Baby Sleep Back

There's no one-size-fits-all answer regarding how much daytime sleep kids need. It all depends on the age, the child, and the sleep total during a 24-hour period. For example, one toddler may sleep 13 hours at night with only some daytime catnapping, while another gets 9 hours at night but takes a solid 2-hour nap each afternoon.

Nap. It's a small word, but for most parents a hugely important one. Why? Because sleep is a major requirement for good health, and for young kids to get enough of it, some daytime sleep is usually needed. Crucial physical and mental development occurs in early childhood, and naps provide much-needed downtime for growth and rejuvenation.

Naps also help keep kids from becoming overtired, which not only takes a toll on their moods but may also make it harder for them to fall asleep at night. And naptime gives parents a brief oasis during the day and time to tackle household chores or just unwind.

The key to good napping can be as simple as setting up a good nap routine early on and sticking to it. With infants, watch for cues like fussing and rubbing eyes, and then put your baby to bed while sleepy but not yet asleep. This teaches kids how to fall asleep themselves — a skill that only becomes more important as they get older. Soft music, dim lights, or a quiet story or rhyme at bedtime can help ease the transition to sleep and become a source of comfort for your child.

For toddlers and preschoolers, sticking to a naptime schedule can be more challenging. Though many do still love their nap, others don't want to miss out on a minute of the action and will fight sleep even as their eyes are closing. In this case, don't let naptime become a battle — you can't force your child to sleep, but you can insist on some quiet time. Let your child read books or play quietly in his or her room. Parents are often surprised by how quickly quiet time can lead to sleep time — but even if it doesn't, at least your child is getting some much-needed rest. If your child has given up daytime naps, consider adjusting to an earlier bedtime.

Many parents worry that naptime will interfere with kids' bedtime, especially on days when a child takes a late-afternoon nap. But before you end naps entirely in an effort to wear out your child by bedtime, consider this: Well-rested kids are quicker to settle down at night than overtired ones. Overtired kids are often "wired" and restless, unable to self-soothe at bedtime, and more likely to wake through the night.

If you feel your child's late naptime is the cause of bedtime problems, try making the nap a little bit earlier, which may mean waking your child a little earlier in the morning so the nap can begin sooner.

You might also try waking your child from a nap earlier than usual so he or she has a longer active period before bedtime. In other words, try to make some adjustments before abandoning the nap — both you and your child will feel much better if there is one!

Between three months and one year, your baby will gradually sleep more during the night and less during the day. At three months she will probably sleep twice as long at night as she does during the day.

Daytime naps will gradually become a little longer and less frequent by six months. By then, most babies enjoy about 11 hours of sleep at night, with the odd brief waking, and two daytime naps of about one hour 30 minutes each. By 12 months your baby may sleep for between 12 hours and 15 hours over the course of 24 hours, including two daytime naps. By about 18 months, naps will reduce to one a day.

Managing your baby's naps is key to developing good sleeping habits. If your baby has a nap late in the day, it can interfere with her following night's sleep. Most of us have a less alert time in the early afternoon, and this time is ideal for babies to have their daytime sleep.

You will also need to take care that your baby doesn’t take a very long nap in the afternoon. If you want your baby to sleep at a set bedtime, she will need to be awake for several hours before bedtime. It's possible that like most mums, you may not want to wake your sleeping baby from her afternoon nap, but it's alright to do so to help her follow a sleep routine.

Most of us have some kind of winding down time before we go to sleep. This can also help babies and children to relax and settle into sleep.

Try to make the last hour or so before bed a time for quiet, relaxing activities. Babies generally find comfort and security in a bath, a quiet story, a song and special goodnight kiss. Routines can often help parents too in organising bedtimes and so reduce tension and stress.

Parents need to be aware of how their baby is feeling and give them the amount of comfort they need to settle to sleep. Sometimes babies settle without any help and other times they may be ‘grizzly’ and need some gentle patting or rocking. If they are crying and very distressed, it is best to be with them and comfort them.

