5 Tips to Help Your 4 to 7 Month Old Settle into a 3 Nap per Day Schedule
If your baby is around 4 months old adjusted you may or may not have noticed a daytime schedule beginning to emerge. This is because, around 4 months adjusted babies start to develop their circadian rhythms. This means that they are producing and releasing melatonin, our sleepy hormone, at distinct times on the clock. Babies who are sleeping in somewhat longer stretches at night and able to settle themselves to sleep without assistance are more likely to be exhibiting signs of this milestone. Some babies who are struggling with soothing themselves to sleep and sleeping in shorter increments at night may not yet be showing signs of falling into a daytime schedule and this is okay too. Either way, make sure you read my blog post: Infant Sleep Tips or 8 Ways to Avoid Using a Child Sleep Consultant before thinking about a three nap per day schedule!
As I said, some babies naturally and easily fall into the three nap per day schedule and others take time and won’t be showing this pattern until closer to the age of 6 months and/or need a little help from their parents. Here are some ways you can help baby learn to take long restorative naps:
1. Help your baby learn to fall asleep at the beginning of both nighttime and daytime sleep on their own. I can’t emphasize this point enough! Time and time again, I help give clients the tools and support they need to teach baby to fall asleep independently in the beginning of the night and for naps and then the rest of the picture seems to materialize like magic! If you have been nursing or rocking or bouncing your baby to sleep every time up until this moment, don’t panic! You can make some easy routine changes or slowly wean away these sleep associations or decide to go cold turkey depending on your parenting style. Just remember that babies can get upset when you change up their routine, but this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t change your routine to help ensure they are getting restful sleep! If you are nursing to sleep every time, try nursing in a different room, with the lights on, and/or during an earlier part of your routine. If completely awake is a 0 and completely asleep is a 10, you want your baby to be at a 7 or less when you put them into that crib!
2. Maximize your sleep environment. Make sure you have a super dark room, white noise that is static in nature and plays the entire duration of sleep, and that you’ve eliminated any sources of blue light! It’s helpful to optimize the room temperature to between 68 and 72 degrees. Ensure you have a safe sleep environment and having a baby monitor will help bring you peace of mind as well. You want your baby to sleep in the same space (barring any other childcare environments like daycare) for every sleep.
3. Sleep Routine. By 4 months you have probably established a bedtime routine but if you haven’t, start one now! Moving your last feeding of the day to earlier in your routine for bedtime can be instrumental in helping baby learn to fall asleep independently at night just as moving pre nap time feedings to earlier can help baby learn to fall asleep independently during the day. Following the popular “eat, play, sleep” routine is a great habit to start getting into at this age as well. Utilize an abbreviated version of your nighttime routine for your naptime routine. Ensure that this routine starts before your target nap time to avoid baby becoming overtired by the time they’re supposed to be falling asleep!
4. The Optimal Schedule. Parents ask me about schedules for their babies ALL the time. Schedules can vary baby to baby depending on what time they wake up in the morning and their individual sleep needs. However, most babies with circadian rhythms have morning and afternoon melatonin rises and falls at the same time every day because of the sun! Adult bodies have this as well! Our body temperatures fall in the evening as our melatonin rises and prepares us for nighttime sleep. In the morning, our body temperature rises as we get ready to wake for the day. These biological processes happen because of our sun! Younger babies between 4 months and 8 or so months adjusted will take three naps on this circadian rhythm schedule. Babies closer to 4 months may still require 4 naps from time to time until they are able to tolerate 3 naps. Here is the optimal 3-nap per day schedule to aim for:
Morning Nap: 8:30/9am (at least 1 hour long/melatonin rise)
Afternoon Nap: 12/1pm (at least 1 hour long/melatonin rise)
Cat Nap: 3/4pm (shorter nap/no melatonin rise)
5. The Hour Rule. Here is another really important factor. How long should your baby’s naps be? Most babies need a nap to be at least 1 hour in length in order for it to be a restorative nap. If your baby wakes up before an hour of napping, how do your respond? Do you go to your baby right away and rescue them from their crib? If you answered yes, try leaving them for a bit when they first wake instead. If you swoop in and pick baby up from their crib every time they wake up early from a nap, how will they learn to connect that next cycle? Most babies do cry when they’re tired so there is a very good chance if your baby wakes up crying that he/she is STILL tired and wants to take a longer nap! The Hour Rule is a great way to start helping your baby connect that next sleep cycle and fall back to sleep when they wake early from a nap. When you put baby into the crib for a nap, start your timer. If it takes baby 15 minutes to fall asleep for their nap and then wakes up after 30 minutes of being asleep then this is a total of 45 minutes in their crib. Try leaving baby for an additional 15 minutes to see if they can fall back to sleep….. your baby could surprise you! If it takes baby 10 minutes to fall asleep and they wake after a 40 minute nap then they have 10 minutes left to try to connect that next sleep cycle until the hour is up. If 10 or 15 minutes seems too long, start smaller and work your way up. Everything can be always be broken into smaller, more gentler steps! You don’t need to utilize the hour rule for the third nap of the day since it’s a cat nap and not associated with a melatonin rise.
After incorporating these 5 tips into your sleep training approach for your 4 to 7 month old you should find your baby is able to settle into that ideal schedule based on circadian rhythms. If you’re still having a difficult time, remember that nighttime sleep usually consolidates first, then the morning nap forms, and the rest follows.
If you follow me on Instagram you know I’m always talking about all the puzzle pieces that go together to form the total sleep picture and these tips outline just 5 of them. To learn more, follow me at @littlessleep or reach out to set up your free 15-minute “get to know each other” phone call!