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The right time to drop naps

Dropping naps can be a nice time for parents, once you’re through the transition that is. Rather than your child taking multiple, short, naps through the day - children start to take fewer, sometimes longer naps. 



That means you get the gift of extended time alone…it’s been a while right?



With extended breaks throughout the day, you can nap yourself, call a friend or do some work - whatever you like. How’s that for motivation to persevere with nap transitions?



The honest answer is, children drop naps in their own time, and there isn’t a lot you can do about it! But it helps to understand their needs and the science behind sleep. 



As you will see in this blog, the sleep cycle for children is shifting as they develop their adult sleep cycle and their natural body clock. 



How much sleep do children need?



Before you think about dropping naps or transitioning your child to fewer naps, it’s important to understand their sleep needs. The NHS provides guidelines on how much sleep children need, summarised below. 



You can see roughly where children start dropping naps, in line with reduced daytime sleeps. However, always remember that children develop in their own time, so if you think your child is developing a little earlier, or a little later than expected – it’s fine.



As long as baby is getting quality, restorative sleep, and showing healthy signs of development you don’t need to over-focus on the guidelines and try to force or pressure naps.



● 1 week: newborn babies will do a lot of sleeping - 8 hours throughout the day and 8.5 hours at night.

● 4 weeks: 6 - 7 hours throughout the day and 8-9 hours at night.

● 3 - 6 months: Babies will sleep between 4-5 hours in the day and around 10-11 hours at night. 



Within this age bracket, you are likely to experience your first sleep ‘regression’. As I’ve explained in other blogs, it’s not really a regression at all, but at around 4 months your babies circadian rhythm kicks in. This means that biologically, your baby is developing their sleep cycle. In summary, they might wake more frequently and struggle to sleep in light rooms. It can be a tough time, as parents can feel like things are going wrong. But they’re not - it’s a phase, I promise. Read more about the 4-month sleep regression.



● 6 months - 1 year: at this age, you can expect children to sleep between 2 - 3 hours in the day and around 11 hours at night.

● 2 years: daytime naps will collectively last around 1.5 hours and night sleeps will be about 11.5 hours.

● 3 years: day time naps of about 45 minutes and night time sleep will be around 11 - 12 hours. 



How do I know when it’s time?

As a baby’s sleep pattern starts to change, it’s important that before you start transitioning sleep schedules to drop naps, that you take an overview of the situation. 



Is there any other reason why the sleep schedule might have changed. For example, could they be hungry, are the room conditions okay, are they feeling well, are they teething or could this be a sleep regression?



If you’ve ruled out other external factors and you think it might be time to drop a nap, here are some of the tell-tale signs that baby is ready to reduce naps:



● Baby struggles to settle down at normal nap times, or at night

● Naps or night time sleep are getting shorter

● Baby wakes more frequently and/or doesn’t manage to get themselves off to sleep

● Baby is consistently waking early in the morning - that is before 6am



If you spot any of these signs, be watchful for a few days to make sure it is consistent. It’s important that dropping napped isn’t rushed. Easier said than done, I know! It can be hard to tell.



The reason we don’t want to rush dropping naps is that this process revolves around the circadian rhythm and homeostatic process. A natural and biological sleep process and we cannot fight nature. 



The homeostatic process is the process that reminds the body that it needs to sleep. The homeostatic process balances the sleep/wake cycle and in babies, it’s thought that the pressure to sleep is much stronger. They need it.



It’s our job as parents to monitor their sleep patterns and try and gently shift their sleep cycles in line with the natural body clock. Over time, their homeostatic process will drive less sleep and the need to nap will reduce.



How to drop naps


Ultimately, the nap dropping process will be guided by your baby’s individual needs and their bodies will give us some signs that its time.



The nap-dropping-transition can take time as the baby’s body and natural sleep cycle adjust to the new routine. It has to be done gradually. 



You can help baby drop naps by adjusting awake time or nap time. This must be done incrementally, so if you want to drop a nap try increasing baby’s awake time by 10-15 minutes, changing every few days. 



Remember:



● Incremental changes are important as baby’s natural clock and sleep cycle needs to ‘catch up’.

● Promote wakefulness to extend awake time by exposing baby to lots of natural light. This helps the circadian cycle which is coordinated by light and dark. Be mindful that you might need to keep baby stimulated to keep them awake. The homeostatic drive is strong in babies, so if they’re used to napping, their bodies will keep trying for it.

● Be flexible and patient - this is a biological process we’re working with and ultimately, it’s the baby’s biological processes that are in control, we’re the support.

 

If sleep and dropping nap times have got you reaching for the coffee more than you’d like or you’re having a hard time figuring this out, then please do not hesitate to get in touch.



Dropping naps is a biological process, and you don’t magically understand this just because you’re a parent. 



It’s a biological, scientific process and I can help you understand that. As a holistic sleep coach, I have a deep understanding of sleep and sleep in young babies and toddlers.



I can empower you with this knowledge and together we can create the perfect plan for your little one. After all, you know your baby better than anyone and that’s why a parent-centred approach to sleep is fundamental.

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