Creating a successful nap time routine and schedule for your child
There is nothing quite like a sense of achievement when your little one dozes off during the day and has a lovely, long, refreshing nap. The reality though, is that naps can be challenging to schedule, plus lengths and timings constantly change within the first two years. Just when you feel like you’ve cracked it, it can just as quickly go pear-shaped.
Daytime naps are so important for the overall health and well-being of your child so our aim is to provide guidance to optimize daytime sleep.
However, before we delve into how to work towards a successful nap time, we want to clearly state how we will be referring to the specific terms “schedule” and “routine”.
A nap schedule is about the amount of naps per day, awake windows/timings of naps, and naps lengths.
A nap routine is the consistent rituals or steps that take place in the same order, immediately before the nap.
OK, let’s get started!
IN THIS ARTICLE:
Why are naps important?
Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers all need time in the day to stop and recharge their batteries. Naps help their bodies to restore energy levels from physical activities, but also mentally and emotionally. Their brains are so busy making new pathways and connections during sleep therefore sleep actually promotes learning.
We find that children who are not getting enough sleep also find it hard to regulate their emotions, so hopefully if your child is napping well, there will be fewer meltdowns and tantrums.
Lastly, children who nap well are more inclined to sleep better at night too because overtiredness can cause an increase in night wakes. This means more sleep for the entire family!
As your child grows, the total amount of naps per day and total daytime sleep hours will gradually decrease to sustain consolidated nighttime sleep. We do often see a temporary dip in sleep when a nap transition is looming. More about that in a bit!
This table below is a nap “overview” and is an approximation as there is a range of sleep needs across ages. Some children may have lower sleep needs and others may have higher sleep needs.
If your child is waking rested and they are sleeping well at night, this is a good indication they are getting enough daytime sleep.
Nap approximation by age table
|Category||Age (Months/Years)||Nap lengths||Naps per day||Total day sleep|
|Newborn||0-1 month||15-120 minutes||4-6||5.0-6.0 hours|
|Newborn||2-3 months||30-120 minutes||4-5||4.0-5.0 hours|
|Infant||4-5 months||30-120 minutes||3-4||3.0-4.0 hours|
|Infant||6 months||30-120 minutes||3||3.0-4.0 hours|
|Infant||7-8 months||60-120 minutes||2-3||2.5-3.5 hours|
|Infant||9-11 months||60-120 minutes||2||2.0-3.0 hours|
|Toddler||12-17 months||60-180 minutes||1-2||2.0-3.0 hours|
|Toddler||18-37 months||90-180 minutes||1||1.5-2.5 hours|
|Preschooler||3-5 years||0-90 minutes||0-1||0-1.5 hours|
Setting the right nap schedule for your child
For nap success, it is helpful to find a nap schedule that follows age appropriate wake windows and works with your child’s natural circadian rhythm.
For babies under 3 months of age, we generally follow their lead, being mindful of awake windows and observing tired signs but not forcing any sort of nap schedule just yet.
Wake window based schedule
Within the first 9 months, we mostly recommend following awake windows and tired signs or sleep cues to help signal when it is time to go for a nap. Both under and overtired babies will struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep. Our SweetSpot® nap predictor is a game changer here as it can help you determine when your child will next be ready for sleep.
We find that when there is a nap mistiming, not only are the naps typically shorter, but your child will need more help to fall asleep. This can cause an increase in tears too.
By the clock schedule
Once your child is on a 2-nap schedule (typically between 7 - 9 months), it is more achievable to follow “by the clock” set timings. This means that instead of planning naps strictly according to wake times, sleep periods are planned according to the time on the clock. However, as awake windows will continue to increase over time, keeping informed of our recommended awake windows and daytime sleep totals will help guide you to an appropriate clock-based schedule.
How to establish a consistent nap time routine
Creating a special pre-nap routine is important because it cues your child that sleep is coming. We know that life is busy, and when your child is tired, it can be overwhelming to add something else to do, BUT it can really help you both to calm down and prepare for sleep. You wouldn't go for a workout and then immediately jump into bed. It’s the same thing. Nap routines help cue that it's time to transition to sleep.
What does a nap routine look like?
A pre-nap routine is a shortened version of your pre-bed routine. It should last about 5 - 10 minutes and take place in an environment that is quiet, dark and cool.
With the pre-nap routine, the key is to keep the activities in the same order and move things along fairly quickly so you don’t miss that SweetSpot®.
An example of a pre-nap routine may look like this:
Short story or lullaby
Sleep phrase/kisses/cuddles/sleep toy
Into the crib/bed
Using a sleep phrase for better naps
A sleep phrase is a consistent verbal cue that can be used before each sleep session if your child wakes in the middle of the night, or early from a nap.
A few examples of sleep phrases are: “It's sleepy time” “It’s night, night time”, “off to sleep” etc.
