Help! My baby's nap patterns are changing

Sleep   |   Age: 6 months 2 weeks

Changing napping patterns

When your baby is first born, it’s hard to pick out when she is ‘napping,’ because she seems to exist in a perpetual cycle of either napping or preparing to nap, without ever settling down into a more serious sleep. This is partially because she hasn’t had the chance to develop a circadian rhythm yet, and so doesn’t have any way of differentiating between day and night, and partially because her stomach is small enough, and growth-rate is large enough, that she needs to eat just about every three to five hours, making any sleeping pattern other than napping practically impossible.

your baby is moving into a transition period between the frequent naps and broken-up nights of her early months and what could be a regular schedule involving a few naps and a long night's sleep. By the time she is between a year and 4 years old, she will probably be down to a nap or two a day, on a fairly regular schedule, and 11 to 12 hours of sleep a night.

At this point, you may have noticed that your baby has moved away from napping "on-demand," and falling asleep when she's tired, and has started to fall asleep in more predictable patterns, napping around the same time every day. As this happens, she may have started to differentiate between day and night, sleeping for a longer stretch of time at night, and for shorter periods during the day. If she hasn't started to differentiate between night and day, you can help to encourage her by making sure to keep her room dark at night, and to let daytime naps see some sunlight. As time goes on, her sleep schedule should start to shift until about two-thirds of her sleep is happening at night.

your baby’s nap schedule will probably follow a generally decreasing pattern, with maybe 3 or 4 naps when she starts sleeping through the night, and decreasing to 2 or 3 around her first birthday, or a little later. There may be points when she might seem like she is moving backwards, but this is just because, as she hits her growth spurts, she may need to eat more often to fuel that growth, breaking up her nighttime rest, and may make up for it by taking up naps that you thought had been eliminated from her schedule. This is normal, and nothing to worry about, though it can concern parents. In general, though, your baby’s sleep patterns should start to fall into a fairly predictable pattern by midway through her first year, even if you don’t work to impose a deliberate schedule, and from there should generally start to shift towards shorter and fewer naps.

When it comes time to reduce the number of your baby’s naps, there is no strict time-frame, but she will start to send you signals when she is ready, first by sleeping for a shorter and shorter amount of time during the nap in question, and then by resisting going to sleep for that nap to begin with. Once or twice could just have to do with her mood, but if your baby is resisting going to sleep for a certain nap more than half of the time, it might be a sign that she is ready to let that nap go. Eliminating naps can be tricky, though - your baby can seem to both be ready not to take a certain nap, and not be getting enough sleep without it at the same time. You can ease the transition here either by moving the nap before the one you’re eliminating just a little bit later, or by temporarily putting your baby to bed for the night a little bit earlier until she adjusts. Eliminating naps doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing situation, though - your baby may be at a point where she won’t need a nap at a certain time on some days, and will do much better taking a quick one at that time on others.

Sometime when your baby is somewhere between 1 and a half and 2 and a half, she may be ready to go down to just one nap a day, and sometime when she is somewhere around three or four years old, she may be ready to stop napping altogether. However, it's important to remember that all babies are different. Maybe your baby's napping days will be done sooner than you think!

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