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How many naps does my baby need?

Experts explain how much sleep is enough and share their tips for organizing a sleep schedule and nap routine for babies and toddlers.
Father kissing sleeping newborn daughters head in mother's arms
It's important for moms and dads to help their little ones get plenty of good-quality sleep.Cavan Images / Getty Images

Ah, naptime… It’s one of the most peaceful times of the day for little ones — and one of the most important. Did you know that the hours your child spends sleeping do more than rejuvenate her for the rest of the day? Sleep also affects her alertness, cognitive thinking, ability to pay attention, mood, learning and memory.

Those daytime Zzz’s also help your child sleep longer at night. Studies also suggest that sleep impacts growth in infants and supports the development of memory, attention span and motor skills in toddlers. And you thought your baby was just having sweet dreams. With important benefits such as these, what parent wouldn’t want a well-rested child? That’s why it's important for moms and dads to help their little ones get plenty of good-quality sleep. Let’s start with the basics.

One Nap or Two?

Newborns tend to be marathon nappers, and while there's no one-size-fits-all sleep schedule for babies, most usually fall into their own sleeping and waking rhythm by the time they're 2 or 3 months old — napping three to five times a day. They typically drop down to two naps a day starting around 6-9 months. “Around about the 12-month mark, baby may start fighting two naps a day,” Carolynne Harvey, a baby sleep consultant for 4moms and founder of Dream Baby Sleep, told TODAY Parents. “But it’s usually a classic ‘nap strike’ tied to a developmental leap like walking and talking. At this age, the crib is their safe place. They like to practice new milestones there.”

Just because your toddler starts skipping the occasional morning or afternoon nap at 12 months old, don’t immediately go to one nap. According to Harvey, your little one will have a better chance of transitioning to one nap if you wait until she is between 14-19 months old and exhibits one of the following changes in habit:

  • Skipping nap #1 or nap #2 — or both.
  • Having bedtime battles when she previously didn’t.
  • Waking more frequently at night.

Don’t drop that nap too soon

“The biggest mistake parents make at this point is to flip-flop between two naps and one,” said Harvey. Signs that baby still needs her morning nap include:

  • Acting sleepy during the day
  • Being aggressive, impatient or hyperactive
  • Not wanting to get out of bed in the morning
  • Acting irritable in the late afternoon

If your toddler exhibits any of these signs, try changing her naptime or bedtime schedule. Wake her earlier in the morning or shorten her nap time so she’ll be sleepy at night. (A good rule is to have four hours between the afternoon nap and bedtime.)

But don’t shorten naptime too much or your toddler will be too tired to go to sleep at night. Well-rested kids fall asleep more easily at night. By experimenting with various sleep times, you’ll establish the schedule that works best for your child. Be patient. This may take weeks.

How long should my 2-year-old nap?

Toddlers who are 1-2 years old should have 11-14 hours of total sleep each day. If they’re taking two naps a day, they may average between 30 and 90 minutes each. Once they transition to one nap a day, the nap can be as long as three hours.

Tips for a smooth age transition

“Once your toddler is over 14 months of age, she can officially go on a one-nap schedule,” said Harvey. “The key to success is to gradually bridge the gap between a morning nap and an afternoon nap.”

For example, if the morning nap starts around 11 a.m., delay the start time by 15 minutes every three to five days until naptime starts at 12:30 p.m. At this point, your toddler should drop the morning nap totally. Offset the loss of the first nap with an earlier bedtime — at least 30 minutes earlier — until your child adjusts to the new schedule.

Sample nap routine:

  • Day 1: Begin nap at 11 a.m.
  • Days 2-6: Begin nap at 11:15 a.m.
  • Days 7-11: Begin nap at 11:30 a.m.
  • Days 12-16: Begin nap at noon.
  • Days 17-21: Begin nap at 12:15 p.m.
  • Days 22-26: Begin nap at 12:30 p.m.
  • Day 27: Your child should be ready to drop her morning nap.

“This is the biggest transition your baby is going to go through as it relates to sleep,” said Harvey. “It is a four- to six-week process. Take your time and proceed at a pace you’re comfortable with.”

Tricks for your toddler's sleep schedule

To help your toddler ease into her new sleep schedule, make changes in her room to help encourage sleep. Here are three tricks that can help.

  1. Darken the room. Close the blinds, draw the curtains, pull down the shade. (Room darkening shades are great).
  2. Muffle outside noises by using a fan or a sound machine.
  3. Dress your toddler comfortably — usually one layer more than what you’re wearing.

And don’t forget these safe-sleep recommendations:

  • Place your child on her back in a crib with no blankets, toys, bumper pads, etc. to prevent SIDS. “A child is still at risk for SIDS until one year of age,” Dr. Michael Goodstein, a neonatology physician at WellSpan Health in York, Pennsylvania, and director of the York County chapter of Cribs for Kids, told TODAY Parents. “In fact, 10% of SIDS deaths occur in children between 6 and 12 months of age.”
  • Dr. Goodstein also recommended that if your toddler sleeps in a crib, make sure the mattress is set at the lowest level. Additionally, remove all items like toys and blankets from the crib so your little one won’t use them to step on and climb over the rails.
  • If your toddler sleeps in a toddler bed, put up guard rails to keep her from falling on the floor (or place the mattress on the floor).
  • Finally, American Academy of Pediatricians suggests that toddlers under the age of two should not use a pillow.

Giving up a morning nap can be difficult for your toddler, but following these expert tips can help make the transition a dream for both of you.