Over the years, countless parents have asked me how to get babies to sleep through regular intervals on a daily basis. Naptime is an essential part of a baby’s development and health, but it’s also good for parents, who use those hours to give more attention to other children, catch up on chores, cook, or even to nap themselves! Here are some of my thoughts on successful snoozing.
Regardless of your child’s age, sticking to a regular routine is essential to get your baby off to a sound sleep. Very young babies will sleep through all kinds of noises and don’t necessarily need absolute quiet…think of how many times your baby has fallen asleep in his car seat while horns are honking! If a baby grows accustomed to sleeping only when there is silence, parents can set themselves and their child up for problems later on, when siblings are noisy, the telephone rings or the television is on.
When is the best time to lay baby down in her crib for a nap? You, and not necessarily the clock, will be the best judge of that! It’s vital that you watch for signs of fatigue such as fussiness, crying for no reason, or refusing to play, as these are clear signs that it’s time for a nap.
The average newborn may spend at least 16 hours a day sleeping! As they mature, babies’ sleep requirements gradually decrease, averaging about 14 hours by the time they are six months old and a little less than 14 hours by the age of one. The duration of newborns’ naps are variable, often random, and quite unpredictable depending on circumstances (noise level, distractions, discomfort, etc.) Ideally, newborns settle into a three-nap–per-day schedule by the age of 2-3 months: an hour in the morning, two hours in early afternoon and another short nap in the evening. Moms and dads who bring their babies to a daycare or a nursery may expect their babies’ sleep patterns to be slightly different but eventually, babies adapt and will stick with a pattern that’s in synch with parents’ sleep cycles.
After two years of age, toddlers do not require that much sleep; usually, 1-2 hours in the afternoon is sufficient. This isn’t true for every child but more important is that he or she is active, playful and energetic. Here’s something that should be kept in mind: it’s not necessary to stop daytime naps with the intention of making babies sleep better at night. Many new parents assume that eliminating naps will result in better nighttime sleep for their child, or greater willingness to go off to sleep. Oftentimes the opposite can be true! Keep in mind that lack of sleep during the day may lead to behavioral problems and hyperactivity at night. An overly exhausted child will be agitated, irritable and less likely to wind down for bed… same as an overly exhausted adult!
By four year of age, naptime is usually eliminated, for better or for worse. Before entering school, I suggest limiting naps to weekends only, in order to prepare your child for this big transition. Though daycare centers often include naptime in toddlers’ schedules, many preschools do not and by kindergarten, it’s virtually eliminated.
There are a few strategies that parents can practice to develop a healthy naptime routine:
1. Mom and dad can observe baby’s behavior to see when he or she exhibits signs of fatigue; making naptimes regular and based on when the baby is tired.
2. Engage your baby in active play when awake.
3. Schedule feeding times before naptime so baby will not get hungry and cut short his naps
4. Again, develop a routine around naptime like using a favorite blanket or stuffed toy to calm her down. Then move her to her crib once she’s sleepy.
5. Other effective strategies include: swaddling baby in a blanket; rocking baby in your arms or in a rocking/gliding chair; using white noise or music (singing quietly to baby or playing lullabies) to drown out jarring daytime noise; changing the baby’s diaper before his nap; taking a short walk with baby in a stroller, or even just turning down the toddler bed and telling a story.
These suggestions, combined with patience and experimentation, should provide a plan for good sleep patterns. After all, it’s a parent’s responsibility to satisfy baby’s needs and helping him or her adjust to family life. This will take time and many tears – maybe even fits and tantrums — but with effort, you will be rewarded with a child who literally ”sleeps like a baby.”
How do you encourage naptime? Post in the comments below, or go over to BabyLegs’ Facebook page and look for today’s post on naptime. Share your own pearls of wisdom with other BabyLeggers who might need help with this important part of baby’s daily routine.
All information contained in this blog and on our web site(s) should be independently verified by you by a medical professional of your own choosing and you should always conduct your own research and due diligence before making any decision related to the subject matter of this blog or our web site.
Dr. Pearl Cenon
A pediatrician in private practice in New Jersey for over 15 years, Dr. Cenon (we like to call her Dr. Pearl) also has two children of her own. Dr. Pearl’s husband, Kevin McDonough is also a pediatrician and they work together. She writes basic posts about topics that interest many parents, from skin care and nutrition to seasonal issues, such as allergies and colds. Her kind, approachable tone in each blog post will have you looking forward to the next one.