime sleep).
As with dropping to 3 naps, it can take a bit for your baby to fully drop the third cat nap and you may find they need it every few days in order to prevent overtiredness and to make it to bedtime.
A 2 nap schedule is often referred to as a 2-3-4 schedule. This is because the wake windows of the day tend to be as follows: 2 hours (between wake up and first nap), 3 hours (between nap 1 and nap 2) and 4 hours (between nap 2 and bedtime). That being said, a 2-3-4 schedule is not what’s best for every baby. It’s great to use as a starting point, and then tweak it based on what works best for your baby. Some babies do best with 3-3-3 or 2-2-5. What’s most important is that you find your baby’s sweet spot.
Around 12-18 months is when your baby will drop to 1 nap. Be aware that around 10 and 12 months your baby will go through a sleep regression where they will likely start refusing naps and you will logically think, “I guess it’s time to drop to one nap!”, however I am here to warn you that it is a trick! It’s just a sleep regression and if you continue to offer time and space for both naps (read: power through) your baby will bounce back after a few weeks and start happily taking both naps again.
It is closer to 15 months that babies are generally ready to drop to one nap. Just a heads up, it does take more time than the other dropping naps transitions. It’s best to be prepared for about a month before things settle, and your baby is in a consistent one nap schedule. Just like with all the other transitions of dropping naps, your baby may take 2 naps, a few days a week. That’s totally fine, and it will help prevent overtiredness, just make sure you are sticking with only 1 nap a day more often than 2.
3 Years Old
Around 3 is when most babies drop their nap completely. At first, this sounds extremely disappointing, however the silver lining is that you can transition “nap time” into “quiet time”! It preserves that hour a day that you both need to rest and reset!
There is a 24 month sleep regression where most toddlers start fighting naptime. Hold strong, my friend, and check out my reel on this by clicking here or on the image below:
For everything you need to know about when toddlers stop napping and how to transition to “quiet time”, check out this blog post here.
How to drop a nap
The key to dropping naps is to tune into your baby’s cues and maintain consistency. One of the key pieces of sleep learning is knowing how to be consistent yet responsive. Changing up the plan or sleep schedule too much will make things a lot harder and more challenging for your baby, however it’s important to know when it’s best to make a tweak or change to effectively meet your baby’s needs.
I talk a lot more about being consistent yet responsive in my 4-24 month course. Of course, I also talk in more detail about how and when to drop naps!
Recap on dropping naps
It’s best to be realistic and know that dropping naps will cause some hiccups in your baby’s sleep. This is totally normal and these phases of sleep changes/disruptions won’t last forever!
That being said, it can be exhausting trying to figure out the best sleep schedule for YOUR baby (especially when it is always changing!). And learning to tune into your baby to read their cues can be tricky for even the most seasoned parents. Every baby is different, which is why we are here to help! One of our amazing sleep consultants would LOVE to help you figure out exactly what your baby needs and to get them on the perfect nap schedule. Check out all of our consultation options here!