A consistent sleep phrase and routine are useful when there are multiple carers involved so your child will receive the same sleep cues regardless of who is in charge at that moment. Win, win!
Prepare the sleep space
The best nap environment is somewhere dark and quiet. Blackout curtains are great for not only keeping the light out but also for regulating the room temperature. You can purchase removable blinds, or use cardboard or foil on the windows instead.
If your household is noisy, you could choose to use white or pink noise within the sleep space.
How to manage nap transitions
There are going to be quite a few nap transitions during your child’s life. The first thing to highlight is that every child is different, so drop a nap when YOUR child is ready. If you drop a nap too soon, it can backfire causing an increase in night wakes due to overtiredness.
Nap transition signs
Signs that your child is ready to drop a nap may include suddenly shorter naps, consistently resisting one of the naps, taking longer to fall asleep at naptime and bedtime, and/or consistently sleeping less than 10 hours a night (you may notice an increase in night wakes or early rising).
Often we need to lengthen the amount of awake time in between naps first in order to improve naps.
If naps continue to be a challenge for at least a couple of weeks, then your child may be ready to transition.
Common nap transitions by age
From there, we typically see the following nap transition pattern:
Drop to 3 naps by 4 - 6 months
Drop to 2 naps by 7 - 9 months
Drop to 1 nap by 14 - 18 months
Drop last nap between 3 and 5 years old
Benefits of a successful nap time routine
Routines and schedules are so beneficial for the entire family as they really give some direction for the day. Once your child is on a “by the clock” schedule, navigating other activities around sleep times becomes much more manageable.
Daytime naps are so important for the health and well-being of your child. Here at Huckleberry, we want them to be the best they can be: physically, cognitively, and emotionally.
Remember your child is special, and your family dynamic is unique, so what may work for you, may not work for others, and vice versa.
Establishing nap schedules and routines takes time, especially within the first 6 months when you are getting to know each other. Continue to keep an eye on your child’s tired signs and awake windows as this creates the optimal foundation for nap success.
Creating a consistent pre-nap routine with a sleep phrase should become a ritual that you all enjoy as part of your day.
Nap time FAQ
Q: How do I determine the right nap schedule for my child's age?
Watch for your child’s tired signs and keep a record by recording sleep through our app. Our Schedule Creator can help you find a schedule that uses age-appropriate wake windows and your desired starting time. You can always reach out to us for a customized sleep plan and schedule through Huckleberry Premium if you have specific goals in mind. Also please check out our blog that can guide you through age-appropriate nap schedules.
Q: What can I do to create a soothing nap environment?
The best sleep environment includes a dark, cool space that is as quiet as possible. Also remember that having your child sleep on their back, on a flat surface, without any soft bedding or toys reduces safety risks if they’re 12 months or younger.
Q: What should I do if my child resists nap time?
First of all, assess why your child may be resisting nap time. Mistimings cause challenging naps. If the nap resistance continues for a week or so, this signals that a schedule adjustment may be needed. If your child is not an independent sleeper yet and needs a variety of sleep props in order to fall asleep (i.e. being rocked or fed to sleep), often these stop working which causes nap resistance too. This means some sleep training may help improve naps.
Q: Are there self-soothing techniques that can help my child nap better?
If your child wakes early from a nap, and they’re out of the newborn stage, consider pausing for 5 - 10 minutes to give them the opportunity to resettle themselves. It is very common for children to fuss before falling back to sleep when trying to connect sleep cycles.
Q: Can I maintain the nap routine when we're away from home?
Absolutely! This is the bonus of having a consistent sleep routine and phrases as they help navigate naps when in a different environment. Just keep an eye on your child’s wake windows and schedule because mistiming can result in nap difficulties.
Q: Is it normal for my child to skip naps occasionally?
Yes! We all have good sleep days and not-so-good sleep days. If naps haven’t been great, or a nap has been skipped, bring the next sleep session forward a little. If naps are being skipped more regularly, then we need to look at the root cause for that.
Q: Should I wake my child from naps to keep them on schedule?
Maybe. If your child is napping well and it isn’t depleting nighttime sleep, you don’t need to cap nap lengthens or limit total day sleep. However, if it is, then yes we would look to wake your child to try to maintain a more structured schedule to optimize overall sleep.
Q: What if my child still seems tired after napping?
Your child could be waking tired for a few different reasons. Firstly, if they haven’t napped long enough, they will wake up tired. If your child is taking age-appropriate naps, however, they always wake up tired, then we recommend discussing this with your pediatrician as this can indicate your child isn’t getting enough quality sleep due to an underlying medical cause.
Note: The content on this site is for informational purposes only and should not replace medical advice from your doctor, pediatrician, or medical professional. If you have questions or concerns, you should contact a medical professional.