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Can a Good Baby Nap Pattern Improve Nighttime Sleep?

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Updated June 12, 2014

Mixed race baby girl sleeping on bed
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Question: Can a Good Baby Nap Pattern Improve Nighttime Sleep?

I’ve heard that one way you can get your baby to sleep longer stretches at night is by working out consistent baby nap times. Is there any truth to this? If so, what do I need to know about how to structure my baby’s naps in order to improve her nighttime sleep?

Answer:

What you have heard is most definitely a widely excepted idea. There are several sleep experts who encourage parents to take a close look at how their baby nap times and daytime sleep routines in order to improve nighttime sleep. Some big names that reference the connection between daytime and nighttime sleep include, Dr. Jodi Mindell, Dr. Harvey Karp, Elizabeth Pantley, and Dr. William Sears.

If your baby isn't sleeping well at night, adjusting nap lengths and routines might help the situation. However, I would caution any parent to think that adjusting naps is the universal solution to sleeping through the night. It may work for you, or it may not. But it may be worth a shot.

Typical Number of Baby Nap Hours Per Day

Before you begin to worry unnecessarily than you need to begin fiddling with your baby’s naps, it’s important to understand that all babies are different. Though there are certain normal baby sleep patterns, just because your baby may not be taking the “typical” number of naps or because he may be sleeping more or less for his age, doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with his sleep schedule. It could just mean that his body is wired for either more or less sleep than the average baby.

With that in mind, if you take a peak at charts on baby sleep averages and notice a difference between your baby and the norm, perhaps you might want to consider making some adjustments to both nap and bedtime routines.

Sleeping Through the Night

Secondly, it’s also important to understand what “sleeping through the night” actually is. A baby is considered to be “sleeping through the night” when he sleeps 6 hours in one stretch. Perhaps your baby already is sleeping through- you just didn't realize it.

Naptime and Bedtime Routines

If you decide to change your child's nap times and routines in hopes of improving nighttime sleep, you may also want to consider:

  • Make any changes gently. For example: if you are trying to drop from 4 naps a day to two, drop one nap at a time, allowing your baby time to adjust to the new pattern.
  • Try and keep your bedtime and naptime routines similar. For example: put your baby down for a nap in the same place that she is expected to sleep at night. This helps establish comfort and reinforces that this is the place where sleeping is to be done.
  • Don't expect newborns to fall into routines. Young infants will likely not be ready for timed naps and will sleep in irregular patterns. This is normal and to be expected.
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