Here at the NUK 3am Club, we’re all about helping you and your baby sleep better. While most of what we do is focused on sleeping at night (it’s when you and your little one should both be snoozing, after all), daytime napping is also super important to ensure your baby gets the rest he needs during his first year and beyond. And getting him set up with a nap schedule can make it easier for everyone.
So, when will your little one be ready for his naps to be scheduled? At around 4 months, many babies will begin to follow a somewhat predictable pattern of daytime sleep, making it a good time to start developing a nap schedule. Before that, you can still help baby develop a consistent cycle of naps and periods of wakefulness, but nap lengths can vary widely and be more erratic in nature in the newborn stage.
When you think they’re ready try these tips for creating and maintaining a successful baby nap schedule.
When should babies be on a nap schedule
The first thing you’ll want to do is start paying attention to your little one’s sleep signals. At what times during the morning and afternoon does he start to rub his eyes, get fussy, and even doze off? How long does he typically sleep during each nap? And how many minutes of wakefulness does he have between naps before he starts to act tired again? Try recording all this for a week or more. It will help you figure out when and for how long your baby naps, so you can set his schedule and help ease him into each nap. “Trying to start each day within the same 30-minute time period (for example, between 7:00 and 7:30 am each morning) can help set the tone for naps happening at predictable times throughout the day,” says infant sleep expert Natalie Willes.
Stick with your baby’s nap schedule
Babies tend to thrive on routine and consistency, so after you’ve figured out your little one’s nap schedule, do your best to stick to it (but don’t worry about the odd interruption). What you’ll want to avoid is regularly flip-flopping between 1pm and 3pm nap times, for example, as that can prevent your baby from developing a regular sleep pattern. So do your best to say no to activities that conflict with his nap schedule and try to keep naps starting within 15-30 minutes of their set times. And if you’re back to work during the week and your little one is on a nap schedule from daycare, follow it as best you can when he’s home with you on the weekend.
Develop a pre-naptime routine
One way to help keep your baby on his nap schedule is to include a pre-nap routine. Just like his bedtime routine, it should include activities that are calming and soothing, which will help him unwind and accept sleep more easily. But unlike his bedtime routine, your little one’s pre-nap routine can be shorter and less elaborate—a story, a song, and a cuddle may be all he needs. For maximum success, follow the same activities each time and do your best to not skip it and avoid associating feeding with going to sleep whenever possible.
Don’t worry about sleep schedule interruptions
Life happens and there will be days when you simply cannot follow your baby’s nap schedule, and that’s OK! It definitely isn’t something to stress over. Your little one is quite resilient, and if you’ve been following a consistent nap schedule that includes a pre-nap routine, he should have an easy time getting back on track the next day. Natalie says, “A good tip is to prepare to keep your baby at home for 1-2 days after any days of disrupted sleep—this will help him get back on track more quickly.”
As your baby grows and matures through his first year, he may start to sleep for longer stretches at night (hooray!) and will require less sleep during the day. To learn more about this, check out our article titled My Baby Won’t Sleep (Common Sleep Struggles). You’ll need to keep an eye on his evolving sleep and adjust his nap schedule to ensure he’s getting all the shut eye he needs. Just remember to continue being consistent after each adjustment. That way, all the benefits of a baby nap schedule will continue as well.