Updated March 2019
Part 4 of the Infant Sleep Series
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Your baby’s need to nap is the #1 monkey-wrench that will be thrown into your daily life (outside of being sleep deprived, not getting any, and generally not being able to socialize with anyone — ha!).
I’m a big believer in respecting your baby’s nap times by anticipating when they will need to nap and providing a quiet, comfortable environment for it. If you do this consistently, your baby will repay the favor by being well-rested, agreeable, and happily ready to go anywhere. It’s really a win-win.
I have a pretty easy method that I use to predict nap times with a fairly good amount of accuracy. It all boils down to one thing:
Respect Thy Intervals.
It’s ALL about the timing. This is where the dreaded ‘S’ word is making its first appearance: SCHEDULES. Mwaaaaaa…
“Put my baby on a schedule? Like an Army cadet at boot camp?”
Not exactly. I believe in a loose sleep ‘schedule,’ of sorts. More like a routine. Why? Because, much like adults, babies thrive on predictability.
I can’t tell you how many moms tell me they don’t want their babies on a sleep schedule because they want them to be able to enjoy the freedom and whimsy that comes with being a child, blah blah blah.
I get it. I really do. But you are not doing your child (or yourself) any favors by having him on a schedule of chaos. Don’t confuse your own personal hectic/stressful work situation or daily schedule with the concept of having your baby on a routine. It’s not the same thing.
You see, when infants grow up in a predictable world, they learn that they can trust us to meet their basic needs. A routine is doing certain things in a certain order at about the same time. Routines create stability, structure, and predictability. Over time, this helps build a child’s self confidence by making it clear what to do and what will happen in a given situation.
A Rough Guide to Naps
1.5 – 3 Months
After the first 6 weeks have passed (or fairly soon thereafter), hopefully your baby will be sleeping a lot (more) at night. If this is the case (and believe me, you WANT this to be the case), he will take about 3 naps during the day which can each range from 45 minutes to 2 hours. Some of you may have already noticed this pattern emerging, but if you haven’t, don’t stress. It’s still very early! Start paying attention in the next few weeks to see these natural patterns emerging.
Here is the Formula for a daytime sleep schedule in the next few months:
The Morning Interval: 1-2 hours. Starting when she wakes up in the morning (the first wake up after sunrise, that is), she will only be awake for a short while before taking her morning nap, typically only 1-2 hours, but it could be as short as 45 minutes.
Example, if your baby wakes up at 7 am, you can expect her to go down again sometime between 8 and 9 am. If you’ve been up a lot the night before, this is a great time for you to go back to sleep too, yo. Stay in your jammies, hold off on the coffee, and get some extra shut-eye. You will feel like a new person.
The Midday Interval: This varies from baby to baby, but it’s roughly about 2.5 hours. Meaning… 2.5 hours after she wakes from her morning nap, she’ll be ready for her midday nap. She’ll sleep for 1-2 hours (*varies).
The Afternoon Interval: 3 hours. After her midday nap, this will be her longest stretch of being awake: about 3 hours. This is when you can run errands and do things with your baby that take a longer amount of time: grocery shopping, going to the mall, or having a play date. Your baby will be most alert and playful during this afternoon stretch.
Bedtime: 2-3 hours. “Bedtime” will occur roughly 2-3 hours after she woke up from her afternoon nap.
In that last hour before bedtime, she will probably be at her crankiest. This is a great time to have a warm bath, a boob (or a bottle), and some snuggle time before going down for bed. Keep stimulation to a minimum. Developing a night time routine now will serve you well going forward into the future.
*Every baby is different, and your baby’s intervals will be unique to her. For example, Lucie used to take her morning nap about 45 minutes after she woke up in the morning. Alice, on the other hand, was awake for almost 2 hours before her morning nap. Their habits are very, very different.
Remember also, this won’t happen overnight. Your baby is only 8 weeks old and probably still sleeps very unpredictably. No worries. By 12 weeks, you should definitely see these patterns emerging. In the meantime, just sit back and observe. Keeping a log may help you as well.
