Baby and Toddler Naptime

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All children need sleep, and this is especially true for babies and toddlers as they grow and develop. For young children to get enough sleep, naps and daytime sleep are essential. Read on to learn more about naps, including how many may be needed each day based on your child's age, how long a nap may be, and what you can do to ensure your little one gets the most out of naps.

Why Naps Are Important for Your Child’s Development

Naps offer a number of benefits for babies and toddlers. Studies have shown that young children who nap regularly tend to have longer attention spans and sleep better at night than those who don't take naps. Here are some other ways naps can be beneficial for your child:

  • They play a role in cognitive development. Sleep is crucial for the development of your child’s brain. During sleep the brain isn't resting but is functioning in a different way. Naps improve concentration when your child is awake.

  • They help prevent your child from becoming overtired. Being overtired can affect your child’s mood and overall temperament. Adequate sleep improves your child’s mood.

  • They may improve nighttime sleep. Though this might seem counterintuitive, naps sometime make it easier for your child to fall asleep and sleep well at night. For example, napping in the afternoon can help prevent your child from being overtired or “wired” just before bed, and therefore he may find it easier to relax and go to sleep. You’ll need to carefully plan the time and duration of the afternoon nap, though, because you don’t want your child to not be sleepy at all when bedtime rolls around.

Naps also give you and other caregivers a much-needed break. While your baby or toddler naps, take the opportunity to unwind or do something that's hard to do when your child is awake.

In Summary

Experts say that naps are beneficial for your little one’s mental development and can help improve mood. Daytime naps can even help your child fall asleep at night. And, your child’s naptimes can also be good for you, giving you a much-needed break.

 

Developing a Nap Schedule

Creating a nap schedule for your older baby or toddler can help your child have better quality sleep at night. Tracking your little one’s sleep times and paying attention to the signs of sleepiness (such as fussiness and rubbing of the eyes) will help you see a pattern in the times when your little one is naturally sleepy throughout the day, and this will help you work out a nap schedule that works. You may like to track your baby’s naps in a notebook or digitally. For an easy way to track your baby’s naptimes, try Lumi by Pampers. Its smart sleep system provides personalized sleep tracking as well as tips from experts to help your baby’s sleep stay on track. Once you have a nap schedule going, try to make sure your baby naps at the same time every day and that each nap runs for about the same amount of time. Obviously, there will be some days where this may not happen, and that’s OK. Just be sure to get her back on track at the next opportunity.

The Best Times for Naps

Every child is unique, and tracking your child’s sleep will help you pinpoint specific naptimes that work best for your child. Generally speaking, though, the best times for naps are mid- to late- morning and early afternoon. A nap typically lasts anywhere between 30 minutes and 2 hours. Your child may need to nap more often or less often depending on his age and stage of development. It’s a good idea not to let your child nap after 3 or 4 p.m. because he may not be tired enough when bedtime rolls around. Allow for at least four hours between his last nap and his set bedtime. If your baby isn’t tired by bedtime, you may need to play around with an earlier afternoon nap or shortening the duration of the afternoon nap. You may need to drop it altogether if your child no longer needs it. Conversely, in some cases missing a nap may result in your child having more trouble falling asleep at night or a nighttime waking because your child may be overtired by the time bedtime rolls around.

Number of Naps Per Day by Baby Age

Over time, your child will need fewer naps. This chart gives you an idea of the number of daily naps your baby or toddler may take according to age:

AgeNaps per day
0 to 3 months3 to 4
4 to 7 months2 to 3
8 to 12 months2
12 months to 18 months1-2
18 months to 3 years1

 

Keep in mind, every child is unique, so don’t be surprised if your 2-year-old still needs two naps a day, for example. Read on for more on this topic.

Does Your Toddler Need One or Two Naps?

After your child turns 1, you may not be sure whether he needs one or two naps per day. There’s no standard answer, as individual toddlers may require different amounts of daytime sleep. In fact, whether your child needs one or two naps on any given day may depend on what kind of day he’s having. To deal with this, experts suggest alternating the number of naps depending on what’s happened that day:

  • If your child slept poorly the night before, you may consider making this a two-nap day

  • If he slept well, one nap may be sufficient

  • If he had only one nap, you may notice he is tired well before bedtime, and you may like to have an early bedtime that night

  • As your toddler gets older you may notice that the need for a second nap becomes less obvious; in this case you may like to phase it out entirely.

When Do Kids Stop Napping?

After about 3 years of age, your toddler may start to give up naps entirely and switch to sleeping only at night. However, some children may stop napping as early as 2 years old whereas others may still need to take a nap or two even at about 5 years old.

In Summary

Over time, your child will need fewer naps. Every child is unique, however, and there is no age at which naps should be reduced or eliminated. How many naps a child needs may also depend on how well he slept the night before. As a general guide, in the beginning your baby may take three to four naps per day, and by the time he’s a preschooler, it may be down to just one nap a day. Some children stop napping as early as 2 years old.

