Baby and Toddler Naptime

It’s important for children to get enough sleep, and for the first few years most babies need to supplement their night-time sleep with naps during the day. Read on to learn more about the optimal nap times for babies, why napping is important and how long it lasts. We’ve also got some handy tips for helping your baby or toddler get the daytime sleep they need.

What Are Naps

In the first few months, newborn babies tend to sleep and wake intermittently throughout the day and night in harmony with their feeding patterns. As your baby gets older, the proportion of daytime sleep decreases and your little one’s starts to sleep mostly at night.

However, one or two daytime naps – short period of sleeping during the day – are often needed for a few years until your child grows out of them. It’s common for this to happen around the age of 3 to 4 years old, although some children may keep on napping until they’re older than this.

The Importance of Nap Time

Sleep is important for all of us, but especially for babies and toddlers. In the first few years, daily naps are needed to ensure that your child gets all the sleep they need every day. Here are some of the ways nap time can be beneficial for your baby or toddler:

  • Sleep is important for cognitive development. Sleep is crucial for the development of your child’s brain It helps to improve concentration, learning and memory. Getting enough sleep can also have a good effect on behaviour, so getting enough toddler nap time during the day might even reduce the meltdowns and tantrums that all toddlers experience during the terrible twos.

  • Naps help prevent your child from becoming overtired. Being overtired can affect your child’s mood and overall temperament. Adequate sleep – including the optimal amount of nap time – improves your child’s mood.

  • Nap time may even improve night-time sleep. Though this might seem counterintuitive, naps sometimes make it easier for your child to fall asleep and sleep well at night. For example, napping during the day can help prevent your child from being overtired just before bed. This in turn could make it easier to relax and go to sleep. You’ll need to carefully plan the time and duration of the afternoon nap, though, because you don’t want your child to not be sleepy at all when bedtime rolls around.

The benefits of your baby’s nap time for you

Nap time also gives you and other caregivers a much-needed break. While your baby or toddler naps, take the opportunity to unwind, grab a little ‘me time’ or do something that's hard to do when your child is awake.

In Summary

Naps are beneficial for your little one’s mental development and can help improve mood. The right amount of nap time during the day can even help your child fall asleep at night. And, nap times can also give you a much-needed break.

The Optimal Times for Naps

Every child is unique, so keeping track of your child’s sleep and watching for signs of tiredness will help you pinpoint specific nap times that work best for your child. Generally speaking, though, the best time for a nap is likely to be mid to late morning and early afternoon.

Signs of tiredness in your baby or toddler can include: At 0-3 months:

  • Crying easily

  • Staring into space

  • Turning away from people

  • Rubbing eyes

  • Losing interest in toys or people

  • Being quiet and still

  • Arching backwards

  • Moving jerkily.

At 3-12 months and up:

  • Clumsiness

  • Clinginess

  • Crying

  • Demanding attention

  • Getting bored of toys easily

  • Fussiness when feeding.

A nap typically lasts anywhere between 30 minutes and 2.5 hours. Your child may need to nap more often or less often depending on their age and stage of development. If your child is old enough to sleep through the night, it’s a good idea not to have nap time too late in the afternoon, because your little one may not be tired enough when bedtime rolls around. As a rule of thumb, try and time your toddler’s last or single nap of the day so that they’re awake again by the early afternoon. If your baby isn’t tired by bedtime, you may need to play around with an earlier afternoon nap or shortening the duration of the afternoon nap. You may need to drop nap time altogether if your child no longer needs it. Conversely, in some cases missing a nap may result in your child having more trouble falling asleep at night or a night-time waking because your child may be overtired by the time bedtime rolls around.

Does Your Toddler Need One or Two Naps?

After your child turns 1 year old, you may not be sure whether they need one or two naps per day. There’s no standard answer, as individual toddlers may require different amounts of daytime sleep. In fact, the frequency and amount of nap time your 1-year-old or 2-year-old child needs on any given day may even depend on what kind of day they’re having. Sleep patterns change as your child grows and develops. So, at some point, your little one may switch from having two daily nap times to only needing one nap a day. However, when this happens depends on many factors unique to your child. Keeping in mind that children differ greatly in their sleep patterns, here is a rough guide to the number of naps babies and toddlers often have during the day at different ages, and approximately how much daytime sleep they need in total:

Typical Daytime Sleep by Baby Age
AgeNaps per dayApproximate total daytime sleep
0 to 3 months4up to 8 hours
6 to 12 months23.5 hours
12 months to 18 months1-22 hours
18 months to 3 years1-21.5 hours
Over 3 years0-10-1.5 hours
Source: NHS

 

When Do Kids Stop Needing Nap Time?

