Thoughts By Natalie
motherhood

How many naps does your baby need?

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Today I’m thrilled to be sharing the first of many posts to come from author and sleep expert Heather Turgeon. Since Jack was about 4 months old, I’ve relied on her book The Happy Sleeper for all things sleep and it has been a life-saver! As a testament to how committed Heather is to helping families get good sleep, I reached out to her on Twitter a few months ago in desperation because Jack was on a major nap strike. She kindly invited me to email her with details and much to my delight, she replied quickly with the perfect advice. One thing led to another and now here she is sharing her wisdom with all of you fellow mamas who read this blog. Today’s topic? Naps, naps, naps. 

Anyone who’s seen a baby go from happy babbling and playing one minute, to a puddle of tears the next knows the value of a good nap. Naps are vital to our babies’ brains and bodies—helping to form memories, learn language, and process emotions.

Then again, nap needs and schedules change as babies grow. So how do you know when your little one is ready to make the shift from 3 to 2 to 1 nap? There isn’t a set age for this, but if you look at the overall picture here’s how you’ll know you’re on track:

Understand what controls naps. Babies nap because of something called the “sleep drive”—it’s a basic biological mechanism that builds up pressure to sleep the longer we’re awake. A little baby’s sleep drive builds quickly, but as he grows, it builds less quickly (until the age of about 3-5 when they can go without a nap, provided they get enough nighttime sleep). When babies drop a nap, it’s because their sleep drive isn’t building as fast, and they’re able to be alert, happy, productive, and ready to play for a longer stretch of time.

Look for signs of nap-dropping readiness. These are signs your baby is ready to drop a nap (see these and more in The Happy Sleeper).

Going from 3 to 2 naps:

  • Baby is about 9 months old
  • Naps have gotten “chunkier,” at least and hour or more
  • Baby is no longer falling asleep for the third nap for about two weeks
  • The third nap of the day starts to interfere with falling asleep at bedtime
  • The first nap of the day drifts later

Going from 2 to 1 nap:

  • Baby is roughly 15-20 months old
  • The first nap of the day is drifting later or skipped
  • The second nap is very short or skipped for 2 weeks straight

Don’t let go too quickly. When we work with parents in our sleep consulting practice, one of the most common missteps we see is giving up a nap too soon. Often babies miss a nap for a few days in a row—because they’re too busy looking around the room, thinking brand new baby thoughts, or practicing new motor skills—and parents wonder if they don’t need it anymore. We always recommend parents hold the frame of a nap for 2 weeks. If the baby is truly lying there babbling or playing with her lovey for an hour without sleeping, that’s a good sign she’s not tired. The big caveat here is that truly not needing a nap is different than protesting a nap (crying or yelling when you put your baby down in her crib). As most parents know, babies can sometimes protest a nap when they’re actually tired. Protesting a nap is a different story (a topic for another day!). Make sure you tell the difference between resisting a nap and genuinely being ready to drop it and move to a new schedule.

Once you do drop a nap, give your baby a few weeks to adjust!

. . . . . . . . . .

Heather Turgeon is co-author of the book The Happy Sleeper: The Science-Backed Guide To Helping Your Baby Get a Good Night’s Sleep (Penguin Random House, 2014). She and her partner Julie Wright run a Los Angeles-based sleep consulting practice for babies and little kids.

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  • Rachel
    September 16, 2015 at 9:11 pm

    I’m excited about your new series about sleep. I’m a new mom of an 11 week old, and now that we both have the hang of nursing, I’m mildly obsessed with my son’s sleep. I regret not reading any books about sleep during my pregnancy because now I really don’t have the time to read. Your posts about sleep will be perfect because they’ll highlight info that I can benefit from. I did recently manage to read parts of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child and I’ve been diligently trying to keep the intervals of my son’s wakefulness brief and have been putting him down for naps every one to two hours before he gets over-tired. It can feel like a lot of work but I believe it has been working. He is sleeping longer at night (7-10 hours straight) and he falls asleep for his naps before the crying starts. Around week 6, he started taking mostly 20-45 minute naps so I am in a constant loop of nursing, about an hour of awake time and putting him down for a nap all day long, but the sleep I am getting at night makes it all worth it.

  • Alisha
    September 16, 2015 at 11:08 pm

    I love this book! I refer to it often, especially now as my Jack seems to be protesting naps a LOT. :( Some days it feels like I need the nap more than he does but I’m not giving up the second nap yet! Here’s hoping things improve soon.