How much should your baby nap during their first year?
Naps may be a luxury for us grownups, but they’re a necessity for babies. You’ll see some big changes in your baby’s napping patterns over their first year. Here’s a quick guide to what you can expect.
If you’re a brand-new parent, you might be surprised just how much your newborn is sleeping during the day. That little bundle of cuteness you’ve been waiting for months to get acquainted with is a lot more interested in snoozing than interacting. But don’t worry; it’s not you. It’s them. Babies need a ton of sleep in the first few weeks and months—16 to 18 hours a day or more.
As far as newborns are concerned, there’s no difference between daytime and nighttime sleep. Their circadian rhythms haven’t developed yet, so they can’t distinguish between night and day, and they can’t stay awake for more than an hour or two without fussing or crying.
Babies this age are too young to stick to a napping schedule, so it’s fine to let them sleep on and off throughout the day. You can, however, help them start to build their awareness of day and night by exposing them to plenty of light during the day and having them sleep in a quiet, dimly lit area in the evening.
Big changes are afoot in the second three months of your baby’s life! Babies can stay awake for longer stretches of time now without melting down. Your baby will start shifting into a schedule of 2-3 naps a day (a total of 3-4 hours), which you can help establish by putting them down for their naps at about the same time every day and, whenever possible, in their crib as opposed to their car seat or swing. Remember that the key is to start naps when your baby is drowsy but awake, otherwise they may be too overtired to wind down.
Around the 3- or 4-month mark is also when some babies have the dreaded sleep regression: They’re fussy and cranky, and sleep for shorter stretches of time, both during the day and at night. This is in part because they’re starting to cycle through different phases of sleep, active and deep sleep, and the “active” phase comes with a startle reflex that can wake them up.
3-4 months is also when babies become much more active and engaged with the world (let’s hear it for those smiles!!) so they may have more trouble settling down even when they’re tired. You may need to do a little more rocking and cuddling and even temporarily resort to some car seat or swing or naps. But the good news is that after a couple of weeks, your baby should get over the hump and settle into a happier, less fussy sleep routine.
Most babies are doing two naps a day at this age, though some may still do three, for a total of 2-3 hours. This is the phase of development where your baby is learning exciting new stuff like crawling and standing up with support, so again, it may be harder to get them to settle down for naps. Establishing a regular nap routine, if you haven’t already, can help: a book, a cuddle, a song. Whenever possible, have them nap in the same place each time. Meanwhile, try not to let them nap past 4:00 pm in the afternoon, or they may have trouble falling asleep at night.
Babies this age still need two naps a day—a longer morning nap and shorter afternoon one, typically. If you’re having trouble getting your baby to nap in the afternoon, you may need to shorten their morning nap a little bit.
On the other hand, If for some reason your baby skips their morning nap and ends up having their afternoon nap earlier as a result, or if they skip their afternoon nap altogether, move their bedtime up by an hour that night. They should be back on track the next day. If you find that your baby is “boycotting” their naps more than a couple of days in a row (and there isn’t another reason for it, like illness, teething or a disrupted routine during travel, for example) you can try a few things:
Try adjusting their nap schedule: If they seem wide awake and in a good mood at their usual naptime, put them down for the nap they’re missing 10-15 minutes later and see if it makes a difference.
Remember that babies may have trouble falling asleep if they’re overtired. If your baby is cranky and fussy by the time nap time comes around, it may be that you’re waiting too long to start their nap.
Revisit the basics: Are you following a consistent nap routine? Waiting a few minutes to go in and comfort your baby if they wake up and cry mid-nap?
Resist the temptation to drop down to just one nap a day, though. Most babies aren’t ready for that big change until they’re between 12-18 months old.
Nod can help you get your baby to fall asleep faster and easier at naptime too! (Because naps are awesome.) Here’s how.
Infographic - Guide to your baby's naps in the first year.