 

Tips for Creating a Naptime Routine

A naptime routine is similar to a bedtime routine except that it is shorter. Children love consistency and being able to anticipate what’s to come, so creating a consistent ritual around naptime can help your little one nap more easily. You can start setting a naptime routine with your infant as early as 6 to 8 weeks old. The key to a naptime routine is keeping things calm and soothing, especially in the moments before you put your little one down for her nap. Carry out the routine in your baby’s room or in your room (if you’re room-sharing), or make sure you finish there. This can help your baby or toddler associate naptime with the bedroom and with her crib or toddler bed. Here are some things your naptime routine can include:

  • A baby massage

  • Swaying, swinging, or rocking (in a rocking chair or glider, for example)

  • Reading a story together

  • Singing a lullaby

  • Swaddling (for infants)

  • Counting to 10 or singing the ABCs (with your older baby)

  • Quiet play.

The key to a naptime routine is consistency. If someone else cares for your little one, such as a grandparent or babysitter, make sure the caregiver knows about and follows the established routine. For some toddlers and young kids, naptimes can become a battle. Your child may not want to nap anymore, especially as toddlerhood is filled with so many more exciting things than sleep! It’s OK — don’t force it. Instead, give your child some quiet time to play by herself in her room. You might discover that this can lead to your child falling asleep, even if she insists she isn’t tired at all.

In Summary

A naptime routine can help get your child in the mood for sleep and can help your child learn to anticipate that the time for sleep is coming. Keep the routine short — you want to be able to do it consistently before each nap. What you include is up to you, but it should be relaxing and help your child wind down ahead of the nap.

 

Creating an Ideal Environment for Naps

Here are some tips for creating an ideal sleep environment for naptime:

1. Darken the room. A dark bedroom can help your baby or toddler fall asleep. Draw the curtains or the shades to darken the room.

Keep the room quiet or use white noise. Your baby may sleep better in a completely quiet bedroom, or he may sleep better with some white noise, especially if your household has a lot of background noise during the day with older children running around. Use a fan pointed toward the wall or a sound machine to create some ambient sounds.

2. Ensure your baby is comfortable. Check the room temperature and make sure your baby isn’t overdressed or underdressed.

3. Practice sleep safety. In the first 12 months, be sure to lay your baby in the crib on his back. Make sure that the crib is free of loose bedding, blankets, pillows, bumper pads, and plush toys to help lower the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and prevent suffocation. If your toddler is sleeping in a bed, you may like to attach rails to the bed or place a mattress on the floor in case he rolls out of the bed during the nap. If your toddler is still sleeping in a crib, lower the mattress setting so that your child can’t crawl over the rails.

In Summary

To create an environment that’s conducive to a daytime nap, you might like to darken the room, play some white noise, and make sure your child isn’t feeling too hot or cold. Practicing safe sleep is always important, so follow the safe sleep guidelines appropriate for your child’s age.

 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

  • Your baby should nap in her crib. Sleeping anywhere else, such as on a sofa, in a car seat, in an infant carrier or sling, or even in her stroller, is unsafe. If she does fall asleep on one of these surfaces, move her to her crib as soon as you can.


    During the day you may like to have your infant nap nearby, in which case you could use a bassinet for her first month or a portable crib or play yard. Any of these are easier than a crib to move to wherever you happen to be in the house (just don’t move it with your baby inside).

  • Your child may show signs that he is ready to stop taking naps between the ages of about 2 and 5.


    Signs that he is ready to lose a nap include if he no longer falls asleep during naptime, or takes a long time to fall asleep at night because he isn’t tired enough.


    Your child may still need naps if he wakes up very slowly in the morning, seems to tire easily during the day, or gets fussy in the afternoon.

  • It’s not a good idea for your baby to nap close to bedtime, because she won’t be able to fall asleep (or stay asleep for long) at night.


    It’s best to leave about four hours between your baby’s afternoon nap and bedtime.


    However, it’s important that you don’t eliminate a baby's early afternoon nap, because daytime sleep can help prevent your baby from becoming overtired at night. Being “wired” by the evening can interfere with falling asleep at night because your baby may be so overstimulated that she is unable to relax enough for sleep.

The Bottom Line

Naps are important for your baby and toddler. They contribute to your child’s health and development, and can help improve concentration and mood. Your child may even have better quality nighttime sleep if he has some good, well-timed naps during the day. In the beginning your baby may nap three to four times per day, but as he reaches toddler or preschooler age, he’ll start to nap less and less until naptime is completely phased out. Creating a soothing and safe environment for your child’s naps will help your child get the most out of them. Plus, you might find you look forward to your child’s naps, as they give you opportunities to take on tasks that are hard to do when your child is awake and wants all of your attention. Once your child is on a more predictable nap schedule, you’ll have a little more freedom to plan your day with those sleep blocks in mind as well.

How We Wrote This Article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.