While every baby is different, there are some sleep generalities that simply can’t be ignored, and one of those is when to make certain nap transitions.
One of the most common conversations I have with parents is the awkward daytime scheduling that comes along with ages five-to-seven months, and how to decide on two naps or three each day.
Three naps vs. two – does it really make that much of a difference?
It can, yes! The period from about five to seven months is a big transition for your little one when it comes to sleep (and physical development, and teething… the list goes on!). This is when your baby can handle considerably more awake time than when he was, say, just three months old, but not nearly as much awake time as when he will be, say, nine months old. And this is when I often see parents running into difficulties with end-of-day crankiness, because the daytime schedule has left too much awake time leading up to bedtime, but not enough time for a third nap.
The third nap of the day at this transitional age is incredibly helpful to your child’s overall sleep schedule, because even just a 45-minute catnap in the late afternoon can help get your little one to an appropriate bedtime without being incredibly cranky and overtired. (Note: Too much awake time before bed is one of the biggest reasons babies have difficult bedtimes and/or night wakes and/or rise very early the next morning!)
What does a good six-month-old sleep schedule look like?
At this age (again, about five-to-seven months for most babies), most babies can handle around two hours of awake time before their first nap, and then somewhere between two to two-and-a-half hours of awake time leading up to their other naps and bedtime. But, this means this is also an age where mom and dad may need to help coordinate baby’s schedule just a little bit to ensure there is time in the day for all three naps. A great schedule for a six month old would be:
- 7 a.m rise and shine!
- 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Nap One
- 12:45 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. Nap Two
- 4:30 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. Nap Three
- 7:30 p.m. hit the hay!
Of course, this schedule is a sample, a guide; it will not look exactly the same every day. But the keys of: waking by 7am; capping the first couple of naps at around an hour-and-a-half; and, fitting in that third cat-nap each day can be hugely helpful to transitioning your little one through this napping phase and into the seven-to-eight month mark where most babies are ready for a little more awake time and a solid two-nap schedule.
Now, let’s talk about actually moving from 3 naps to 2. When do you know baby is ready? The most common signs are:
- Baby is 7.5+ months
- Your babe no longer looks tired at the end of their current wake window
- Your babe is taking a long time to fall asleep for naps, such that you barely have time to fit in the third nap
- Babe is refusing to fall asleep for one or more naps, often the third
At this point, if baby is meeting most of these markers, we’re transitioning from 3 naps to 2.
But how? Really it’s about increasing the wake window so we remove the need for the third nap. This means, for most babies this age, 2.5 hours of awake time before the first nap, and then three hours to the second nap, and three hours of awake time before bed.
There are some exceptions to the wake window rules though! When we’ve just moved to 2 naps per day, again, usually around 7.5-8 months, I suggest:
- The first nap of the day should not happen earlier than 8:30am. I know this can feel like a big stretch if your baby happened to have an early morning wake that day; but, stretching the morning out to ensure Nap 1 doesn’t happen before 8:30am can help to get the day back on track after an early wake.
- Bedtime doesn’t happen before 6pm. Again, if your babe is still adjusting to bigger wake windows and this is resulting in some shorter naps, you may need to stretch out that last wake window to get to a 6pm bedtime. But, I do suggest baby be in bed right at 6pm if you’ve already gone over 3 hours of awake time. Don’t be afraid of the 6pm bedtime! I know it seems early to some parents, especially those who have a static “7pm bedtime” in mind, but if baby wakes from Nap 2 at 2:15pm, for example, a 6pm bedtime really is the best option. At that point, it’s too late to try to stick in a third cat-nap, 5:15pm is too early for bedtime, and stretching to 7pm is simply going to make babe wildly overtired (which usually results in night wakes and eary wakes!). So, 6pm is a balanced option (I call it the lesser of all the evils!) because baby will have to go a little beyond their 3-hour wake window, but shouldn’t be wildly overtired, and we aren’t putting them down too early for the night expecting them to then sleep past 6am (i.e. over 12 hours).
Here are two of the most common questions we get asked about this transition:
- I transitioned to two naps a few days ago but my baby is protesting more at naptime, taking shorter naps, and having early wakes. Is it too late to go back to a 3 nap schedule? Mama, it’s not too late for anything! If you make the transition to bigger wake windows and a 2-nap schedule, and you realize within a few days that baby simply cannot handle all this awake time, and really was doing better on a 3-nap schedule, don’t be afraid to shift back! It’s ok to move back to a 3 nap schedule for awhile, and then reassess. Do give it a few days first, but then if you’re feeling really confident baby can’t handle this, go back to what was working better for your baby and reassess in another week or two.
- Is it normal that we are flip flopping between 3 naps some days and 2 naps others during this transition? Yes, it’s normal that some days you may be able to get away with just 2 naps while other days you may need to stick in a third because the first two were just way too short to get baby to a proper bedtime. There is flexibility, and you should feel you can do what is right for your individual baby based on how they respond to this change and adjust to this new schedule.
It is normal that naps may be a bit tougher or shorter for some babies when first transitioning to 2 naps, and that you may see some earlier wakes. These issues often come hand-in-hand with baby having to adjust to bigger wake windows than they had previously. However, with time and consistency, babe will adjust and should get on a great 2-nap schedule!