Babies, Children and Naptime.

In our article on how much a baby should sleep we talked about the lengths of time babies sleep and also HOW to get baby to sleep in a routine.  This article is about their naptimes.

Sleep, as you know is essential for your baby’s mental and physical development – and your sanity too! – but as he gets older he won’t need as many naps.  By the time he starts school, he probably won’t need a nap at all, but it’s not abnormal if he does.

Naps are important in preventing a baby or child from getting over tired and therefore being unable to settle at night.  As they grow, timing is important so that the last nap of the day isn’t too near bedtime.

Naps and Newborns.

Newborn babies sleep 10-18 hours a day in an irregular schedule.  They learn a regular schedule and about sleeping at night from you, as you gradually get them into a routine – see the article above if you haven’t already.

So these little ones are napping or sleeping a lot during the day but need to wake or be woken every 4-5 hours to feed until their weight is stabilised.  You’ll probably notice that if he sleeps for long periods at night he wants to feed more often during the day.

Naps and Babies (age 1-3 months).

The range of normal sleep/wake time for this age group varies a lot but your baby will hopefully be awake for longer during the day and sleeping for longer at night.

By about 3 months, babies sleep for about 15 hours in 24 and about 2/3 of this will be during the night.  So 3-4 naps of 1-3 hours at a time during the day is about right – but remember there is no rule on this.

If your baby shows signs of being tired – fussing or rubbing his eyes – put him to bed.  This way he learns to settle himself to sleep.

Naps and the 4-7 Month Old.

By this age you have hopefully persuaded your baby into a night time sleep routine and he’s getting about 7 or 8 hours’ sleep (and hopefully so are you).

Two naps during the daytime are normal for this age group, lasting for 3-4 hours in total, but shorter or longer is also normal.

You may find that he’s now starting to be stimulated and kept awake by distractions in his environment.  The trick here is to help your baby become a ‘self soother’.  This means not rushing to his crib every time you hear he’s awake but letting him gurgle to himself, even cry a little as long as he settles on his own.  Often babies make noises that sound as if they’re awake but are in fact asleep.  Little ones who know that you’ll come running as soon as they ‘call’ are known as ‘signallers’ and don’t learn that they can be happy and secure on their own.

If your baby shows signs of being tired – fussing or rubbing his eyes – put him to bed.  This way he learns to settle himself to sleep.

Naps and the 8-12 Month Old.

At this age, 2 naps of an hour each are normal – one in the morning and one after lunch, so that night time sleep isn’t affected.  But if he wants to sleep for shorter or longer, don’t worry.

Make nap times consistent and routine.  At this age he will be starting to assert his independence and resisting nap time is not uncommon.  Be firm about putting him in his crib and walking away so that he learns to be happy to play or settle himself to sleep alone.  Leave the door open so that he knows you’re near and can be confident that he’s safe.

See above (the 4-7 month old) about ‘self soothers’ and ‘signallers’.

If your baby shows signs of being tired – fussing or rubbing his eyes – put him to bed.  This way he learns to settle himself to sleep.

Naps and the 1-2 Year Old.

Toddlers are trying to independent and are much more aware of their surroundings.  This means that a bedtime routine is more important than ever.  Distractions and excitement at nap time or bedtime can mean they take longer to settle and sleep.

Children of this age need 10-13 hours’ sleep in 24.  Most of this will be at night but you will be able to judge when and how many naps he needs during the daytime.  Napping near bed time may interfere with settling at night so, as with the 8-12 month old, a nap after lunch may be as late as you want to make it.

If your toddler shows signs of being tired – is crabby or rubbing his eyes – take him to bed.  He should by now have learned to settle himself to sleep.  But don’t battle over naps; quiet playing or reading together might be as good as a nap.  It can take some time to work this one out and your success will probably be reflected in your child’s behaviour – see below.

Naps and the Pre-Schooler.

Most children don’t need a nap by the time they reach the age of 5.  This isn’t the case for all though and many early years schools encourage quiet play after lunch or a nap for those who want it.

Up to the age of 5, a nap in the afternoon might still be needed.

Signs of Lack of Sleep in Children.

Don’t underestimate the amount of sleep your child needs and watch his behaviour for signs that you’re getting it right.  Sometime this isn’t obvious but if he’s:

  • Acting as if he’s sleepy during the day
  • Irritable in the late afternoon
  • Impatient, doesn’t pay attention, over-active or aggressive
  • Struggling to get out of bed in the morning
  • Wired, restless and can’t settle

This may mean that he needs more sleep, either at night or during nap time.  Work to find a routine that works for you – and don’t worry if this takes a few weeks to work out.

Elspeth Raisbeck

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