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Inconsistent Napping

baby with inconsistent napping

I wanted to say thank you for all your wonderful advice regarding bedtime routine and sleeping through the night!  Following your advice, our 5-month old son goes to bed at about 10pm (we are slowly trying to make this earlier by 15 minute increments) and sleeps until 7am, sometimes 7:30am!! (And has been since he was about 2.5 months old.)

That said, he really doesn't take consistent naps and he only seems to catnap (about 15-45 minutes max), sometimes taking one long (2-3 hours) nap during the day, and that one is usually in a swing or car seat. I work hard to keep daytime "bright and stimulating" with nighttime "dark and boring," and try to put him in the bassinet or crib for naps as I want to avoid always having him rocked to sleep.  I have read many books and websites discussing that at this age, he should be taking 3 naps per day between feedings.  His feedings are also right on schedule (7am, 11am, 3pm, 7pm and then 9pm before bath).  Should I be doing anything else or just continue to let him nap as needed, even if he wakes up after a catnap crying?

Congratulations on sleeping through the night! Nighttime sleep seems to be the most important. It is associated with good growth and psychological health. Establishing good nighttime sleep seems to be rooted in daily routine and schedule. I agree that most children your son’s age will take 3 naps a day. Nap length and schedule are difficult to control.

Getting a good nap schedule seems to either develop from the same routine schedule or be a product of daily flexibility. In our home, we view a “schedule” as the ultimate but often unobtainable goal. We recognize that our younger children are forced to nap in the van on the way to school pick up or at the lacrosse field.

The answer to your question will likely come from either
1.) Adjusting your schedule
2.) Being more flexible with the schedule

Adjusting the schedule - I am a big believer in “outdoor time”. Try including some “outdoor time” in his schedule. Yes, even at 5 months. Try getting him outdoors in the late mornings for a walk. When our second child was 6 months old, we took him to park so his 2 year old sister could play. My wife and I were both surprised how much our 6 month old enjoyed the park. He would sit at full attention and intently watch all the “big” kids” running around. He loved it and was exhausted afterwards. You may try taking him to a park as well.

Through beginning regular “outdoor time”, you are essentially creating a pre-nap routine. Figure when is the best time to feed him. Your son may do better if you feed him at the park and then transfer him asleep from his car seat. While it might be better to feed him once you get home. Try to end this routine right before his early afternoon nap.

Be flexible - In practice, I often find times where the schedule is the problem. New parents are often reluctant to change the schedule for fear of creating more problems. Be flexible. It is ok to be more flexible after regular nighttime sleep is established. If you find that he falls asleep at 2 pm only to wake from hunger at 3pm, try feeding him earlier. Try feeding him a little more before his nap. Try feeding him solid foods prior to his nap.

Read all nap related questions - naps


Written March 2012 by
Dr. Gordon, Orlando Pediatrician








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