Parents often express confusion about how to determine when the best time is for their baby to sleep. Some people go by sleepy cues, while others strictly adhere to wake times and then others will put their baby down to nap at specific times on the clock. Which parents are right? The answer is that there are times in your baby’s life when each one may be right, you just need to know which one to follow at which stage of development.
When sleepy cues are useful.
For the first few months of a baby’s life, their sleep patterns are very irregular. They haven’t developed their circadian rhythms yet. During this time baby’s can’t be put down to nap at clock times and should instead have brief intervals of wakefulness. A baby shouldn’t be awake for more than 2 hours as this may lead to overtiredness. Some babies may only be able to last 45 minutes to an hour awake. Watch your baby for sleepy cues like being less animated, eyelids drooping, ear pulling, reduced interest in people or toys and yawning. Remember though that crying is actually the last sign you should be looking for as it can mean your baby has already gotten to the point of overtiredness.
When to transition to clock times.
At around 3 or 4 months of age, parents will start to notice a rough pattern to when their baby sleeps best. Around this time specific times (clock times) for naps develop as a baby’s brain matures. These specific clock times will be times of the day where a baby’s brain becomes drowsy and more receptive to sleep. It is also when the most restorative naps will happen. As babies get older sleepy cues get less obvious and can disappear altogether. If a parent has great timing of their baby’s naps they may not see them at all. Regular, consistent timing for the morning nap tends to develop first, followed by the midday nap a few weeks later. The catnap can be less organized than the other 2 naps and may start at irregular times based on the quality of the previous naps. The catnap essentially bridges the gap between the midday nap and bedtime.
Clock times work for naps from somewhere around 4 months. Not all babies will hit 4 months and then have their morning nap and midday nap start at specific times and be a nice long length, however by 6 months of age these naps should be well established. From this point onwards, clock times for naps are always the way to go. That doesn’t mean that they have to nap exactly at the same time every day, but within the vicinity of it – depending on the quality of previous sleep, activity levels and their demeanor in general. Clock times will see you through until your child decides to drop their nap entirely.
If you find that you are having trouble working out when your baby should nap or your having trouble with putting your baby down and lengthening their naps, please do not hesitate to contact me. Little Big Dreamers offers packages to suit all needs and budgets.