Changing napping patterns

When Baby is first born, it’s hard to pick out when he is ‘napping,’ because he 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 he 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 his stomach is small enough, and growth-rate is large enough, that he needs to eat just about every three to five hours, making any sleeping pattern other than napping practically impossible.

Baby is moving into a transition period between the frequent naps and broken-up nights of his early months and what could be a regular schedule involving a few naps and a long night’s sleep. By the time he is between a year and 4 years old, he 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 Baby has moved away from napping “on-demand,” and falling asleep when he&;s tired, and has started to fall asleep in more predictable patterns, napping around the same time every day. As this happens, he 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 he hasn&;t started to differentiate between night and day, you can help to encourage him by making sure to keep his room dark at night, and to let daytime naps see some sunlight. As time goes on, his sleep schedule should start to shift until about two-thirds of his sleep is happening at night.

Baby’s nap schedule will probably follow a generally decreasing pattern, with maybe 3 or 4 naps when he starts sleeping through the night, and decreasing to 2 or 3 around his first birthday, or a little later. There may be points when he might seem like he is moving backwards, but this is just because, as he hits his growth spurts, he may need to eat more often to fuel that growth, breaking up his nighttime rest, and may make up for it by taking up naps that you thought had been eliminated from his schedule. This is normal, and nothing to worry about, though it can concern parents. In general, though, Baby’s sleep patterns should start to fall into a fairly predictable pattern by midway through his 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 Baby’s naps, there is no strict time-frame, but he will start to send you signals when he 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 his mood, but if Baby is resisting going to sleep for a certain nap more than half of the time, it might be a sign that he is ready to let that nap go. Eliminating naps can be tricky, though – 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 Baby to bed for the night a little bit earlier until he adjusts. Eliminating naps doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing situation, though – Baby may be at a point where he 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 Baby is somewhere between 1 and a half and 2 and a half, he may be ready to go down to just one nap a day, and sometime when he is somewhere around three or four years old, he may be ready to stop napping altogether. However, it’s important to remember that all babies are different. Maybe Baby‘s napping days will be done sooner than you think!

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