How Rigid Should Your Baby’s Nap Schedule Be?

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NapSchedule

We talk a lot here at the Baby Sleep Site™ about how all babies are different (that’s why we don’t believe in any one-size-fits-all solutions for baby sleep problems!) Here’s something else we believe: parents are different, too! Talk to 10 different sets of moms and dads, and you’ll likely uncover a variety of parenting methods and philosophies. It’s our belief that this diversity is a good thing. It keeps life interesting!

These differences among parents often extend to the ways that moms and dads handle schedules — particularly, how they handle daytime nap schedules. Some parents are schedule-oriented, “Type A” folks. These parents like to create firm schedules and then stick to them whenever possible. They tend to thrive on predictability and routine. (Full disclosure: I fall squarely into this category!)

Other parents, however, are more footloose and fancy-free with their schedules. These parents tend to be on-the-go types, whose schedules rarely look the same from one day to the next. (More disclosure: I wish I were more like this. I’ve even tried to be, but alas! It’s just not me. :) )

Both types are perfectly fine, of course, and then there is everything in between (i.e. predictable schedule with flexible days). But when it comes to creating healthy nap schedules for our babies — the kind of schedules that produce long, restful naps — is one type better than the other?

The Benefits of a Rigid Daily Schedule

The word “rigid” tends to sound a little negative, but when it comes to your baby’s daily nap schedule, it can actually be a good thing! As Nicole’s written in a past article, there are some benefits to having a more rigid sleep schedule:

The main benefit of a rigid baby sleep schedule is the fact that it’s predictable. This isn’t just good for you to plan play dates or errands, but your baby will know what to expect every day, too. By prioritizing your baby’s sleep and making sure she’s in her crib at nap time and bedtime will make it that much more likely that she will sleep through the night and ensure your baby naps longer. You are making sure that you are putting her down during her “sleep windows” and helping “set” her internal clock.

This kind of predictability makes it easier to nap train your little one — remember, consistency is a huge part of any kind of sleep training! And once your baby is successfully nap trained, having a fairly rigid schedule in place can go a long way towards helping your baby get long, restorative naps on a regular basis.

The Benefits of a Flexible Daily Schedule

Of course, there are benefits to a highly-flexible daily schedule, too. Nicole pointed those out in her article as well:

But, what if your baby doesn’t get sleepy at the same times every day? Or, what if your family life is such that your day simply is not very similar day to day? A flexible baby sleep schedule allows you to have much more flexibility in your day. Your playdate wants to meet at 10 instead of 11? No problem. That baby swim class is at 1 p.m. twice a week right when your baby’s nap is. No problem. Grandma and grandpa come to visit for two hours making bedtime an hour later? No problem. Having a flexible sleep schedule is definitely appealing in many ways. It feels much less like your whole world revolves around your baby’s sleep and schedule, that’s for sure.

Don’t Forget To Consider Your Baby’s Personality and Temperament, Too!

Before we get any further, I have to stop and point something out. We started this discussion with a comparison between parent personality types. And that makes sense; we parents are the ones who create our babies’ schedules, after all! But you’ll need to consider your baby’s temperament and personality as well.

Specifically, you’ll need to consider your child’s adaptability and regularity. Your little one’s adaptability refers to his ability to “go with the flow”, so to speak. Highly-adaptable babies adjust easily to changes in the schedule and routine; less-adaptable babies don’t. What does this mean for you? If your baby is less adaptable, you’ll probably need to develop a fairly consistent daily schedule. If your baby is more adaptable, however, you can probably have a more on-the-go lifestyle.

Your baby’s regularity refers to the kind of consistency he shows from day to day. Very regular babies tend to eat and sleep at the same times each day. As Nicole points out, they may even poop at the same time day to day! Less regular children, however, are inconsistent in their eating and sleeping habits. What does this mean for you? If your baby is less regular, you’ll need to build some flexibility into your daily schedule, in order to accommodate.

So, Which is Better: Rigid or Flexible?

Answer: it depends. It depends on your personality, on your child’s temperament, on your goals for your baby’s sleep, on your little one’s current sleeping habits… But don’t let that discourage you! Nicole has some tips to offer that may help those of you who are struggling with how to create a daytime nap schedule that will suit both your personality and needs, as well as your child’s:

For highly inconsistent babies, it is usually best to keep a rigid sleep schedule from a sleep perspective (not necessarily feeding schedule), because it helps “set” their internal clock and biological rhythms. If you allow your inconsistent baby to drive the schedule, he is more likely to continue being even more inconsistent than what’s “normal” for him.

For babies who are very sensitive to becoming over-tired leading to less and less sleep, it’s important to keep their sleep at a high priority. It doesn’t necessarily mean keeping a rigid schedule by the clock, but in terms of making sure they are not awake too long before sleep. It means that swim class might have to wait until they’ve changed their schedule.

For babies who can sometimes stay up longer and other times can’t, having a rigid schedule where they are in the crib when they are not tired, could lead to other sleep problems and frustration for your baby. Maybe he needs a more flexible schedule that is driven more by his sleep needs and cues.

How To Create A Great Baby Nap Schedule

bss_ebook_7napmistakes_left-transShort or non-existent baby naps can be so frustrating – but you don’t have to suffer through them! We have a ton of nap resources – and one of those nap resources is our free guide, 7 Common Napping Mistakes. Are you making any of these common nap mistakes? If so, they may be the cause of your baby’s non-napping. So download your free guide today, and start putting the tips to use as early as your baby’s next nap!
 
