Reprinted from Rachel Mitchell
Tired of having an overtired baby on your hands? A sleep consultant breaks down her best advice for how to get baby to take longer naps.
It’s every parent’s favorite time of day: Nap time! (That is, if all goes smoothly.) Getting baby to take solid naps throughout the day is not only important for their physical and mental development, but it also plays a key role in promoting good sleep at night. Not to mention, it’s also the time of day that many parents count on in order to get things done!
But if you’ve tried and tried to get baby to take good naps without success, you’re not alone. Short and inconsistent naps are a common struggle that I see among babies under age one, and there are several reasons why this might be happening with your child. Here’s what might be going on, and how to get baby to nap longer—for both your sake’s!
In this article:
How much should baby be napping?
Baby nap challenges and solutions
How Much Should Baby Be Napping?
Most parents are eager to learn how to get baby to nap longer—but an endless amount of sleep isn’t what’s best for little ones. Let’s start with the recommended totals of daytime sleep that we like to see based on baby’s age, so you have an idea of what you’re actually aiming for.
For babies 0-3 months
In the newborn stage, baby is sleeping a lot (even if it doesn’t seem like it). The total amount of sleep your infant should be getting in a 24-hour period is between 14 and 17 hours, and four to six of those hours should be dedicated to sleep during the day. Just remember, naps will be very inconsistent in this stage, and that’s normal!
For babies 3.5-6 months
Once your child has graduated from the newborn stage, naps will start to consolidate a bit better. The goal is for baby to be napping about three to five hours per day, usually broken up between three to four naps.
For babies 7-9 months
As your little one starts to gradually work toward two naps, their nap totals will decrease slightly to about two and a half to four hours. I recommend hanging on to that third nap until baby is about 8 or 9 months old or until it’s very clear the third nap is no longer needed.
For babies 10-14 months
Once baby is solidly on a two-nap schedule, you may notice that as they get older, their day sleep needs decrease slightly, and naps may become slightly shorter. This is nothing to panic about, but you still want to make sure baby is sleeping between two and a half to three and half hours during the day across two naps.
Baby Nap Challenges and Solutions
So what if your child isn’t taking long enough naps to get the recommended amount of sleep for their age? The key to understanding how to get baby to nap longer is figuring out what’s preventing them from snoozing for long stretches in the first place. There are several reasons that babies struggle to get adequate day sleep, many of which are not as obvious as you might think. Here are a few of the sneaky but common culprits.
- Your child is overtired
If you misjudge baby’s awake window—meaning the amount of time your child is able to stay awake, depending on their stage of development—and put baby down for a nap too late, your child will be overtired. While it might sound counterintuitive, being overtired actually makes it harder for baby to fall asleep, leading to a nap time struggle and likely a short or missed nap.
Here are our recommended awake windows by age:
0-3 months- 60-90 minutes,
4-6 months- 1.5-2.5 hours
7-9 months- 2-3/3.5 hours
10-12 months- 2-4 hours (morning can still be short)
13-14 months- 2.5-4.5 hours
15-18 months- 4.5-5.5 hours (try to follow a schedule at this age)
Keep in mind that these might vary depending on how long of naps your baby is taking and how rested they are from night sleep.
What to do: For the first year of life, follow awake windows to determine when baby should be sleeping, and look for sleepy cues to ensure you’re not missing your child’s nap window.
- Baby has outgrown their nap schedule
In some cases, the secret to how to get baby to take longer naps is making sure they’re actually tired. Your child may need longer awake windows to have time to build up more sleep pressure in between naps.
What to do: Make sure your child’s nap schedule is age-appropriate, and adjust as needed. Here are my recommendations for a child’s nap schedule by age.
- Your child is unable to connect sleep cycles independently
Let’s say baby is being nursed or rocked to sleep and then waking just 30 or 45 minutes after being put down; sound familiar? The most common reason this happens is because your little one is unable to self-soothe independently as they connect their sleep cycles, which last about 30 to 45 minutes.
What to do: If this is happening, start working on those self-soothing skills so baby can start connecting those cycles on their own. You can do this by practicing putting your child down awake instead of asleep, performing quick check-ins when baby wakes up and giving your child the opportunity to self-soothe depending on the intensity of their cries—limit hard crying to 5 to 10 minutes but give baby more time if they’re just fussing or crying softly.
- Baby’s sleep environment isn’t promoting sleep
If your child is napping in the car or stroller instead of in a consistent sleep environment—aka their crib or bassinet—they aren’t going to get the best quality of sleep. To get baby to nap longer, you’ll need to adjust where they’re sleeping.
What to do: Follow the 80/20 rule. Some car and on-the-go naps are inevitable, but aim for the majority of naps (at least 80 percent) to be in their own sleep space, whether it’s their crib or bassinet. Use white noise and blackout shades to ensure that baby isn’t waking up due to external factors such as noise or daylight sneaking in.
- Your child is stuck in an overtired cycle
There are several reasons baby might be stuck in an overtired and overstimulated cycle, leading to poor naps and nighttime sleep.
What to do: To break baby of this cycle, you need to make sure your child’s awake windows aren’t too long and that they’re getting adequate night sleep. In some cases you may need to perform an “assisted nap,” which is essentially holding or wearing baby (depending on their age) in order to elongate their nap and break the overtired cycle.
But wait, didn’t I just tell you to set a consistent sleep environment in a crib? Yes, and this is only meant as a temporary solution until you break the overtired cycle. It doesn’t work for all babies, but it can work wonders if done correctly. In order to do an assisted nap safely, hold or wear your little one while you’re sitting in a rocking chair (or standing, if wearing) and place baby in a position that’s safe and ensures that their airways are open. It’s important to note that this should never be done while you’re on the verge of falling asleep yourself.
- Baby is waking early from a nap due to hunger
If your child’s feeding schedule doesn’t align with their nap schedule, or baby isn’t getting full feedings throughout the day, they may wake from a nap looking for a feed.
What to do: The goal for the first year of life is to aim for full feeds: about 4 to 5.5 ounces every two and a half to three hours. Try your best to time feedings during awake periods so baby is nice and full before each nap and isn’t missing a feeding. If you’re nursing or feeding on demand, you may want to think about implementing more structure in your child’s feeding routine to ensure they’re getting full feeds instead of snacking.
Short naps can be frustrating for both you and baby, and it can take a bit of troubleshooting to determine the culprit and figure out how to get baby to nap longer. Once you address each of the areas above, you’re sure to see longer naps in a matter of weeks, leading to better sleep for baby and more time for you!
Plus, more from Baby Sleep Better: