There’s a little something called the 4 month sleep regression. Maybe you’ve heard of it? It’s when newborns who were great sleepers are now terrible, and newborns who were not great sleepers are now abysmal. Not only does this mark the time when you can teach your baby independent sleep skills, but it also signals to you that it is time to start the transition from 4 to 3 naps.
For everything you need to know about teaching your baby independent sleep skills, check out this post here. For everything you need to know about how to transition from 4 to 3 naps, keep reading!
In this post, we are going to dive into:
When do babies transition from 4 to 3 naps?
Between 3-4 months, your baby is probably taking 4-5 naps a day. Yes, the goal is always nice long naps that are over 60 minutes, however I think we both know what the reality often is. As your baby enters the 4-month sleep regression, naps will probably be all over the place and your baby’s overall sleep falls apart like a two wheeled tricycle.
To survive this not-so-pleasant time in your life, I highly recommend “sleep learning” which means teaching your baby independent sleep skills. It is during this process that your baby is going to move towards solidifying their sleep to a ”by the clock” schedule where they take 3 solid naps day.
Wondering if there is a time when I don’t recommend starting to teach your baby independent sleep skills? Check out my reel by clicking here or on the image below.
Now this is going to be a bit of a process and it’s usually not a walk in the park, but not to worry, I got you! Let’s break it all down and make a plan for the transition from 4 to 3 naps.
How to transition to 3 naps
If you start sleep learning around 4 months old, then that 4th nap starts to drop off fairly naturally. There just isn’t enough time for it anymore because naps are starting to lengthen! Now, on the days where you’re just not able to “save the nap” and it’s a crap nap, you can offer a cat nap (4th nap) in the evening so you can make it to bedtime without your baby getting overtired.
You can also bump bedtime earlier on the days where your baby had crap naps but there isn’t enough time for a cat nap. The key to success during the process of sleep learning is to prevent overtiredness!
If you are not doing any sleep learning at this time, you can transition from 4 to 3 naps in a similar fashion. Start to stretch wake windows, while also being cognizant of preventing overtiredness. You may have some days where you need to squeeze in an evening cat nap or bump bedtime earlier, and that’s totally fine to do during this process. It can take about a month for this new sleep schedule of 3 naps to fully iron out (especially if you are not doing any sleep learning).
For a solid 3 nap schedule, naps need to be at least an hour long. If naps are not lengthening on their own, check out my blog post on how to lengthen naps to at least 60 minutes.
By The Clock Schedule
Moving to a “by the clock” schedule can also help with this process. This means that you keep a sleep log for a few weeks so you can figure out the optimal schedule for your baby (when they wake up, go down for their 3 naps, and bedtime). Then you can loosely follow this schedule instead of using sleepy cues and age appropriate wake windows to determine your baby’s daily schedule.
I say loosely because I believe that allowing for +/- 30 minutes is still following a “by the clock” schedule. So if your baby usually wakes up at 7am and has their first nap at 9am, it’s ok if some days it is 6:30am and 8:30am or 7:15 am and 9:15am. As your baby gets older, you will find that their nap times will become even more predictable.
3 and 4 nap schedules
First of all, every baby is different. This means that the schedules I am sharing below are just examples and will not necessarily work for YOUR baby. I am sharing them because as a parent going through a transition of dropping a nap, it can be helpful to see an example of what a realistic schedule COULD look like. So please use this as a starting point and know that what’s most important is that your baby is on a schedule that works for them.
4 nap schedule
When you are on a 4 nap schedule, you are most likely still using sleepy cues and age appropriate wake windows to determine when your baby should be going to sleep. So you’re likely not on a “by the clock” schedule, however, the schedule below is based on average sleep needs for 4ish month old babies.
|4 Nap Schedule|
|Wake Up||7 am|
|1st Nap||8:30 am|
|2nd Nap||12 pm|
|3rd Nap||3 pm|
|4th Cat Nap||5:30 pm|
3 Nap Schedule
|3 Nap Schedule|
|Wake Up||7 am|
|1st Nap||9 am|
|2nd Nap||12 pm|
|3rd Nap||3 pm|
As you can see, the goal as you move to a 3 nap schedule is an earlier bedtime (as newborns start off with a very late bedtime of around 10-11pm) and 3 solid naps that are over an hour each.
This Average Sleep Chart may also help you see what the average wake windows, naps and nighttime sleep look like for babies making the transition from 4 to 3 naps.
|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|
*Broken for night feedings
Remember, these charts are just averages. Some babies have lower sleep needs (meaning they will be on the lower end of the average, or below the average) and some babies have higher sleep needs (meaning they will be on the higher end of the average or above the average). The objective is to find the sweet spot for YOUR baby.
Recap on how to transition from 4 to 3 naps
As always, the key to success is preventing overtiredness. As you make the transition from 4 to 3 naps, tune into your baby, read their cues, and adjust their schedule accordingly. Babies are not robots; some days you are going to have 4 naps and some days 3, and other days you might need to bump bedtime earlier. As long as the majority of the days you’re working on a 3 nap schedule with solid naps, everything will iron out in no time!
As I mentioned, this process goes quickly and smoothly when it’s done concurrently with sleep learning. We would love to help you through the process using an approach that works for YOUR baby! Check out my 4-24 Month Course or, for a super quick crash course, grab an individualized consultation with one of our amazing sleep consultants!