Every child will have a unique sleep schedule and ability. This is a challenging age to try to improve naps as things often get off track around 4 months of age and naps don’t develop consistently until around 6 months of age. It is usually easier for babies to learn sleep skills at bedtime and in the night before they can learn daytime sleep skills.
Here are some steps to gently shape your babies naps to improve both the quality and quantity of his day sleep. The main goal for naps at this age is to prevent your baby from getting overtired. Babies who are awake for long periods of time have a tendency to get over-tired which can effect their mood and make it more difficult to fall asleep for the next sleep period as well as, cause fragmented sleep cycles resulting in shorter or restless naps.
Step 1: Create an ideal day sleep environment
- Some babies will have no issues napping while out of the house and on the go in the car seat, stroller, or carrier. Often younger babies can be toted around with parents and will sleep when they need to sleep. If this works for your baby then it is fine to keep doing it. Often as babies get older it becomes more challenging many babies develop a need to be in a quiet dark place or with white noise, despite parents efforts to encourage him to sleep anywhere. This need to be in a specific sleep place to sleep may be related to your baby’s temperament. We often see children who become very alert around the fourth or . needing more of this kind of support to sleep. They seem to need extra help in shutting out the distractions of the world in order to sleep.
- Providing a sleep space that caters to your baby’s temperament and needs can significantly improve sleep.
- Darken the room. It’s often difficult in the day to get the baby’s room very dark but some babies will need it completely dark, especially the very alert ones.
- White noise or quite? You may need to experiment here, very alert children tend to do better with white noise. In addition, if noises from your house or neighbourhood disturb your baby’s sleep then white noise can help muffle the sounds as well as help his brain get into a nice sleep pattern and sleep longer.
Step 2: Watch for tired signs and wakeful windows
- Watch for your baby’s tired signs and put him down to sleep before he is over-tired
- Be aware of how long your baby can be awake for at any one given time. You can determine your babies ideal wakeful window through observation. See wakeful window chart to give you an idea of what is average. Many babies have a shorter wakeful window in the morning and then it remains fairly consistent through the day.
Example of Optimal Sleep Windows:
Nap 1: 1 hour after waking in the a.m.
Nap 2: 1.5 hrs after waking from nap 1 (if nap is longer than 45 minutes)
Nap 3: about 1.5 hrs after waking from nap 2 (if nap is longer than 45 minutes)
Nap 4: about 1.5 hrs after waking from nap 3 (if nap is longer than 45 minutes)
Evening bedtime: about 1 hour after waking from a short nap (under 45 minutes) or 1.5 hours after waking from a longer nap.
* If naps are shorter, wakeful windows will also be shorter.
A tip from Andrea: Remember every child is different. It is important to watch your child to determine when he needs to go down to sleep.
- If your baby sleeps for at least 45 minutes then he will likely be able to stay awake for his whole wakeful window before going down for the next nap.
- If your baby sleeps for less than 45 minutes, his sleep is less likely to be restorative and he will need to go to bed sooner. Often within an hour.
A tip from Andrea: Watch your baby for tired signs and keep his wakeful window in mind.
- Some babies habitually take short naps, this is usually fine for the baby as long as baby is not getting overtired. If naps are shorter than 45 minutes, you will need many naps to get through the day to keep him from getting over tired. This often makes for a challenging schedule for parents especially is baby will only sleep at home. Attempting to lengthen one or more naps each day can improve your schedule.
Babies 4-5 months or age can often stay awake for 1.5 to 2 hours. If they stay awake longer than their wakeful window, it can make it more difficult to fall asleep, cause more restless sleep and be more difficult to stay asleep.