Changing your baby’s day sleep routine

changing your baby's day-sleep routine

It so often happens that you have just got your little one into a lovely day sleep routine, when suddenly they upset the applecart again and begin to resist day sleeps. If this is your experience, maybe you need to adjust your expectations and work with your baby’s new awake times.

Cusp ages – when do they occur and how to know what new routine your baby needs.

Awake Times

When establishing a day sleep routine it is best to be guided by your baby’s ‘Awake times’ as opposed to a rigid schedule. In this way, you will find that your baby will settle easily to sleep and fall into a day sleep pattern with ease. The norms for the length of a baby’s awake times have been tried and tested and are suitable for almost all babies.

Age Time awake between sleeps AMOUNT OF SLEEP NEEDED IN 24 HOURS
0 – 6 weeks 40–60 minutes 18 – 20 hours
6 – 12 weeks 60–90 minutes 16 – 18 hours
3 – 6 months 1 – 1½ hours 14 – 18 hours
6 – 9 months 2 hours 14 – 18 hours
9 – 12 months 2½ hours 14 – 16 hours

Understand your baby’s sleep cycles

A sleep cycle is the process of moving from a drowsy state to light sleep, to deep sleep, and then back into light sleep. An adult’s sleep cycle is 90 minutes but it takes a while for a baby to develop such long sleep cycles. Babies’ sleep cycles vary depending on their age. The younger the baby, the shorter the sleep cycle. Most babies’ sleep cycles are no longer than an hour and may be as short as 30 minutes.

A short day sleep may be only one sleep cycle long. At other times in the day (and hopefully at night) the baby ‘links’ sleep cycles to have long stretches of uninterrupted sleep. It is important to help our babies to link sleep cycles.

If your baby is a cat-napper during the day, he will not be fully rested after his sleep and will have difficulty sustaining the normal period of awake time after that sleep and therefore need to sleep sooner. For example, if a baby of 6 months old has slept for only 20 minutes, then he will be tired sooner and need to be put down before his allocated 2-hour awake time expires – i.e. he should have another nap in about 1 – 1½ hours’ time.

Cusp ages

At certain times in your baby/ toddler’s life, he may begin to protest about going to sleep during the day. This often happens because he is on the cusp of being able to do without a certain sleep. At these times, the length of the Awake time in the afternoon simply has to be stretched to accommodate bedtime, which will then be adjusted to an earlier time.

These tricky stages (cusp ages) occur around the following times:

9 months – 12 months: Between 6 and 9 months, most babies are having two to three short naps and one longer sleep (depending on how the length of their sleeps). Between 9 months and a year, the shorter late afternoon nap may need to drop away or be shortened if it interferes with your baby settling in the evening. Some babies, however, still need to have a short “power nap” to see them through the evening rituals of bathing, feeding etc. Be sure to wake your baby by 4:30pm if he is having an afternoon nap so that bedtime can be kept between 6 and 7 pm. Towards the end of this stage, this nap will fall away and there will be a longer stretch in the afternoon. When this happens, bring bedtime earlier for a few weeks to help him to adjust.

15 months – 24 months: At a year of age most babies are still having two sleeps a day. But it won’t be long before he starts to resist the early morning sleep (especially if he catches a whiff of activity in the air!) and have one longer sleep instead of two. Shift the morning sleep to 11am, keeping your little one awake for a long stretch in the morning. Give him a good snack or mini lunch at 11am and then straight to sleep. He will probably have a good sleep (1-2 hours). The next stretch to bedtime will be long and your toddler will be exhausted. This can be a tricky time because he can’t really manage with being awake for so long, but won’t settle easily for two sleeps a day.

If your toddler is having a good midday sleep but is exhausted with only one day sleep, move your entire bedtime routine earlier, so that he is asleep by 6pm.  Don’t worry about this shortening his night too much – in fact research has shown that early bedtimes promote healthier sleep at night.

On alternate days try to put him down for two sleeps again and move bedtime to a little later again (between 6 and 7pm). Keep at this until he shows you that he doesn’t need an afternoon sleep for a few days in a row.

2 ½ years to 5 years: Depending on your baby, he will drop the day sleep altogether at some stage. When this happens, the chances are that he is not ready to go through the day with no sleep, but has started to fight the day sleep or going to bed in the evening. Keep giving your toddler and preschooler a rest time after lunch, but accept that if he does not fall asleep within the hour, he has just had a rest and has dropped the day sleep for that day. Usually he will have the sleep the next day and drop it again a few days later.

By Meg Faure