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Research shows that sleep is crucial for an infant’s physical, emotional, and cognitive development. In addition to nighttime sleep, daytime naps improve memory tasks and language learning.

Newborns need sleep after being awake for one to two hours, but older babies less than one year need daily naps, too. Understanding how to fit naps into an effective sleeping schedule may seem difficult in the beginning, but parents soon learn what works best for their baby.

Benefits of Baby Nap Time

Studies indicate that napping provides the optimal environment for consolidating memories and retention, but stops providing the same cognitive benefits beyond the age of two.

As children age and the brain becomes more mature, daytime naps become less important. During a child’s first year, however, naps are an important part of healthy development.

Sleepy toddler boy sleeping on his bed Melpomenem / Getty Images

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Daylight and Darkness Exposure

Physiologically, body temperature rhythm and melatonin excretion are functions that let adults know when to sleep. However, these functions do not emerge in babies until they are between eight and eleven weeks.

Studies show that exposing newborns to light during the day and darkness at night encourages the development of these necessary physiological functions for a healthy circadian rhythm. Babies do not require pitch-black surroundings to nap because they do not produce melatonin during the day.

Mother with her newborn son Thanasis Zovoilis / Getty Images

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Newborn Napping

Typically, newborns sleep between 14 and 17 hours per day with hunger being the driving force between waking and sleeping. Infants sleep in stretches of three to four hours in the first few months of life. They usually stay awake for one to two hours before needing to sleep again.

Once the baby reaches two months old, they may begin napping four times per day. Parents may notice that as their child reaches their three-month milestone, naps are getting shorter, with longer periods of awake times in-between.

Father and baby son sleeping Nikola Stojadinovic / Getty Images

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Napping at Four to Six Months

By four months old, many babies start sleeping longer during the night and require fewer naps during the day. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, infants between the ages of four and 12 months require 12 to 16 hours of sleep per 24 hours, including naps.

Babies between four and six months need two to three naps each day.

High Angle View Of Baby Sleeping On Bed At Home Javier Snchez Mingorance / EyeEm / Getty Images

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Napping from Six to 12 Months

After five months, clearer sleep patterns develop and babies start to sleep longer during the night. Studies show that daytime sleep patterns also become more consistent as children age.

Between the ages of six and 12 months, taking two naps of one to two hours each during the day generally provides sufficient rest. If a child is taking a third nap later in the day, it is best to eliminate that nap at around nine months.

1 year old toddler sleeping

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Nap Time Signs

Yawning, rubbing their eyes, tugging on their ears, staring off into space, and drowsiness are visible signs that a baby needs a nap.

Crankiness, fussiness, incessant crying, or looking away from their caregiver are also signs that the infant is tired and ready for sleep. Some babies fidget more when tired, while others may refuse to eat.

A 4 month old baby girl yawning Catherine Delahaye / Getty Images

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Safe Napping

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends placing babies on their backs for sleeping, both at bedtime and during nap times, until their first birthday. Check the baby during sleep to ensure they have not rolled over onto their stomach.

The infant's sleep surface should be a firm, flat mattress. Remove any pillows, toys, bumpers, or blankets. Additionally, AAP advises that while a baby can sleep in the same room as their parents, they need their own space for sleeping.

father putting his baby in the crib Liudmila Chernetska / Getty Images

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Things That Prevent Good Naps

  • A flurry of activity, bright light, and noise are examples of things that draw a baby’s attention and prevent sleep.
  • A change in routine can also disrupt nap times.
  • Developmental milestones such as learning to crawl can impact napping habits.
  • While a short nap in a car seat is fine, longer naps should take place in a crib or on a firm mattress.

baby crawling chinaview / Getty Images

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Improving Nap Time

A full stomach and a clean diaper will increase comfort levels and help your baby get the most out of nap time. Pacifiers not only offer a temporary distraction, but they also help soothe a fussy or unsettled baby.

Studies show that providing pacifiers during naps and at bedtime may also reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS. Babies as young as six months can learn to self-soothe. Put the child down for a nap when they are drowsy and allow them to fall asleep on their own.

baby sleeping with a pacifier hiphotos35 / Getty Images

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Sleeping Too Much or Too Little

If an infant is ill, they may have trouble falling or staying asleep. Babies who are taking longer naps could be experiencing a growth spurt or may be fighting off a minor illness. In rare cases, sleeping too much can indicate a medical issue.

Do not allow newborns less than four weeks of age to sleep for more than four or five hours without eating. Wake them by brushing a finger along the side of their cheek.

Loving mother touching baby face Stefka Pavlova / Getty Images

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This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.