Sleeping Struggles: How to Start Your Baby's Napping Routine

Sleeping Struggles: How to Start Your Baby's Napping Routine

Does it seem like your baby sleeps all the time, or do you wish he/she would sleep longer? It doesn’t matter which camp you’re in, many parents worry their little ones aren’t getting enough shuteye. Pediatrician Andrew Cyr, MD, UnityPoint Health, offers advice in hopes everyone in your family will feel more rested.

How Long Should a Nap Be

Dr. Cyr says the length of a nap largely depends on the child, including the number of naps needed during the day. The older the child gets, the less total sleep is needed. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the American Academy of Pediatrics makes these recommendations for total sleep per day, including naps.

  • Infants (age four to 12 months): 12-16 hours
  • Toddler (1-2 years): 11-14 hours
  • Young Child (3-5 years old): 10-13 hours

“Most young infants will take two naps a day. If you can divide up the total time in a way that makes sense for your family, and in a way you can reliably maintain, you’re on the right track,” Dr. Cyr says.

Ideal Nap Time

Dr. Cyr says the time of day little ones nap really depends on the family’s schedule. Most young infants will take a morning and afternoon nap. He says it’s probably a good idea to monitor the afternoon nap, so it doesn’t go too long and cut into the bedtime routine. When children get older, they usually keep the afternoon nap and drop the morning snooze.

If your child goes to daycare, try to model your weekend napping routine off what the daycare is already practicing, in order to keep your schedule consistent.

Where to Nap

Ideally, naps for children should take place in the environment where they sleep overnight.

“Conditions during the nap should be similar to those at night; quiet, dark, similar temperature. This can help with falling asleep and staying asleep, as infants start to associate this area more with sleep and rest.”

Dr. Cyr says spontaneous napping in cars and strollers is fine, but structured, routine nap time is best accomplished in the same bed as overnight sleep.

How to Begin a Napping Routine

“Napping routines can start fairly early. But, it is important to have some flexibility in the first few months, because it can take some time for babies to figure out day from night. Sticking to strict sleeping schedules can sometimes cause more stress than benefit, especially in the first few weeks when parents are working to establish feeding patterns,” Dr. Cyr says.

Once the family is ready to try implementing a schedule, Dr. Cyr says routine is key. Try to keep the sleep environment consistent and set aside time prior to the nap to wind down and prepare for rest. Dr. Cyr also says sometimes parents need to adjust expectations, especially for older children. This can help reduce stress associated with a “nap-refuser.”

“In my house, my 4-year-old daughter has “resting time,” rather than nap time. She is expected to stay in her room for the set amount of time (for us, it’s one hour), and as long as she is quiet and not disruptive, she is allowed to do what she wants in her room. She does not necessarily need to nap, but if she is tired, sometimes she will. We have found we are all less frustrated, and she still comes out after “resting time” actually rested and calm,” Dr. Cyr says.

Dr. Cyr says he knows figuring out sleep is frustrating, but he wants all families to remember one thing.

“All children are different and have slightly different sleep requirements. What works for one child, may not work for another. What works for one family, may not work for another. Chat with your pediatrician for additional tips and tricks, based on your child’s specific needs,” Dr. Cyr says.

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