Teach Your Baby to Nap Like a Champ (For Better Nighttime Sleep)
By Hadley Seward, Pediatric Sleep Consultant + Founder of Bonne Nuit Baby
As new parents, we’re all fixated on our babies’ nighttime sleep. We fantasize about those 10-hour stretches and dream about the day our little ones will be on a 7-7 schedule. Finally, we’ll have our lives back! But most of us don’t focus as much on naps, since it doesn’t impact our sleep as much. Here’s what you may not know: there’s a lot of cognitive and physical development that goes on during a nap, especially after 16 weeks. And most importantly for your nighttime sleep fantasies: good daytime sleep is actually key to better nighttime sleep. #winwin
So with that said, here are our top tips for helping your baby nap like a champ:
1. Create a baby cave
Most newborns can sleep anytime, anywhere. As babies get older, however, they become more sensitive to light. After 2ish months, your baby will nap best in a super dark room. While you may be worried this will prolong day-night confusion, don’t worry! It won’t.
2. Offer white noise
White noise is a non-habit forming way to help muffle external noises that can wake a sleeping baby. We’re big fans! We especially recommend it for families who live in urban areas, apartments and/or having older siblings running around during nap time. Pro tip: you can also use white noise in your own room to get better sleep yourself!
3. Create a sleepy time routine
Around 2 months, you want to start doing a super basic routine before naps and bedtime. It doesn’t have to be intricate; the goal is a consistent series of events that your baby expects before each sleep period. For example, change diaper, place in swaddle/sleep sack, followed by a short song. Boom! You’re done.
4. Watch sleepy cues
Newborns have three types of tired signs: a warning sign (e.g., zoning out); an “it’s time to sleep!” sign (e.g., a yawn); and an overtired sign (e.g., fussing or rubbing eyes). Your aim should be to put your baby down between #1 and #2. Try to avoid #3 at all costs!
5. Keep awake windows short (Babies 0-4 months)
Is your infant showing tired signs 45 minutes after he woke from his last nap? That’s totally normal. Newborns can’t tolerate long awake periods between naps and there is no reason to try to stretch out their awake time--less daytime sleep does NOT equal more overnight sleep.
6. Time it right (Babies 4 months+)
Once your baby hits 16 weeks (adjusted), it’s time to gradually move them to a clock-based nap schedule. We want to take advantage of times of the day when sleep will be most restorative. By 5 months, your little one should be on a 3-nap schedule: 8:30/9am for the first nap; 12/1pm for the second; and a late afternoon catnap that ends by 5pm.
7. Aim for at least one sleep cycle
Newborn sleep is unpredictable and unorganized; that’s normal! For babies 4 months and up, we want to aim for at least one sleep cycle, which is approximately 60 minutes. If your 4+ month old baby will only nap 30-45 minutes at a time, you may want to consider nap training.
8. Know when on-the-go naps are okay
We’re moms, too--we don’t want you to be held hostage in your home all day while your baby naps. Sometimes you just need to get out and live life like the heroic multitasker that you are! While most newborns can sleep deeply on-the-go (baby carrier, stroller, etc.), those naps become less restful as they become more alert. After 4 months, we recommend aiming for the first two naps at home, in their crib/bassinet, whenever possible. The late afternoon catnap can always be on-the-go!
9. Bedtime should be responsive to daytime sleep
Even the best-sleeping babies have days when they don’t nap well and are a hot mess by the late afternoon. Never fear! The best remedy for poor daytime sleep is more nighttime sleep. If your baby’s usual bedtime is 7pm but naps were terrible, try 6pm. We promise they won’t wake up for the day an hour earlier!