*** 3 hours is a great rule of thumb for the maximum amount of time your baby should stay awake at this age (give or take). Anything much more than this and you are risking entering the realm of “over-tiredness,” a place you don’t want to be. If your baby is turning into a gremlin at night and he’s been up for 4-5 hours at a time during the day, this could explain it…
Okay, so what does this look like? A sample daytime routine for a baby of your age is detailed below. ** Your baby’s intervals will vary; this is just a rough guideline. You can tailor yours to your baby.
Looking Ahead: 4-7 Months
As time goes by – into months 4, 5, and 6 – your baby will really start consolidating sleep at night. These daytime “awake” intervals will widen and naps will consolidate. The morning interval will widen to 1.5 and then 2 hours. The midday and afternoon intervals will widen to about 3 hours each, and pretty soon… he will drop the midday nap altogether ~ sometime around 5-7 months.
Starting around 4-5 months, your baby will become more finicky about where he will/can sleep. If junior is a light sleeper, you may want to plan on being home during nap times. If you need to do something that lasts longer than 3 hours, just be sure you can provide him a decent place for a nap, like riding in a quiet car or napping in a quiet room at a friend’s house. You can bring your Pack ‘N Play along to ensure that you have a sure-fire sleeping spot. Some babies can and will sleep anywhere. If you are one of these moms… I hate you. Just kidding (sort of).
Even [then] with an 18-month-old, I still used the interval method. Lucie napped only once a day (waaah!), about 4.5-5 hours after she woke up. So it didn’t matter if she woke up at 7 am or 9 am, I could put her down (without a fight!) exactly when I knew she’d be ready. And trust me, we’re all the better for it.
Kicking it off
If you like, start writing down when he goes down and when he eats. If you observe and document your baby’s natural intervals, you will quickly learn and anticipate when he will naturally go to sleep and for how long. Look for patterns.
Then, you simply reinforce this sleep schedule by putting him down ‘on time.’ Some people call this “the baby putting himself on a schedule,” which is totally true… but you need to reinforce and uphold it and provide the framework.
You will now have the ability to (somewhat) predict and plan your day, all while knowing that baby is getting enough sleep. Yay – this is our goal!
This is the self-dubbed Interval Method: observe, record, reinforce.
Now is a great time to tell you that this is NOT a 100% foolproof method. Oh no. Your baby will frequently throw you a curve ball.
The most common curve ball is the abbreviated nap. This is when you are expecting a 1.5 hour nap and junior wakes up after about 20 minutes (great! Right in the middle of paying the bills – thanks, baby).
If your little guy or girl wakes up prematurely crying, don’t rush in right away. Most of the time, she will go back to sleep on her own. You can usually tell if she is REALLY awake by looking at her eyes. If they’re open, she’s awake. If they’re still closed, STEP AWAY FROM THE BABY, Mommy. Let her go back to sleep. Give it 5 minutes and re-check.
If baby wakes up prematurely, don’t sweat it. We can only control so much, right? You may need to tweak the next interval, though. For example, if she had a shorter than usual nap, subtract about 30 minutes from when you’d normally put her down again. You’ll get pretty good at tweaking it over time.
The other curve ball is the earlier/later than usual wake up. Lucie usually woke up around 7 am, but sometimes she woke up at 5:30 am. When this happened, I put her in bed with us and used my Jedi mind tricks to will her back to sleep. Waking up at 5:30 am is NOT OK in our house. That s#!t ain’t cool!
On the other hand, sometimes she slept until 8:30 am. This also screwed up the sleep schedule for that day. Here, you have two options: 1) Wake her up at 7 (are you insane?) or 2) Cut her naps short so she is ready to go to bed at the usual time. Or some mixture thereof. Follow your gut.
Depending on your personality, all of this may seem a little over-engineered. Fair enough.
The bottom line is: Life is easier for both of you when your baby is on somewhat of a predictable sleep schedule or routine. You can plan outings, see people, go out to eat… you can get out of the house and live your life, yo. This is when you start to feel really empowered and soon? You’ll learn that there isn’t much you can’t do with this little alien in your life (except for pedicures, haircuts, and dentist appointments).
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
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