One of the more popular questions at my workshops and from my clients is: do babies and toddlers really need naps?

The answer is: absolutely yes!

As more and more studies research the effects of naps on learning, behavior, and day-to-day functioning, a couple of points become clear.

First, learning is positively affected by naps. During naps, the new information acquired during the baby’s awake play time is being actively moved from short-term memory into long-term memory.

This process creates a clean slate for new information to come in.

Once the information is stored in long-term memory, the lessons learned from playtime are retained longer and can be applied to new and different situations. This is the beginning of the development of abstract thought.

Second, naps actually help the baby sleep better at night. This is related to the release of the stress hormone cortisol. When babies do not nap, the brain releases cortisol and it helps the baby “catch their second wind.”

The problem comes when it is time to sleep at night and the cortisol is still in the body. It makes the baby a little wired and they do not sleep as well.

Naps also aid in preventing baby and toddler behavioral issues. Having your baby sleep during the day will help elevate the late afternoon tantrums and meltdowns.

Throughout the first 18 months of a child’s life, naps are consolidating and moving around throughout the day. In the first days and weeks, babies sleep anywhere from 15-18 hours in a 24-hour period.

The sleep comes in two to three-hour stretches at a time. Around 3-4 months babies start getting more sleep at night, and the first morning nap starts to emerge.

This nap happens between 1 1/2 to 2 hours after waketime. At this age, they can have 3-4 naps a day. By 18 months, most toddlers are down to 1 nap a day.

With all the case studies that Angelique Millette has completed in the development of the Millette Method©, the important thing to note is that each baby has its unique rhythm, and it is the parents’ job to synchronize their caregiving with the baby’s biological needs.

There are natural sleep windows when a baby will communicate that they are tired and need to take a nap.

Typically for babies 4-6 months, these windows for sleeping occur every 90-120 minutes but pay attention to your baby’s individual needs by recognizing signs of sleepiness.

Signs your baby may be ready for a nap

  1. eye rub
  2. ear rub
  3. ear pulling
  4. gaze aversion
  5. yawning – the sleep window is closing
  6. crying – missed the sleep window

Additional pointers to help encourage your baby’s nap time schedule

  1. A 5-10 min pre-nap ritual is very helpful with winding down the baby for naps. This should be a shortened bedtime routine, think bedtime routine no bath.
  2. Up until the age of 8 months, babies will vary their length of nap. Roughly have of the naps will be 20-40 mins long and the rest will be an hour or more. As an example: a 2-4 month NAPS old baby will take 4 to 5 naps. Of those 4-5 naps, 2 or 3 of them will be 20-40 mins long. A 6-8 month baby will have 2-3 naps. One of those naps will be 20-40 mins long.
  3. Start introducing nap training for the first one or two naps of the day. If there are remaining naps – they can be shorter and take on the go.
  4. Try to catch your baby’s sleep windows by paying attention to their sleep cues.
  5. Shoot for 70% of naps being stationary and on their own sleeping surface, and 30% of naps can be on the go.

Naps are the hardest sleep patterns for babies to learn, so stick with a plan/schedule for a couple of weeks. Good luck!

Editor Note: If you are needing additional help, please do not hesitate to contact a pediatric sleep specialist. You can find some great ones here on NaturallyBorn, and many of them do remote consultations via Skype or Google hangouts.