Sleep guide: Age-appropriate nap times for babies

How often should your little one be napping? Find out here.

11 January 2017
by Glynis Horning

In their first weeks babies sleep around 16 hours a day. Trouble is, they don’t stay asleep much more than two or three hours at a stretch, day or night, making it exhausting for new moms and dads.

Take comfort knowing that this early pattern is linked to babies’ sleep cycles being much shorter than yours and their spending much longer in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, to facilitate the amazing developments taking place in their little brains. “It’s a vital phase for your baby and soon passes,” says Dr Diana du Plessis, an independent midwifery consultant and researcher in Gauteng.

Every baby is different and will develop different patterns, but you can encourage some that will help make life a little easier for you.

From birth to 3 months

At this age, most babies sleep whenever they need to, day or night.

Challenges:

  • Your baby may sleep longer during the day and be more wakeful at night, when you desperately need your shut-eye. “If you can, nap with her,” says Dr Du Plessis. Also help her learn day from night. Keep the room dark and quiet for night feeds, bright by day – have curtains open or lights on, and don’t shelter her from noise and activity such as a radio, washing machine, other children at play.
  • She may go to sleep only if you hold or rock her, and wake the moment you put her down. Try swaddling her firmly in a soft cloth, which many babies find comforting, and waiting 15 minutes for her to slip into a deeper sleep before trying to move her.

From 3 to 6 months

Babies start to get into a pattern of two naps a day, one morning, one afternoon, and sleep longer at night, waking only for feeds.

Challenges:

  • Many babies like to be nursed, rocked or walked to sleep. Indulge yours if you can, or start training her to fall asleep alone. “When she’s fed, try leaving her alone for a minute or two to see if she will doze off. But don’t turn it into a war of wills,” warns Dr Du Plessis.
  • Many moms and dads want their babies to nap more so they can do chores. Try doing things with her in a sling or carrier, or propped comfortably nearby where she can watch you.

From 6 to 12 months

By now most babies will be napping twice a day for two to three hours in total. Introduce a sleep routine, says Dr Du Plessis: perhaps a bath, a story or song, a feed, and then put her down with a cuddly toy and turn off the light.

Challenges:

  • Some babies don’t want to nap if there are exciting activities going on. Help her wind down with a quiet activity like reading a story.
  • Her nap schedule may be interrupted by visitors, travel or sickness. Be flexible, and return to her schedule gradually.

From 1 to 2 years

Many toddlers change to only one nap a day, for one to three hours.

Challenge:

  • If she naps too long or too late, she may only go to sleep later at night or sleep fitfully. Try giving her lunch early to bring her nap forward, then wake her after two or three hours, before 3pm.

From 3 to 4 years

Preschoolers start napping intermittently, then not at all.

Challenge:

• Most play schools schedule a one-hour daily nap, but if your child has outgrown napping she may become bored and disruptive. “Ask her teacher about allowing quiet play away from the others,” suggests Dr Du Plessis.

How Clicks Clinics can help you

Worried about your little one's development? Make an appointment for a baby wellness consultation at your nearest Clicks Clinic by calling 0860 254 257 or visiting Clicks Clinics online

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