How many naps does your baby need?

Brennon Kaczmarek

Posted on February 02 2016

Today we're thrilled to be sharing the first of many posts to come from author and sleep expert Heather Turgeon. One thing led to another and now here she is sharing her wisdom with all of you fellow mamas who read this blog.

Anyone who’s seen a baby go from happy babbling and playing one minute, to a puddle of tears the next knows the value of a good nap. Naps are vital to our babies’ brains and bodies—helping to form memories, learn language, and process emotions.

Then again, nap needs and schedules change as babies grow. So how do you know when your little one is ready to make the shift from 3 to 2 to 1 nap? There isn’t a set age for this, but if you look at the overall picture here’s how you’ll know you’re on track:

Understand what controls naps. Babies nap because of something called the “sleep drive”—it’s a basic biological mechanism that builds up pressure to sleep the longer we’re awake. A little baby’s sleep drive builds quickly, but as he grows, it builds less quickly (until the age of about 3-5 when they can go without a nap, provided they get enough nighttime sleep). When babies drop a nap, it’s because their sleep drive isn’t building as fast, and they’re able to be alert, happy, productive, and ready to play for a longer stretch of time.

Look for signs of nap-dropping readiness. These are signs your baby is ready to drop a nap (see these and more in The Happy Sleeper).

Going from 3 to 2 naps:

  • Baby is about 9 months old
  • Naps have gotten “chunkier,” at least and hour or more
  • Baby is no longer falling asleep for the third nap for about two weeks
  • The third nap of the day starts to interfere with falling asleep at bedtime
  • The first nap of the day drifts later

Going from 2 to 1 nap:

  • Baby is roughly 15-20 months old
  • The first nap of the day is drifting later or skipped
  • The second nap is very short or skipped for 2 weeks straight

Don’t let go too quickly. When we work with parents in our sleep consulting practice, one of the most common missteps we see is giving up a nap too soon. Often babies miss a nap for a few days in a row—because they’re too busy looking around the room, thinking brand new baby thoughts, or practicing new motor skills—and parents wonder if they don’t need it anymore. We always recommend parents hold the frame of a nap for 2 weeks. If the baby is truly lying there babbling or playing with her lovey for an hour without sleeping, that’s a good sign she’s not tired. The big caveat here is that truly not needing a nap is different than protesting a nap (crying or yelling when you put your baby down in her crib). As most parents know, babies can sometimes protest a nap when they’re actually tired. Protesting a nap is a different story (a topic for another day!). Make sure you tell the difference between resisting a nap and genuinely being ready to drop it and move to a new schedule.

Once you do drop a nap, give your baby a few weeks to adjust!

What works for you and your little one?

This article was originally written by Natalie Borton and posted on

Heather Turgeon is co-author of the book The Happy Sleeper: The Science-Backed Guide To Helping Your Baby Get a Good Night’s Sleep(Penguin Random House, 2014).

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