Sleep: How to Get Your Infant on a Nap Schedule

Starting after 2+ months.

Getting your little one on a daytime sleep schedule can be a daunting task. Below I go into a deep dive of the process. I encourage tracking their natural habits, following their lead to implement schedule structure, practicing and getting use to the routine together, abiding by independent sleep rules, being consistent, and following the routine daily.

The big take-aways I will discuss in the deep dive:

  • Using the app BabyTrack is uber helpful as an overall habit helper for parents/caregivers.
  • Super wee ones take 3-4 naps a day. As you reach 2-3 months, you will likely be good a on “3-nap-a-day schedule”.
  • Give yourself a leeway to schedule naps between windows of time: i.e. “goes down between 1:00-2:00pm” verse hard lines “naps at 2:00pm”. This mindset and practice is more effective and realistic. As they get older (even just weeks), you will be able to narrow the window to be smaller and smaller.
  • Sample schedule of an infant: Goes down for nap #1 at around 8:30am, goes down for nap #2 at 12:30pm, goes down for nap #3 at 4:45pm. I wake a sleeping baby for nap #3 after 45-60 minutes so that bedtime is smooth! I never wake a sleeping baby otherwise. Bedtime routine would begin around 6:15pm in this case, in bed by 6:45/7pm-ish.
  • Adjust the schedule for naps if your baby wakes up later in the morning or has a later bedtime than assumed here. Use their nature patterns from ‘Babytracker’ to set your schedule original and make changes along the way.
  • Keep them stimulated/happy/fed/entertained between naps to train them to their schedule.
  • Take away the opportunity to fall asleep way off schedule (such as going for a long stroller walk!) when feasible. Otherwise wake them up as soon as possible so that they will get back on their nap routine.
  • If you forgo the third nap, just have them go to bed earlier.

The Deep Dive:

1. Track it

If you aren’t already, start using the app Babytracker to track your baby’s natural routine.

When do they eat, sleep and poop if given all the freedom in the world?

Understanding their natural pattern is helpful as you start to shape their day and give them some structure. Your baby might like three or four naps throughout the day, and as the weeks go on, you might see three naps settling is as a more natural rhythm.

Though there is a lot of ‘normal’ – three is a great nap number to manage for super wee ones (then you’ll be down to two and then one before you know it!).

2. Follow Their Lead

You’ve been tracking their routine for a week or two. You more clearly understand now that they tend to wake between a certain timeframe in the morning and are hungry for a feed. You notice they get drowsy again about an hour or two hour later. After that they have a big ‘lunch’ feed, and they are tired yet again. They want one last snooze in the early evening before being up for play and a dinner feed, then it is bedtime all over again.

Start to give their routine structure, following their lead. Your tracking should have given you general windows of time that now you can abide by. All you have to do now is obey and structure the time more diligently.

Both my kids were the same – waking up way too early for me (between 4:30-5:30pm) and then ready for a nap again between 7:45am-8:30am. They’d sleep for an hour and half or so during the first nap of the day and then get through a chunk of awake time before being ready for an afternoon snooze (around 12:30pm). They’d make it to about 4:00pm/4:30pm before getting fussy for another nap. After that one, I’d actively keep them up until the bedtime routine.

If your infant wakes up for the day around 5:00-6:00am, they are likely ready for a morning snooze sometime between 8:00-9:00am depending on their age and temperament. Keep them actively entertained, fed and happy to the best of your ability until this window of time and then put them down for their nap.

Their next nap should come around lunch time, though I pushed my infant’s as close to 1:00pm as possible so he could nap around the same time as my toddler. This worked out well but took a lot of work also – keeping him awake and happy until then! If your infant is inclined to take a third nap in the day (likely the younger they are!), it will fall in the late afternoon or early evening (perhaps around 4:00pm or 4:30pm). Keep this nap short (45-60 minutes) so that they go down for their bedtime just fine. I never wake a sleeping baby during the mid-day nap but I do wake them in their evening nap so all the trains stay on time at night!

Take away opportunities for them to fall asleep at other times between these naps as you are trying to get on a schedule. My little guy always falls asleep if laying down in the stroller or put into his car seat for a drive. When trying to structure nap time, do your best to limit their ability to fall asleep way outside of the schedule by keeping them alert, fed and happy/entertained and hopefully not laying down in a moving stroller or car seat. If they do fall asleep try to wake them up again as soon as possible and still aim for the same nap time window as normal.

Keep them entertained and appropriately stimulated (with sounds, toys, books, play) between naps as much as possible. This will help “train” them to be awake when it awake time!

3. Take it From the Top

Getting on a schedule will take practice (lots of this!) and diligence. The timing of the naps will not be exact day-to-day but should generally fall within 1-hour windows of time (i.e. goes down for first nap between 8:30-9:30am, goes down for second nap between 12:30-1:15pm, goes down for evening nap between 4:00-5:00pm). “Goes down between” is much less stressful than “naps at”. Having windows of time verse hard lines is so much more effective/undemanding to manage and gives you the wiggle room you need!

As the schedule firms up, the windows of time might be more like 15- or 30-minute windows instead an hour. The windows I refer to here are when you put your baby down and when they actually fall asleep, it does not refer to how long they sleep.

4. Abide by Sleep Rules

I am a really big believer in not nursing your baby to sleep, or rocking or cuddling your baby to sleep. Sure, sure, these things happen once in awhile, sometimes they are needed by them and sometimes wanted by you! Believe me- I did this for months and months with my first baby! Through my experience with both kids, I came out on the other side truly believing that learning to fall asleep and go back to sleep independently is really important for a baby (and for a parent!).

See my post here for more on this!

5. Be Consistent but Not Militant

Consistency and schedules are great for babies/kids. It is also great for parents and caregivers! You can plan your day around naps and meal times. Try your best to be consistent when you are putting your kiddos down, but give yourself a break! If you are going for a fun family outing on Sunday afternoon and your baby falls asleep off schedule in the car, so be it. Just try to get back in the routine the following day. Although consistency is great all the way around, it shouldn’t be the only driving factor in your day. Enjoy your family and your life… just make sure everyone get the sleep they need at some point!

Additionally, ignore all the nap routines and rules when traveling. Everyone is out of wack being in a car, a plane, a car again…

6. Post It

Once you have some sort of schedule in place, write it down! Tell your spouse! Post it on the fridge! Text your babysitter it! Make sure everyone knows the deal. You work really hard to get your baby into a regular pattern – so make sure the routine is known! Everyone should follow the same scheduled nap windows!