With a baby in the house, naptime can become either a desperately needed break or one more battle to fight. But knowing how to time it right may help you call a truce—and make sure that your little one gets the sleep that she needs.
From after the newborn period (about four months) until sometime after the first year, most babies nap twice a day: an hour or two in the morning and an hour or two in the afternoon. Some babies even add a third late afternoon nap, though it usually disappears by about nine months.
While there’s no magic formula for naps—or for any part of parenting, for that matter!—the goal is to time it so your baby is drowsy enough to drift off, but not so spent that falling asleep becomes a struggle.
Look For the Signs.
Eye-rubbing, a glazed-over expression, physically nodding off—babies can be pretty transparent when it’s time to sleep. But it’s up to you to recognize it and get her into the crib within about 30 minutes.
Consider a Schedule.
No day is the same, especially with a baby in the house, but a regular nap schedule may both lend itself to better sleep for your little one and give you a little more freedom to plan outings with a lower likelihood of a meltdown. One approach is to start with the time that your baby wakes up, and then count forward from there. A typical morning nap will come about two hours after waking and a standard afternoon nap will come about four hours after the beginning of the first nap. Or, try to figure out your baby’s natural eye-rubbing patterns (say around 10:00am and 2:00pm, for example), and then get those naps in the books and try to stick to them.
Create a Routine.
Whether you are a schedule-follower or prefer to follow your baby’s lead, a naptime routine can be just as helpful as a nighttime routine. That may mean playing soothing music or white noise, reading books, dimming the lights, and then going to sleep in the same place every day. Your baby will learn what to expect, and that may help him to go to sleep more easily.
Live and Learn.
Long naps, late afternoon naps that bleed into dinner—it can be hard to know whether your baby is sleeping off a growth spurt or setting you up for a sleepless night. Some parents swear by hard and fast rules (“no sleep after 5:00pm!”) and others believe that “sleep begets sleep.” The truth is probably far less decisive: You simply have to see what works for your baby. If she’s hard to get to sleep at night after a long nap in the late afternoon or early evening, you might need to wake her until bedtime, and try to shift her naps to a better schedule tomorrow. If she’s still getting the sleep that she needs—night and day—then it’s likely fine to go with the flow.