Kids and sleep: How much is too much day sleep?
Does the idea of waking your sleeping child make you cringe? If so, we are right there with you! While we always prefer to let sleeping babies lie, there are some exceptions. And since we want to save you from wondering whether you’re doing the right thing or not, we’ve compiled a list of times when you’ll want to do a little “sleep-wake management” to improve sleep overall.
You don’t need to consider these tips until your baby is 3 months of age or older. Newborn babies have unpredictable sleep patterns and we expect naps to vary quite a bit.
IN THIS ARTICLE:
What qualifies as “too much day sleep” for kids?
To wake, or not to wake, that is the question. Here are a few times when you may want to gently rouse your child from slumber, and one case where you won’t:
Too many naps
When kids nap too often (i.e., have more naps than recommended for their age), this can reinforce sleep patterns that include short naps and shortened night sleep. For example, most 6 month olds need 3 naps per day. Babies following a 4-nap schedule at this age often have very short naps along with early waking or long periods of wakefulness at night.
Too many total hours of day sleep
Likewise, when individual naps are too long or total day sleep is too much, this can create and/or reinforce challenging sleep patterns — namely subsequent sleep periods that are shorter than ideal. What constitutes too long or too much? That depends on your child’s age and the number of naps they typically take. Read more on that in our chart below.
Oversleeping in the morning
If your child’s morning wake time tends to vary quite a bit, and they’re having trouble settling into a predictable schedule, you’ll want to consider waking them to maintain a consistent wake time. We get that it’s tempting to let your child sleep late after a difficult night’s sleep! Keep in mind though, that when a kiddo’s wake time fluctuates, it’s harder to find the best nap and bedtime for your child. Sleep can suffer as a result.
When you should let your child “sleep in”
There are some circumstances when you’ll want to disregard these guidelines for managing your child’s schedule:
When you have a newborn, we don’t recommend worrying about their schedule quite yet. Their circadian rhythm is immature and it will take time for their sleep to regulate.
If your child is ill, or chronically sleep deprived then you’ll want to let your little one get the sleep they need even if it throws off their schedule a bit temporarily. Hold off on the schedule management until they’re feeling better.
While we encourage families to follow regular (not rigid) schedules for overall health and well-being, we also understand that maintaining regular schedules can be stressful for some families. If your family thrives on flexibility and your kiddo is getting enough sleep, then we encourage you to do what works for you and your family!
How too much sleep can impact night sleep
After the newborn period, sleep is primarily controlled by two systems: homeostatic sleep pressure (aka wake windows) and the circadian rhythm. Day sleep affects night sleep and vice versa. So when evaluating your kid’s sleep, you’ll want to look at the full 24-hr picture. Let’s take a look at some examples where too much sleep during the day can diminish night sleep:
Scenario 1: Your 10 month old needs at least 3.5 hours of sleep between their last nap and bedtime in order to build a sufficient amount of sleep pressure. In other words, that wake window needs to be long enough so that they’ll be tired enough to fall asleep and stay asleep at bedtime. A 2-nap schedule will generally allow for adequate daytime sleep, 3 - 4 hour wake windows before bed, and 10 - 12 hours of nighttime sleep. In other words, your child will have a solid foundation to be well-rested.
But if your 10 month old takes 3 naps, the math won’t work. Either naps will have to be too short, the wake window before bedtime won’t be long enough, or nighttime sleep will be cut short. All scenarios that can stand in the way of a well-rested kid.
Scenario 2: Now let’s pretend your toddler generally averages 13 hours of sleep over a 24-period. If they nap for 4 hours during the day, this will only leave about 9 hours of sleep for the night. That means your child will likely wake in the middle of the night for a long period, or too early the next morning. Either way, they probably won’t feel well-rested (and neither will you).
How much sleep does my child actually need?
How long should a 3 month old nap? How about at 6 months? Sleep needs vary by age and child. When determining how much sleep your little one should get in a 24-hr hour period, we recommend taking a look at our recommended schedules by age. You can also take American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines into consideration. That said, you’ll want to consider other factors aside from hours alone; look at mood and energy level to determine whether your kiddo is well-rested.
Too much day sleep: Chart by age
If your child is sleeping less than 10 hours at night, that can be an indication that they’re getting too much daytime sleep. But what’s too much for your kiddo? That amount will be determined by their age and individual sleep needs. What qualifies as an excessive amount will look different depending on whether you have an infant, toddler, preschooler, or kindergartener.
Here’s a chart to help you determine whether your little one is napping too much. You’ll want to look at the number of naps and the total amount of sleep hours. Either one can shorten night sleep.