Sleep patterns can differ a lot between kids, and they change at different rates. Many children stop needing a nap sometime between the age of 3 and 4 years old It might be time to lose a nap during the day if your child no longer falls asleep at nap time or can’t get to sleep at bedtime because they still have plenty of energy left..

Keep in mind that some children may stop napping earlier or later than this, so if your little one still has a snooze in the daytime it’s not usually any cause for concern. However, if you think your little one is tired in the day because they aren’t getting enough sleep at night, consider trying some of these sleep training methods at bedtime and/or ask your health visitor or doctor for personalised advice.

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Tips for Creating a Nap Time Routine

You might like to establish a nap time routine to get your child in the mood for a daytime nap, similar to the bedtime routine you have at the end of the day. Keep in mind that for nap time you don’t need to launch into the full bedtime routine. One or two activities that you regularly perform with your little one in the run-up to nap time could be enough to help your child wind down and signal that it’s time for a short rest. The key to a nap time routine is keeping things calm and soothing, especially in the moments before you put your little one down for a nap. Here are some things you could try to get your baby or toddler in the mood for a nap:

The most important aspect of any sleep routine is consistency. If someone else looks after your little one sometimes, such as a grandparent or babysitter, make sure they know about and follow the established nap time routine.

Creating an Ideal Nap Time Environment

The best place for daytime naps is the same place your baby sleeps at night, whether that’s in a cot, Moses basket or – when your child is a little older – in his or her own bed.

However, it can be helpful to have slightly different setup for sleeping during the day, so your baby knows it’s still daytime and not the same as ‘proper’ bedtime.

Here are some tips for creating an ideal sleep environment for naptime:

  1. Draw the curtains. A darker bedroom can help your baby or toddler fall asleep. Dim the lights and draw the curtains or blinds to keep bright sunlight out of the room.

  2. Keep the room (but not necessarily the whole house) quiet. Your baby may sleep better in a quiet bedroom, but unless your little one wakes easily at the smallest sound it might not be necessary for everyone in the house to walk on tiptoes. A bit of background noise and activity around the house could help reinforce the difference between your child’s day and night routines.

  3. Ensure your baby is comfortable. Check that the room is at a comfortable temperature for sleeping and make sure your baby isn’t overdressed or underdressed.

  4. Follow safe sleep guidelines. At least until your baby is 12 months old, be sure to lay your baby in the cot on their back. Make sure the cot is free of loose bedding, blankets, pillows, bumper pads and toys to help lower the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and prevent suffocation. Avoid falling asleep with your baby in a chair or on the sofa.

FAQS AT A GLANCE

  • Every child is unique, and there’s a lot of variation in the number of naps and hours of daytime sleep that babies need.
    With that in mind, here’s an example of how an average nap time schedule might look at different ages:

    • 0-3 months: 4 naps/8 hours
    • 6-12 months: 2 naps/3.5 hours
    • 12-18 months: 1-2 naps/2 hours
    • 18 months – 3 years: 1-2 naps/1.5 hours
    • 3+ years: 0-1 naps/0-1.5 hours.
  • It’s not a good idea for your baby or toddler to nap too close to their established bedtime, because this could make it harder for your little one to fall asleep (or stay asleep for long) at night.


    If your child is sleeping through the night, it’s best to time the last nap time of the day so that your toddler is awake again by early afternoon.

  • At least for the first year, it’s best for your baby to nap in their usual cot or Moses basket. Sleeping anywhere else, like on a sofa, in a car seat, pushchair, infant carrier or sling can be unsafe. If your baby does fall asleep in any of these places, move them to the cot as soon as you can.

The Bottom Line

Nap time is important – it contributes to your child’s health and development and can help improve concentration and mood. Having good, well-timed naps during the day could even help you little one to get better sleep at night.

In the beginning your baby may nap three to four times per day, but by toddler or preschool age your child will start to nap less and less until nap time is completely phased out.

Creating a soothing and safe environment for naps will help your child get the most out of them.

Plus, you might find you look forward to your child’s naps yourself, as they give you opportunities to take on tasks that are hard to do when your child is awake and wants all of your attention.

How We Wrote This Article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.