Parents often worry as much or even more about their babies’ naps than their nighttime sleep.

The fear is completely understandable – especially the worry that over-tiredness from lack of daytime sleep will cause nighttime sleep problems.

This isn’t always the case though and it is my view that the starting point for teaching a baby how to sleep well is at bedtime. This is when they are biologically “programmed” to sleep!

Then once they have good sleep skills established at nighttime, they will be able to use them to help them take naps during the day.

It’s usually easier for babies to sleep at night than during the day

Babies over the age of 2 or 3  months are naturally predisposed to sleep at night time. They have sleep hormones [melatonin etc.] to help them and their little circadian clocks are set for them to sleep. It, therefore, makes sense to teach them to sleep at the time that they are most able to learn.

They do of course need to sleep in the daytime  – because they are little and they are growing, but without high melatonin levels, and other biological factors, many babies struggle with naps. 

I always advise parents not to push too hard with babies’ naps and run the risk of them developing an unhappy association with the cot. It is better to take things gently and slowly. More often than not, daytime naps improve as night sleep improves or even simply with maturity. It’s usually by 8 or  9 months old that naps extend.

In the meantime, it is fine for your baby to have some or all of the naps as pram naps and contact naps. Don’t worry in this instance about not being 100% consistent – it is more important that they sleep, and their body clock gets accustomed to napping at regular times.

Sleepy signs

The first step in helping your baby to nap well is to recognise when they are actually tired. Feel free to use apps and charts but don’t be afraid to use your own eyes and instinct!

Then if you’re going to put them into the cot for a nap, try to create a night time atmosphere. Don’t worry about day/night confusion – it doesn’t matter! If you trick them into thinking it’s nighttime they are more like to sleep for longer!

 The best way to settle your baby for a nap

This routine is for when you want to put your baby into their cot for a nap.

You dont need to follow a nap routine if they are going to sleep in the pram, carrier, the car or in someones arms.

If your baby is new to napping in the cot, start with the first nap of the day, as this is the one that most babies find the easiest.

About 10 minutes before the end of their usual wake window, or when they show the first signs of tiredness, take them to the room where they usually sleep.

Start a mini bedtime routine – a nappy change, their sleep bag on, the same book as they have at bedtime, darken the room etc.

Don’t worry about confusing them between daytime and nighttime. It doesn’t matter!

Just let them know that now it is time for sleep.

Put them awake into their cot and respond as you did when you taught them to settle at night time.

Use the same phrases and body language.

If they’re not used to sleeping in the cot during the day, and you’re doing this on the back of improving their nighttime sleep as well, it might take an hour or so for them to go to sleep.

This is ok – especially if they are just awake and fussing or mildly crying.

Avoid negative nap associations

If they cry strongly, don’t leave them and don’t let this go on for more than a few minutes.

Pick them and help them to go to sleep either in your arms or in the pram or carrier.

You can always try again the next day and this is not the end of the world!

What you don’t want to happen is for them to develop an unhappy association with their cot.

If they sleep in the cot and wake after less than an hour and still appear to be tired, then you should spend another 20 -30 min trying to help them resettle.

It’s fine to pick them up and rock them back to sleep.

It is also ok of course to extend the nap in your arms as a contact nap.

Wake Windows

When we refer to a baby or child’s wake window, we mean the periods when they are not sleeping. 

Very young babies struggle to stay awake for more than a few minutes at a time, so their wake windows are very short. As they get older and build up stamina, their wake windows widen, meaning that from about 3 years old, a child can manage a wake window of about 12 hours.

If the wake window is too short, they might struggle to settle to sleep. If it is too long, they can become overtired and find it difficult to relax and drift off.

So it’s good to know what the average wake windows are like for babies and children at various ages, but also to recognise their own child’s sleepy signs and their unique sleep needs and wake windows. 

The science bit – The neurotransmitter Adenosine influences the need for sleep and levels of it build up as energy is expended.

Averages for daytime naps

It goes without saying that as babies get bigger, they take less frequent naps and their overall daytime napping time drops. Babies tend to drop their nap altogether when they are around 2.5 -3.5 years but many will continue to enjoy their nap until the age of 5 when they have to drop it because they start school!

Further help

If you’re struggling with your baby’s sleep either now or in the future, I am here to help you.

My books

My bestselling books give you the tools to help your baby and yourself get a good night’s sleep. They are full of expert, practical advice and case studies. Each book teaches you to create your baby or child’s personal sleep plan and is written in a clear and accessible style.

They are available in all formats from Amazon and other booksellers.

My courses

When your baby is a bit older if you need help with their sleep, have a look at my sleep courses.

My courses are a mix of video, graphics and easy-to-read text. They are a great way to access my expert help – from your phone, tablet or laptop. The courses have no expiry date and are updated frequently. The Gentle Sleep Course is very comprehensive, easy to dip in and out of and is very empowering.

The Early Waking Course is concise and accessible – it takes around an hour to complete and it may be the best hour you’ve ever spent!

Both of the courses contain helpful schedules for day and night time sleep.

My 1:1 consultations

If you choose to book a one-to-one consultation with me, you will receive my expert advice along with a copy of my Gentle Sleep Solutions book and four follow up support emails.

You will be in very safe, experienced hands and I treat every parent and child with kindness. As a qualified health professional, I can help if your baby or you have medical needs. I have helped over 15,000 families from all over the world to get a good night’s sleep.

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