Again, sleep needs vary by child, so consider these general guidelines. They’ll apply to most kids within an age group but won’t take into account if your child has higher (or lower) than average sleep needs or medical issues. Note that if your child is meeting or exceeding these numbers and getting sufficient nighttime sleep, there’s probably no need to limit naps.
|Age of child||Maximum number of naps recommended for sufficient night sleep||Maximum hours of day sleep recommended for sufficient night sleep|
|3 months||5 naps per day||5 hours of total day sleep|
|4 months||4 naps per day||4.5 hours of total day sleep|
|5 months||4 naps per day||4 hours of total day sleep|
|6 months||3 naps per day||3.5 hours of total day sleep|
|7 - 9 months||3 naps per day||3.5 hours of total day sleep|
|10 - 17 months||2 naps per day||3 hours of total day sleep|
|18 - 30 months||1 nap per day||3 hours of total day sleep|
|2.5 - 3 years||1 nap per day||2.5 hours of total day sleep|
|3 - 5 years||1 nap per day||2 hours of total day sleep|
[Note: for children who were born early, we go by their adjusted age for sleep development during infancy. As children become toddlers and preschoolers, their sleep needs will often line up with their actual age.]
5 Tips and tricks to manage naps and lengthen night sleep
Tip #1 Aim for an optimal number of naps by age
How many naps does your baby or toddler need? Sleep needs can differ, but here’s what we typically recommend:
|Age of child||Number of naps recommended for sufficient night sleep|
|3 months||3 - 5 naps per day|
|4 - 5 months||3 - 4 naps per day|
|6 months||3 naps per day|
|7 - 9 months||2 - 3 naps per day|
|10 - 13 months||2 naps per day|
|14 - 18 months||1 - 2 naps per day|
|19 - 36 months||1 nap per day|
|3 - 5 years||0 - 1 naps per day|
|6+ years||0 naps per day|
Tip #2 Limit long naps
Struggling with short naps or early rising? Consider waking your child from naps in cases where too much day sleep is likely to interfere with sufficient night sleep, and/or may reinforce a pattern of short naps.
When a baby is allowed to sleep for long stretches during the day, this can diminish sleep at night or for other naps. For younger babies, we typically recommend limiting individual naps to 2 hours. Older children may need to limit their naps to 1 or 1.5 hours a piece, depending on their schedule.
Tip #3 Cap total daily nap time
Similarly, if the overall amount of daytime sleep is too high, this can also impact night sleep. Consult the chart above if you’re experiencing nighttime sleep issues (such as trouble falling asleep at bedtime, split nights, or early waking). You may want to wake your baby from some naps so that they’re still able to sleep well at night.
Tip #4 Opt for an earlier bedtime instead of another nap
If your child takes short naps all day, it can be hard to get to bedtime without adding in another catnap. Bring bedtime earlier, if possible, rather than offer an additional nap. You may be tempted to use melatonin for kids, but a consistent and earlier bedtime can do wonders! Let’s look at an example.
Example Scenario: You have a 5 month old who didn’t nap more than 30 - 45 minutes at a time, all day long. They’re overtired and there’s no way you can get to bedtime without a meltdown on a 4-nap schedule. You’re tempted to offer a fifth nap.
Solution: Stick with the 4 naps, but move bedtime earlier. This will help limit overtiredness, and help to lengthen nighttime sleep so the cycle doesn’t repeat tomorrow.
Note: We recognize this won’t be an option for every family every day, but knowing what to expect is important too. If offering too many naps is a must on a given day, expect that you might see early waking or long periods of wakefulness throughout the night.
Tip #5 Aim for consistent waketime
Log your child’s sleep on the Huckleberry app and take a look at their wake times. If the wake-up time varies quite a bit, that can make it difficult to find optimal nap and bedtimes. Maintaining a wake-up time within the same 30 minutes each morning can help regulate your child’s schedule. This in turn can help improve sleep.
We don’t recommend waking a sleeping baby unless it’s necessary to improve overall sleep. If your child naps “too much” according to our charts, but is generally sleeping well, feel free to ignore those charts! However, if your kiddo is struggling with short naps or a short night's sleep, it can help to provide a bit of nap management by waking them up as needed.
Too much sleep FAQ
Q: Can my child nap too much?
Yes, when a child sleeps too much during the day, this can take away from subsequent naps or night sleep. Consult our chart to determine whether you should limit day sleep.
Q: My child is sleeping an excessive amount. Is sleeping too much bad?
Sleep needs vary, and some children require more sleep than others. Please consult if your child is showing signs of lethargy, or if you’re concerned about the amount of sleep they’re getting.
Q: Is it unhealthy to nap too much?
Napping too much can lead to insufficient overall sleep. Since getting a sufficient amount of quality sleep is important for a child’s health and well-being, you’ll want to consider limiting day sleep according to their age and sleep needs.
Q: What happens if my child sleeps too much during the day?
Sleeping too much during the day can lead to, or reinforce, challenging sleep patterns, including short naps, difficulty falling asleep at bedtime, split nights, early morning waking, and shortened night sleep.
Q: Why does my child keep sleeping so much during the daytime?
When children don’t get enough sleep at night, this can lead to increased sleep during the day. This in turn can create a cycle of insufficient nighttime sleep.
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.