How To Get Your Baby To Sleep: All About Naps During The First Two Years

How To Get Your Baby To Sleep
How To Get Your Baby To Sleep

When a baby is a newborn, they pretty much do the following: eat, have a brief period of being awake and sleep (and repeat…often).  With a baby that small, they spend much more time asleep than awake.

But this is very important because during the many naps a newborn takes their brain and body is doing some serious growing and maturing.  Newborns can easily have 4 or more naps during a 24 hour period (sleeping up to 18 hours a day!) and it is rare that they will sleep more than 2 – 3 hours at a time due to their tiny tummies and constant need for refueling (usually every 2 -4 hours depending on if they are breast or formula fed).

Mixing Up Day and Nights

A common problem that parents of a newborn face is the day/night mix up or confusion.  A great way to combat this is to make sure your little one gets plenty of early morning sunlight to help set the clock for the day and also to make sure the daytime naps don’t turn into a marathon sleep period.

As a newborn matures and grows, their night time sleep begins to organize a bit better to allow for longer stretches of sleep (usually around 6 weeks).  During the day, their naps will be many throughout the day and won’t start organizing into any set timing or schedule until around 3 months of age.

The nap pattern at 3 months of age usually consists of 3 or possibly 4 naps that vary in duration and are on their way to becoming routine…but they aren’t quite there yet.  Once the baby has settled into a fairly consistent 3 nap a day schedule (morning, early afternoon and late afternoon/early evening) they will keep this schedule up until between 5 and 7 months. Around this time their body will need to transition to 2 naps a day to preserve a healthy nap routine and their early bedtime.  Here are a few tips to help with making that transition to get your baby to sleep better and nap as well.

Signs That Your Infant Is Ready To Change Baby Nap times

The first thing you need to know is what are the signs that your baby is ready to make the transition

  • Nap length is decreasing.
  • Stamina (the ability to stay awake) is improving.
  • Baby exhibits long periods of crying or playing in their crib before finally falling asleep.

If your baby is demonstrating one or more of the above criteria for 2 or more weeks then it is time for the transition.  Again, a common age to make this transition is somewhere between 5 and 7 months.

Changing Nap Times

How to make the transition?

  • Naptimes need to be pushed back between 30 and 45 minutes to bridge the gap in daytime hours.
  • Making this change may instantly improve nap length, but it could also lead to a decreased nap length due to slight overtiredness.
  • It would also be a good idea to move bedtime up (earlier) by 30 minutes for about two weeks to help prevent the baby from becoming overtired.

Please note that it will take the body about 4 -6 weeks to fully adapt to this significant change in sleep patterns and for the schedule to normalize and get your baby to sleep better.

Reducing Nap Times

The next nap transition will take place most commonly just after baby’s first birthday.  The most common approximate age is 14 months.  Some babies transition earlier while others keep their two naps a day schedule until they are a year and a half.  I always loved making this transition with my two girls because it meant that we had more freedom to get out and run errands or have fun “field trips” in the morning.  I also was a huge fan of the transition because the length of the afternoon increased and allowed mommy to have some much needed down time.

But, moving from two naps a day to one can be a tricky one.  The transition involves extending your young toddler’s awake time to stretch to an appropriate nap time for the afternoon.  To be sure that your little one is ready to make the change to one nap there are a few things to look for.

What Are The Signs That Your Toddler Is Ready To Make The Transition To One Nap A Day?

  • Your little one might begin to sleep longer for the morning nap and an increasingly shorter nap in the afternoon.
  • Many toddlers who are ready to transition will often play in their cribs for the entire time they should be napping.  Or, they will fall asleep too late into the afternoon and then you will need to wake them to preserve their normal bedtime.
  • Some toddlers will scream and cry during the afternoon nap rather than play in their crib (definitely not fun).
  • Occasionally it will be the morning nap that becomes problematic and the toddler is stuck in a nap limbo where one day they will sleep in the AM and the next one they will not.

As previously stated, if your toddler is demonstrating one or more of the above criteria for 2 or more weeks then it is time for the transition.

How To Make The Transition?

  • The best strategy I have found is to slowly push back the timing of the morning nap over the course of several weeks until the timing of the morning nap is now occurring when the new afternoon nap should be.
  • To reduce afternoon overtiredness during this transition, I suggest giving your little one some quiet time up in their crib in the afternoon and allowing for a short nap while still preserving bedtime.

Please note that it will take the body about a month or so to fully adapt to this change.  Although it is challenging, it is better to make the switch from two to one nap instead of the waffling back and forth between the two. 

Making any change to any child’s sleep pattern or schedule is most likely going to cause a bit of disruption at first.  But if you follow the steps above and keep a patient and positive attitude, the disruption will be short lived and you will have a happy child who is once again napping well and engaging and energetic while awake.

Good Luck!  I wish you nothing but sweet dreams!

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