Baby Naps: Knowing When Your Baby is Ready and How to Get Them Down

It's no surprise that newborn babies are very sleepy. What you may not realize is that sleeping 16 - 18 hours per day initially is completely normal. Trying to get your baby to nap during those first several weeks isn't necessary because eating and sleeping will consume most of her life. But once your child is more alert during their waking hours and can sleep for longer stretches, you'll know it's time for more formal naps. 

So, how do I get my baby to nap? Once you've decided it's time for your baby to start taking formal naps, you'll want to establish a routine that you use for every single nap. Doing so will give your baby the best possible chance at going down easily for a nap and getting the quality and quantity of sleep they need.

Before you establish what that nap routine will look like for your baby, you'll first want to know that your baby is ready.

Knowing if Your Baby is Ready for Naps

As your baby nears the 6-week mark (give or take), they will become more alert during their waking hours. It will become more obvious when they are sleepy and need to go down for a nap. Whereas before your baby may have easily fallen asleep in your arms, you might now be noticing signs that your baby is ready to fall asleep on their own.

If your baby is sleeping for around 4-hour stretches at night, she's most likely ready to take on real naps during the day. Don't worry about a rigid nap schedule just yet - that will come a little later. However, this will be a good time to set the precedent for how napping will continue as your baby matures.

Newborns up to 6 weeks: Your baby will sleep 16- 20 hours per day, waking every so often to eat. There is no need for formal nap times.

6 - 12 weeks: Around this age, babies will push their sleep time to a 4 to 5-hour stretches at night. They are most likely ready for naps.

3 to 6 months: By now, most babies are capable of sleeping for several hours at a time during the night. Naps should occur the same times each day.

6 to 12 months: Your baby will start to move to a full night of sustained sleep per night. Eventually, your baby will take one morning and one afternoon nap each day.

Giving your baby and yourself a "grace period" those first 6-8 weeks of their life will take a lot of stress off both of you. But when your baby starts to have clear wake times and it's easy to notice signs of drowsiness, it's time to start your nap routine.

Establish a Nap Time Routine

Establishing a clear routine for your baby's naptime early on will set the foundation for your baby as they get older. How your baby goes down for a nap, even as they grow, should be tweaked very little.

The three tricks to making nap time something you both look forward to instead of something that causes you stress are:

  1. Begin winding your baby down when he shows signs of sleepiness. 
  2. Prepare your baby for sleeping and make him comfortable.
  3. Stay consistent.

Getting your baby down while they are drowsy, yet still awake, isn't always easy when they are still very young. By now, however, you're probably noticing how long they are able to stay awake depending on the time of day. Be sure to pay close attention to the cues your baby will be giving you. Eye rubbing, yawning, and sudden fussiness are all signals to get your baby to their designated sleeping spot and start her nap time routine.

Have Wind Down Time

Just as you as an adult like to relax first before fully committing to sleep, so does your baby. Start by bringing your baby to their room and doing something quiet. As a young baby, this may be as simple as laying them down on the carpet and talking to them softly. As they get older, this can include a few more minutes of quiet play and reading a book.

Be Sure Their Needs Have Been Met

Your baby isn't going to go to sleep if they need to be changed or are hungry. By 6 weeks of age, your baby will do best following an eat-wake-sleep cycle, so hopefully, their tummy is full, they've had enough time to be awake and/or play, and now they're ready to sleep. A fresh diaper for nap time will probably be necessary.

Create the Mood

Once your baby has been changed, it's time to set up a comfortable environment where your baby will sleep. Turn the lights down, and draw the curtains. You may want to turn on very soft white noise. These changes will signal to your baby that wake time is over and it's time to transition to sleep. Even though your 2-4-month-old baby may not be completely aware of these changes, keeping everything consistent from those very first naps will be helpful in the long run.

Swaddle or Sleep Sack

It's likely you have been swaddling your baby from the very first day they arrived. Most babies are comforted by a swaddle since it mirrors their 9 months spent in the womb. Not only that, but it keeps babies' arms tucked in close to their body so they won't be startled by their Moro reflex. Your baby likely enjoys their swaddle, and it will also help them fall asleep more easily and sleep longer.

Swaddling is amazing for your baby, but you can't do it forever. Once your baby can roll, it will no longer be safe for your baby to stay swaddled as we discuss here. But keeping them in a sleep sack will continue the coziness they are used to having. The Wearable Weighted Blanket is the perfect solution to go from swaddled to unswaddled sleep since this wearable weighted blanket has detachable wings.

Sing and Snuggle in Your Favorite Spot

This will be one of your most treasured experiences as a parent. These are moments of closeness you will look forward to having with your baby every single day. The best part is that you get to decide what this will look like. Cozy up with your baby in a rocking chair and sing her your favorite lullabies. There is nothing like those sleepy little eyes staring up at you.

Lay Down Awake, But Sleepy

As you rock and sing your baby to sleep, those first signs of sleepiness have now led to a baby who is ready to sleep. You've created a dim and quiet environment that cues your baby that it's nap time. Calmly walk your baby to her crib, and lay her down on her back. You can take a few more moments to reassure your baby with your touch and presence. The Wearable Weighted Blanket gives added comfort when it's time to walk away.