Young babies often give very small signals for what they need. Parents soon get to know their baby’s signals and need to respond to them. This says to baby that they have been heard. Babies need to know you will respond to them when they cry in order to feel safe and secure. This helps their brain development and to build a close bond with you. 

Learn to know your child’s cry – when it is just a settling ‘grizzle’, and when it is a ‘real’ cry that you need to attend to. Responding to babies in this way is called ‘responsive settling’. Parents are encouraged to take this approach rather than respond to babies on the basis of time, as in a ‘controlled crying’ approach.

Over time, parents can help babies learn to go to sleep by themselves. Put baby down when they are awake and calm, or only slightly ‘grizzly’. Give them some gentle comfort and slowly withdraw. Babies will need less comfort as they learn to go to sleep by themselves.

For many parents just knowing that night waking is ‘normal’ in the early years helps remove some of the stress. Each family needs to deal with night waking in the way that best suits them. Often babies and children just need to know someone is near and they will settle back to sleep.

Sometimes night waking can be due to pain such as ear-ache, a cold or teething, so check for this if your child’s behaviour is not their usual pattern. With pain, your child may not settle even if you are there to comfort, or may settle for a short time and then wake again.

It is important to meet your child’s need for comfort in the way that gives you the best rest. Parents also need sleep and broken sleep can bring added stress to family life. It is also important to ask for help and support from others, to help get you through when your sleep is reduced or broken. Support may be available from your partner, other family members, friends or community agencies.

It is important that babies are safe while they sleep. Babies may get into dangerous situations while they sleep. They can suffocate under bedding and not be able to move out of the situation.

Evidence shows there are things parents can do to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and fatal sleep accidents.

  • Babies should always sleep on their back from birth, never on their tummy or side.Put baby on their back to sleep. Place baby half way down the cot with their feet almost touching the end. Make up the bedclothes so that they just come up to baby’s shoulders and their head cannot go under the bedclothes. Use light bedding (not thick quilts or heavy blankets). Babies who have their heads covered, whose breathing is blocked in some way, or who become too hot, may be more likely to die suddenly.
  • Sleep babies with their face and head uncovered (no pillows, wool, bumpers or soft toys).Babies do not need a pillow to sleep comfortably. A safe sleeping bag can be helpful instead of blankets. Remember babies cannot get themselves into a safe position, e.g. if the bedclothes cover their head or large toys or pets smother them. For this reason it is important not to leave your baby asleep alone in the room with a pet.
  • Avoid exposing babies to tobacco smoke before birth and after.
  • Provide a safe sleeping environment night and day (safe cot, safe mattress, safe bedding). Avoid clothing that has long strings, ribbons or cords.
  • Sleep baby in their own cot or bassinet next to the parent’s bed for the first 6 to 12 months of life.Evidence shows that when babies sleep in a bed with a parent there is an increased risk of SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents. The Kids Safe Sleep program therefore recommends that babies sleep in a cot next to their parent’s bed for the first six to twelve months of life. If you are feeding, cuddling or playing with your baby in bed, remember to place them into their cot before you go to sleep. This is particularly important if you are extremely tired, a heavy sleeper, very overweight, taking medicines that make you sleep more deeply, or drinking alcohol. It is also very dangerous to sleep on a sofa with your baby, as their head can easily become caught between the seat and back of the sofa.

Some babies settle better if they are wrapped in a light sheet, while others do not. It can help young babies develop a more settled sleep pattern and older unsettled babies may sleep better.

Wrapping helps to prevent arm movements that can disturb sleep. (With older babies it is usually better to leave their arms out). Make sure that the wrapping is firm but not too tight so babies can bend their knees.

Caring for babies and young children is tiring and demands a great deal of tolerance, understanding and patience. Most parents say that their need for sleep in the early years is one of their greatest needs. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help from family and friends. If you feel that you might hurt your child make sure they are in a safe place and leave until you have calmed down. Contact someone immediately if you feel unable to manage.

This information is not a substitute for professional advice and does not create a doctor-patient relationship. If you have any concerns about your child's health or wellbeing it is important that you seek help from your doctor or a health professional.