When becoming a parent, educating yourself on standard sleep regressions and milestones is a great way to stay ahead of the curve. The sixth month mark is often a struggle; many of my clients first reach out to me during this time. Figuring out the right amount of naps and when to establish bedtime can get tricky. Here are some quick rules to follow to aid in this process:
- Experiment between 2 and 3 naps. Some children at this age will favor a 3rd nap, while others will do better with just 2 naps and an early bedtime.
- If your child regularly skips nap 3 and has an earlier bedtime, you can learn how to use a 3rd nap on occasion if necessary.
- Morning nap is mentally restorative and afternoon nap, physically restorative. The 3rd nap provides no restoration and is only used to save the over tired state at bedtime.
- Before a child turns 6 months, a 3rd nap is necessary. A 9 months of age, all children will drop the 3rd nap and consistently take two naps per day. It is the period of time in between when you can experiment with each scenario in order to see which is best for your child.
- A child between 6-9 months needs 14-16 hours of sleep in a 24 hour time period and can handle between 2.5-3 hours of wake time.
Here are some ways to know if your child should take a 3rd nap.
- If both the morning and afternoon nap lasted 30 minutes or less. (Because this is not enough day sleep.)
- If your child did not fall asleep at all during afternoon nap.
- If it is a special occasion for your family and your child will be in bed later than usual.
*A restorative nap lasts at least 45 minutes. (60 minutes is ideal for full restoration)
Things to remember about Nap 3:
The most important part about taking a 3rd nap, is figuring out when to do it. I tell parents to remember “3 for 3” because I find that 3:00 is usually a great time to aim for a 3rd nap. However, all naps should end by 4:00pm and a child’s wake time will be the deciding factor for figuring out when to the nap should begin. Don’t forget to do a solid and consistent 15 minute soothing routine before this nap and all others. Keep in mind that if you are shooting for 3:00, soothing needs to begin promptly at 2:45. If you find your child takes a little while to settle and fall asleep at this time of day, soothe at 2:30, lay down at 2:45 with a goal for them to be asleep by 3:00.
My rule for naps is that if you are in your home, your child should nap in their crib. However, if necessary, it is OK to use motion sleep for the 3rd nap of the day. This is primarily because it provides no restoration and will be just a “catnap.” This is an exception to the rule of not using motion sleep. If you need to run an errand, or pick up an older child from daycare or an activity, it is OK to let your little one take this nap in their car seat or in a stroller as you are out an about.
An early bedtime will be your saving grace during the 6-9 month period. Don’t hesitate to put your child to bed as early as 5pm if you have too. A child closer to 6 months, should be put to bed approximately 2.5 hours after they woke from the last nap of the day, and a child closer to 9 months, should be put down approximately 3 hours after they woke from the last nap of the day.
Remember, it is Ok if each day is different as far as nap times and the amount of naps in the day as long as you are working toward consistency. It might take between 3-6 weeks for naps to iron out but that is common when transitioning from one sleep schedule to another. If your child normally takes only two naps, it is perfectly acceptable to add a third nap if they are having an off day; and vice versa, if your child normally takes 3 naps, it is Ok to use an early bedtime instead of nap 3 on occasion. The goal is to figure out which scenario your child favors and know how to use the other option when necessary!