Fussing During the Nap Transition

It is normal to worry that your baby might cry during this new napping transition. Up until now, a lot of baby's sleep has happened while being held or while close to you.

Teaching your baby to fall asleep on their own isn't without challenges. But it's important to give them space to settle in on their own. Just as you would for nighttime sleep, you can go in to comfort your baby every few minutes. Continue to stretch the time a little longer for each nap, until the point they are able to fall asleep independently without crying. Staying consistent with your routine is the best way to help your baby get the quality nap sleep they need.

How long is a pre nap routine?

As mentioned above, the most important thing about the pre-nap routine and your baby’s sleep in general is consistency. A lot of baby sleep can be unpredictable, but it’s important to keep the following in mind when it comes to your baby’s pre-nap routine:

  • When they nap – the time of day. This will likely change but try to be consistent with nap time and plan accordingly. For example: you don’t want to leave for the park a half an hour before naptime
  • Frequency of naps - as they grow, the number of daytime naps will likely decrease. Newborns need around three to five naps a day (or more!). Babies in between 4-to-6-months likely need two to three naps a day. Babies 6-12 months tend to need two naps a day
  • Length of naps – your baby may sleep for longer or shorter stretches depending on their stage of development

Noting the above, the pre-nap routine can take anywhere to a few minutes up to an hour. Every baby is different as are their needs, so try not to compare to other babies to your own (even within the same family!)

Where should my baby nap during the day?

Some experts suggest that babies take their naps in the same place every day. This might help with consistency (ie: baby should take their naps and overnight sleep at the same time every day) but can be difficult to achieve, especially once baby is close to a year old and their schedule may involve more activities during the day.

Ideally, the first six months, baby can be home napping wherever they sleep at night – crib, nursery, co-sleeper, etc. This can be harder than it seems as a lot of babies fall asleep when out and about in the stroller, the car seat, and even in a baby carrier. Do your best, while sleep routines are important, allow yourself some wiggle room, especially in those first few months, to alleviate some of the stress that frequently accompanies life with your newborn.

Do naps improve mood?

According to Pampers.com, “…naps offer a number of benefits for babies and toddlers. Studies have shown that young children who nap regularly tend to have longer attention spans and sleep better at night than those who don't take naps.” Some other benefits of napping include:

  • Improved concentration
  • Positive affect on overall temperament
  • Improved nighttime sleep

Do babies sleep better if they nap?

While it may seem counterintuitive, it is true that babies who nap during the day tend to sleep better at night. That’s because overtired babies can be cranky, fussy, and have a much harder time not just falling asleep, but also staying asleep. Napping also offers a small window of relief for you and/or your baby caregiver for some self-care or tasks that can’t be done while baby is awake. So that little bit of time while baby is sleeping is better for everyone.

What do you do when the baby won't nap?

Sometimes, even with routines in place and nap-time consistency, your baby simply won’t sleep! It’s usually nothing to worry about and likely to do with things like illness, teething, developmental milestones or changes in routine. It is often suggested to engage with your baby instead of “making them” take a nap when they’re otherwise overstimulated. Try some quiet playtime with soft music and dim lights to see if that might help. Otherwise, remember that as your baby grows and develops, their nap time and bedtime will shift a few times as they learn to stay awake for longer stretches of time.  Of course, for any concerns on the matter, consult with your pediatrician to see if there might be an underlying issue.

How do I get my baby to nap without being held?

Some babies are simply used to being held and rocked to sleep and that can be a hard habit to break. Always default to your nap-time routine and the number one rule for all sleep which is to put your baby down drowsy but awake. The Dreamland Baby weighted sleep sack (or swaddle) can help with this transition as it offers evenly distributed, gentle weight from shoulders to toes which helps baby feel calm, fall asleep faster & stay asleep longer. That gentle weight also mimics the feeling of a hug, which could give your baby the sensation of being held. The sleep sack also eliminates the need for extra blankets in baby’s sleep-space which is what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend for the safest sleep possible.

How long should I let my baby nap?

You will be astounded by how much your baby grows that first year, and with those changes come a lot of sleep changes, too. Most newborns typically sleep between 14 - 17 hours in a 24-hour period. But once your baby hits the 3-month mark, they may be napping for a few hours at a time, several times a day, then cutting back to one or two hours over two naps by the time of their first birthday.

Remember, every baby is different and their nap schedules will be, too. Some may sleep for 2-3 hours at a time and others may just give you 30 minutes here and there. No one knows your baby better than you do and their personalities and routines will become obvious as they grow older. Yes, their sleep habits will change repeatedly, but in time you will be able to anticipate them and they will become easier to manage.

How do I work around my baby's nap schedule?

Most babies have one nap that is better than the others. That means that one nap a day is usually longer or more “productive” in terms of quality sleep. Because that is usually predictable (ie: occurs in either the morning or afternoon) try to schedule your activities around the best nap time so that your baby can get in their zzz’s while you get in the work you need to accomplish whether it’s meeting a deadline, finishing the laundry, or simply taking a break for yourself. 

Dream Weighted Sleep Swaddle, 0-6 months