A healthy baby nap schedule is essential to ensuring your baby gets the sleep they need is essential for their growth, development, and overall well-being. But as adults, we’re often blissfully unaware of the amount of sleep our babies need. In my Occupational Therapy practice, I met with countless parents who had no idea how to establish a baby sleep schedule. ‘If we’re not tired, they’re probably not either,’ they’d say – assuming that their baby would naturally fall asleep when they needed to.
Very often, those same parents would be baffled a few weeks later by their baby’s inconsolable crying every evening. “We’ve tried everything,” they’d say completely frustrated and clearly exhausted. When I’d ask them about their baby’s sleep habits, their answers would be vague. Their little ones were clearly overtired and cranky (or colicky), leaving parents to look for a medical diagnosis to explain their baby’s unhappiness instead of considering their sleep needs.
Strict sleep schedule vs no sleep schedule
If this is you, please know that you’re not alone. At the other end of the spectrum, I followed an extremely strict schedule with my firstborn, and I can safely say that strict schedules can be as impractical and unhealthy as having no schedule at all.
My professional and personal experience as a mom of three, I am a huge proponent of a flexible schedule using a few important guiding principles. That makes life a bit easier for moms and dads because by following a few guidelines, you can ensure your baby is getting sufficient sleep within a relatively consistent nap schedule.
In this blog, I’ll guide you through creating a baby nap schedule by months, understanding your baby’s evolving sleep needs, and providing tips for a smoother transition.
Guiding principles for establishing a baby nap schedule
As mentioned above, there are a few principles that you need to follow to establish a healthy baby nap schedule. These principles are your baby’s age and Baby Awake Times. Your baby’s needs (sleep, feeding and stimulation) will change as they grow and therefore, so will their sleep routine.
I talk extensively about Baby Awake Times as a practical, science-backed way to calculate how much sleep your baby needs. Awake times are the windows your baby is awake before needing to be settled to sleep again. These windows also get longer with age, so for example a newborn can only manage 45 minutes of awake time before they need to be settled to sleep again. A 12-month-old, however, can be awake for 3 – 4 hour stretches without needing a nap.
Here is some guidance for following an age-appropriate baby nap schedule:
Newborn Stage (0-3 Months)
During the newborn stage, your little bundle of joy spends most of their time sleeping. Newborns sleep approximately 14-17 hours a day, waking up every few hours for feeding. But it’s important to remember that establishing a nap schedule at this age can be challenging as their sleep patterns are irregular.
Instead of trying to stick to a strict routine, follow these 3 tips instead:
- Create a soothing sleep environment. Ensure your baby’s room or sleep space is quiet, dark, and comfortably cool. Use block-out curtains or blinds and a white noise machine to create a soothing sleep atmosphere.
- Encourage daytime wakefulness. Expose your baby to natural light and engage them in gentle playtime during the day. This helps them to differentiate day from night.
- Embrace an “eat, play, sleep” routine. Feed your baby, engage in gentle play or stimulating activities, and then settle them to sleep. This routine helps establish healthy sleep associations.
Infant stage nap schedule (4-6 Months)
Around this age, your baby begins to develop a more predictable sleep schedule, and their nap pattern starts to take shape. Most infants nap around three to four times a day for 1-2 hours per nap.
Follow these 3 tips to encourage healthy sleep habits:
- Observe your baby’s sleep cues. Look for signs of drowsiness, such as rubbing their eyes, yawning, or becoming fussy, and settle them to sleep immediately.
- Develop a consistent pre-nap routine. Establishing a pre-nap routine, such as a short lullaby or story, can signal to your baby that it’s time to relax and prepare for sleep.
- Promote self-soothing techniques. Encourage your baby to fall asleep independently by placing them in their crib while drowsy but still awake. You can also give them a pacifier/dummy or sleep association object. This helps them learn self-soothing skills.
