Babies are only babies for so long with ever-changing sleep needs. Multiple naps a day and early bedtimes don't make a life sentence; instead, it’s a short, short phase of their lives. More often than not, people are unaware of just how much sleep babies and children need. Babies need A LOT of sleep. Sleep literally helps their brains and bodies develop. With so much information floating around out there on the web or from friends or aunts who know ‘best’ it’s hard to know what information is correct. So, I am going to break down the daily (in a 24-hour window) sleep requirements a child needs from newborn- 3+ years. Enjoy!
Keep in mind that these are all averages. Some children require more sleep than others, and some children need shorter/longer waketimes. You know your child best- but by keeping these times in mind and following Baby's "sleepy cues" will set you all up for success.
At this age, sleep is disorganized and naps don’t have any sort of pattern. Your baby may nap for 30 minutes one time and 3 hours the next. I suggest capping naps at 3 hours- even if it’s to wake to feed and then right back to sleep. Click here to read my blog on newborn-16 weeks of age. Babies younger than 2 months should not be awake longer than 1 hour and sleep between 16-20 hours per day.
Babies should be on a 4 nap schedule by this point, and I would still be capping them at 3 hours in length. The average maximum time that a baby should be awake between sleep periods is 1.5 hours and should be clocking 15.5-18 hours of sleep per day.
Some babies may start the 4 to 3 nap transition around this time (click here to read my blog on the 4 month sleep 'regression'). If you are finding you are putting Baby down for the 4th nap much later than 4:15/4:30pm, it’s time to start moving towards a 3 nap schedule. On 3 nap days, your child will need an early bedtime (earliest bedtime at this age is 4:45 pm). I suggest capping naps at 2.5 hours in length and ensuring they end no later than 5 pm. The average maximum time that a baby should be awake between sleep periods is 1.75-2 hours and should be clocking 15-16 hours of sleep per day.
The majority of babies at this point are on a solid 3 naps schedule. The first two naps should be 1-1.5 hours in length with the 3rd being a "cat nap" (30-45 minutes). Naps have different restorative values- the morning nap is mentally restorative whereas the afternoon nap is physically restorative. The third nap is the least restorative, and its main job is to bridge the gap between the second nap and bedtime. I suggest capping naps at 2 hours in length and ensuring they end by 5 pm. The average maximum time that a baby should be awake between sleep periods is 2.25 hours, and they need approximately 15 hours of sleep per day.
Not much change from 5 months except they can go a little longer between sleep periods- 2.5 hours and should be sleeping 14 - 15 hours per day.
Baby might be showing signs of wanting to transition to 2 naps a day, but I encourage you to keep 3 naps until as close to 8 months as possible. In order to hold off this transition, I suggest capping naps at 1.5 hours to ensure the 3rd nap is completed before 5 pm. The average maximum time that a baby should be awake between sleep periods is 2.75 hours and should be sleeping 14-14.5 hours per day.
If Baby hasn’t transitioned to 2 naps a day yet, now is a good time to start. On 2 nap days, we want to be implementing an early bedtime to make up for the lost sleep from the 3rd nap. You will likely switch between 3-2 naps for a few weeks leading up to the transition, and this is normal. The average maximum time that a baby should be awake between sleep periods is 3-3.5 hours, and it’s normal for your child to need a shorter waketime between morning and first nap. Babies, this age should be sleeping 14-14.5 hours per day.
Babies should be on a 2 nap schedule by this point- if they are still taking 3 naps, I encourage transitioning to 2 naps as your child will start to make up for that lost ‘awake time’ from the day by waking up at night…and ain’t nobody got time for that! The average maximum time that a baby should be awake between sleep periods is 3.75 hours and will need to be clocking approximately 14 hours of sleep per day.
The afternoon nap starts to become less restorative at this point, so it’s important to shorten the last waketime (between nap 2 and bedtime) to ensure Baby isn’t growing overtired. If Baby is starting to fight the second nap, try extending the waketime between the first and second nap up to 4 hours. Children this age sleep approximately 13.5-14 hours per day and should be napping 2-3 hours in daytime sleep.
Some babies at this age start showing signs of wanting to transition to 1 nap but the longer we can hold off this transition, the easier it will be. In order to keep 2 naps, you may need to start waking baby at 7:00 am (no earlier) and capping naps at 1 hour. Children this age sleep 13.5-13.75 hours per day and should be napping 2-3 hours in daytime sleep.
Ok, you made it! Ideally, you’d like to hold out until this age to transition to 1 nap. The closer you can wait until 18 months, the better. We managed to keep our daughter on 2 naps until she was 19 months and it was the smoothest transition ever. This nap transition is usually the hardest of all transitions as the waketimes on 1 nap are much longer than that of 2 naps. Once you are ready to transition to 1 nap, your goal waketimes will be 5.5/4.5-5. So the nap will be occurring 5.5 hours after waking for the day and bedtime will be 4.5-5 hours after waking from nap. You will likely flip-flop between 2 and 1 nap days leading up to this transition- this is normal. Children this age should be sleeping 13-13.5 hours per day.
19- 24 months
Your goal waketimes will now be 5.5-6/4.5-5. Once the nap is well established, you can switch to a ‘by the clock’ nap schedule with your nap starting between 12:30-1:00 pm. I still suggest using the 4.5-5 hour waketime to determine bedtime. Children this age need 12-12.5 hours of sleep in a day. I recommend capping this nap at 2.5 hours.
Not a lot changes from the time your child is on a solid 1 nap schedule. Waketimes of 6//5 or a ‘by the clock’ nap should be occurring between 1:00-130pm, capping it at 2 hours. Again, still using waketimes to determine bedtime. Children this age should be sleeping 12-12.5 hours per day.
3 + years
The average age that children will drop their nap is around 3-4 years; however, I know some children that still nap at 5 years old!. If your child’s bedtime is too late (much past 8:30 pm), or they are not sleeping during their nap, they may be ready to be done with naps (gasp!). You may need to cap this nap at 1-1.5 hours if you are finding bedtime is being pushed too late. If/when your child is done napping, it is very important to implement quiet time for 1 hour around 1/1:30 pm. This quiet time should occur in their room with no electronics. It will give them time to decompress and will help eliminate late afternoon/early evening meltdowns. Children this age should be sleeping 12- 13 hours. If your child is not napping anymore, you can determine bedtime by counting back 12-13 hours
Lindsey Hennigar is founder of The Sleep Ranch and a Certified Infant and Child Sleep Consultant through the Family Sleep Institute. She helps exhausted parents and families get the healthy, restorative sleep they need. Your child can LOVE sleep!