Sample nap and sleep schedule for your 4-6-month-old baby
At this stage, your baby may take three to four naps a day, each lasting around 1-2 hours. Here’s a sample schedule:
6:00 AM – Wake up
8:00 AM – First nap (1-2 hours)
10:00 AM – Awake time and play
12:00 PM – Second nap (1-2 hours)
2:00 PM – Awake time and play
4:00 PM – Third nap (1-2 hours)
6:00 PM – Bedtime routine
7:00 PM – Bedtime
Baby stage nap schedule (7-9 Months)
By this stage, most babies consolidate their naps, transitioning from four to three naps a day. The duration of each nap may increase to around 1.5-2 hours. Remember that teething, illness and age-based sleep regression can disrupt your baby’s sleep schedule so again, try not to be stringent but flexible.
Follow these top tips for a baby nap schedule:
- Aim for a schedule of three naps, spaced evenly throughout the day. Check ideal awake times to ensure the timing of the last nap doesn’t interfere with bedtime.
- Be mindful of longer awake windows. As your baby grows, they can tolerate longer periods of wakefulness between naps. Be sure to give them the stimulation they need and observe their sleep cues to get the balance of sleep and stimulation right.
- Create a calming bedtime routine. Stick to the same bedtime routine as far as possible. Include activities such as a warm bath, a soothing massage, and quiet story time. Don’t take your baby out of their sleep space after their bath. This routine will signal to your baby that it’s time to wind down and prepare for a good night’s sleep.
Sample nap and sleep schedule for your 7-9-month-old baby
Around this age, most babies transition from four to three naps a day. The duration of each nap may increase to around 1.5-2 hours. Here’s a sample schedule:
6:00 AM – Wake up
8:30 AM – First nap (1.5-2 hours)
10:30 AM – Awake time and play
1:00 PM – Second nap (1.5-2 hours)
3:00 PM – Awake time and play
4:00 PM – Third nap (30 minutes to 1 hour)
6:00 PM – Bedtime routine
7:00 PM – Bedtime
Toddler stage nap schedule (10-12 Months)
As your baby transitions into toddlerhood, their nap schedule will change even more. Most toddlers take two naps a day, typically one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The duration of each nap can range from 1-2 hours.
Here are some tips to manage your older baby’s sleep routine:
- Adjust nap times to fit the family schedule. Adapt the nap schedule to align with your daily routine, making sure the timing doesn’t interfere with bedtime.
- Promote a consistent sleep environment. Ensure your toddler’s sleep environment remains conducive to restful sleep, with a comfortable mattress, appropriate room temperature, and minimal distractions.
- Encourage winding down activities. Establish relaxing rituals before naptime, such as reading a book, listening to calming music, or cuddling with a favourite stuffed animal.
Sample nap and sleep schedule for your 10-12-month-old baby
By this stage, most toddlers consolidate their naps to two a day. Each nap can last 1-2 hours. Here’s a sample schedule:
6:00 AM – Wake up
8:30 AM – Morning nap (1-2 hours)
10:30 AM – Awake time and play
2:00 PM – Afternoon nap (1-2 hours)
4:00 PM – Awake time and play
6:30 PM – Bedtime routine
7:30 PM – Bedtime
Remember that these are just sample schedules, and every baby is different. Adjust the timing and duration of naps based on your baby’s cues and needs.
5 Tips to help new parents recognise their baby’s internal nap time schedule
A well-structured nap routine paves the way for a well-rested and happy baby, promoting their optimal growth and development. But every baby is unique, so recognising your baby’s internal nap time schedule is crucial for establishing a nap routine meets your child’s individual needs.
Here are 5 tips to help you identify your baby’s internal nap schedule:
- Observe their sleepy cues: Pay attention to your baby’s behaviour and body language to identify signs of sleepiness. These may include rubbing their eyes, yawning, becoming fussy or irritable, or showing decreased engagement with their surroundings. These cues indicate that your baby is ready for a nap.
- Track their awake times: Keep track of how long your baby can comfortably stay awake between naps without becoming overtired. Each baby is different, but as a general guideline, newborns can typically handle only short awake periods of 45 minutes to an hour, while older babies may tolerate longer awake times of 1.5 to 2 hours or more. Notice when your baby starts showing signs of fatigue within those awake windows. Download Parent Sense to quickly and easily track your baby’s sleep and get a flexible routine with handy notifications so you know what’s up next.
- Look for patterns: Over time, you may notice certain patterns emerging in your baby’s sleep schedule. Pay attention to the times of day when your baby consistently shows signs of sleepiness or tends to fall asleep more easily. These patterns can help you establish a more predictable nap routine.
- Respect their individuality: Remember that every baby is unique, and their sleep needs may differ. Some babies may naturally be more inclined to take longer naps or require shorter awake times. Pay attention to your baby’s individual preferences and adjust the nap schedule accordingly.
- Be flexible and adaptable: While recognizing your baby’s internal nap time schedule is essential, it’s also important to remain flexible and adaptable. Babies go through growth spurts, developmental leaps, and other changes that can temporarily disrupt their sleep patterns. Be open to making adjustments to the nap schedule when needed to meet their evolving needs.
By following these tips, you can develop a nap schedule that is in sync with your baby’s internal sleep rhythms. This will not only help your baby get the rest they need but also contribute to a smoother and more enjoyable parenting experience.
Understanding your baby’s sleep signals by month
Understanding your baby’s sleep signals by month can help you respond to their needs and establish a consistent nap routine. Remember, these sleep signals are general guidelines, and individual babies may exhibit their own unique cues. Here’s a month-by-month breakdown of typical sleep signals and patterns:
When to break your baby nap schedule
Establishing a nap routine is beneficial for both babies and parents, as it helps promote healthy sleep habits and provides a sense of structure to the day. However, there may be times when it becomes necessary to break the nap routine due to certain circumstances. Here are a few instances when it might be appropriate to deviate from the regular nap schedule:
Special occasions or events
If you have an important family gathering, celebration, or outing that falls within your baby’s nap time, it may be necessary to adjust the schedule. While it’s generally best to stick to the routine, occasional exceptions can be made without causing significant disruption.
Travel or time zone changes
When traveling with your baby or experiencing a significant time zone difference, it’s important to be flexible with their nap schedule. Sticking to awake times is a great way to adjust their sleep routine to match the new time zone.
Developmental milestones or transitions
When your baby is going through a developmental leap or experiencing a significant milestone, their sleep patterns may temporarily change. It’s normal for nap routines to be disrupted during sleep regression at various ages. Be patient and adjust the schedule accordingly, allowing your baby to transition through the change without too much fuss.
Illness or discomfort
When your baby is unwell or experiencing discomfort, their sleep patterns may naturally be disturbed. During these times, prioritise your baby’s well-being and comfort. Offer extra comfort, cuddles, and attention as needed, even if it means adjusting the nap schedule temporarily.
Shifts in nap needs
As your baby grows and develops, their sleep needs will evolve. There may come a point when they naturally start dropping a nap or require less daytime sleep. Be attuned to your baby’s cues and adjust the nap routine accordingly to ensure they are getting the appropriate amount of rest.
Parent Sense’s Responsive Routine
Remember… flexibility is key when it comes to parenting and establishing a nap routine! While consistency is important, it’s equally important to be adaptable and responsive to your baby’s changing needs. By finding the right balance between routine and flexibility, you can create an environment that supports your baby’s sleep while accommodating life’s inevitable changes.
For a practical way to strike a happy balance, download Parent Sense. The app’s Responsive Routine feature dynamically adjusts throughout the day based on the feeding and sleep information you track. That means that no matter what kind of day you’re having, you can rest assured that your baby is getting the sleep and nutrition they need to thrive. Download Parent Sense and start using the Responsive Routine now to experience a stress-free sleep schedule.