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Special Members-Only Nap Resources

bss_ebook_masteringnaps_left Mastering Naps & Schedules — For starters, all Baby Sleep Site® members receive unlimited access to all our e-Books. That’s right – for the price of your membership, you can read all our e-Books at no additional cost! That includes Mastering Naps & Schedules. With over 45 sample schedules (all available for you to view in the Members Area), Mastering Naps & Schedules is THE e-Book for tired parents of non-napping kiddos! We tackle all your top napping issues, including how to get your baby or toddler to take longer naps, how to get your child’s naps to be more consistent and predictable, how to manage nap transitions, how to encourage good napping while traveling – and more! Become a member today, and access the e-Book instantly – no download necessary!
 
Tele-seminarNap Tele-Seminars — Another great members-only resource? Our tele-seminars. Hosted by Nicole herself, these 30 – 45-minute tele-seminars offer you insider-information and our trademark sleep coaching methods and techniques. We have several awesome nap-focused tele-seminars, including one on managing nap transitions, and one on lengthening short naps! Listening to these seminars is like getting a coaching session from Nicole! She’ll walk you through the basics of dealing with common nap problems and give you tried-and-true strategies you can implement at home.

For more details about all our member benefits (including weekly chats with a trained sleep consultant and 20% off ALL sleep consulting packages), visit our membership page, and consider becoming a member today!
 
 
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Rigid or Flexible: which are you? Share your “schedule type” below, and tell us about your experiences creating a nap schedule that works for you and your baby!

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Comments

  1. says

    I am very rigid, so I tend to think a lot of structure is what my son needs. I get stressed out when nap or bedtime gets pushed too late. He always handles it like a champ and remains cheery, but if we have two off-days in a row then it will start causing problems with his sleep. Do you think it is possible for a rigid parent to “create” the need for rigidity in their child? Or is it just me, a schedule-fanatic parent projecting that onto him?

  2. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Kendra — this is an excellent question, and It’s one I’ve asked myself from time to time! I’m like you; I like a lot of structure in my day. Erratic schedules tends to send me over the edge! ;) So I’ve raised my kids this way, and now, they’re little schedule-oriented people, too.

    I think that, in your case and in mine, it’s probably a combination of things. The way we’ve raised them, with a more ‘rigid’ schedule, has no doubt shaped their expectations about what each day will look like. But I imagine there’s some ‘nature’ in there, too. For example, my oldest son is more schedule-driven than my younger son.

    I will say that, now that my older 2 boys are past the toddler stage and are school-age kids, the whole schedule thing seems to be easier to adjust and bend from time to time. Our family’s daily schedule is pretty consistent, but when we do haver some kind of fun, special, schedule-destroying event happen, they take it in stride. That wasn’t the case when they were babies and toddlers, though. Don’t know how old your guy is, but my guess is that as he grows, he’ll be able to handle schedule disruptions better and better.

    Thanks for commenting, Kendra!

  3. Gill says

    I love a rigid schedule, and my baby thrived on it but after some sleep training over the last 2weeks to help my 7mth old baby girl self settle she’s become a very early riser-5am! Ekk! 6:30am was the norm prior to the training. I was advised to limit her awake time to 2 to 2.5hrs max, so the daily routine is more of a rolling routine dictated by what time she wakes to start the day. I worry that I am reinforcing this early rising, but I also appreciate that if I keep her up too long the day naps will go haywire and then the 6:30pm to 5am night sleep will suffer too!

  4. Debbie says

    I second the concerns of the previous commenter. I have always made sure my two-year-old son naps in his crib, at the proper naptime. Occasionally these days, we are out in the early afternoon, and I wish I could walk him around the block until he falls asleep in the stroller. But it won’t happen – he will only sleep in his crib, unless it’s several hours past his naptime. I see other kids sleeping in their strollers, and feel my rigidity caused my son to be unable to nap in other settings. If I ever have more children, I will consider taking them out in the stroller for a few naps a week, in hopes they’ll learn to snooze on the go.

  5. Melissa says

    I have been rigid with my 16 month old daughter since she was born but no matter what I do she just catnaps for half hour! It is now starting to affect night sleep as she only wants one nap a day! I’ve read all the books, websites and spoke to our nurse. I feel like no one can help us :( I speaking with my husband about trying a plan as I’m so exhausted and don’t know what to do. I guess the worst thing is ill still be in the same situation.

  6. Shruti says

    My approach is so similar to Kendra’s. I stick to a rigid schedule. For me it is very important to know my day. My DS also believes in the same (I would like to think so at least.. he is just 15 months old). He does a good job of being cheerful when I have to be flexible sometimes. My problem is different – though I have stuck to a routine for a long time (more than 6 months on the current schedule), I still have not succeeded to teach him how to nap on this own. He puts himself to sleep at night though. Has anyone did nap training with their kids, how? Thanks!

  7. Wendy says

    My 2 year old thrives on a rigid schedule. If I mess with her nap or bedtime by a little, it takes at least two “off” days of getting her back on track (she wakes often). If I mess with her nap or bedtime by a lot (for instance, a nap gets skipped because of a noon time event) I am in for two weeks of hell – she can’t fall asleep or stay asleep at nap or bed times and is irritable for much of the day. I stay home with her so I have decided that one day of anything is not worth two weeks of day-long and night-long frustrations. My problem is that I feel like no one else (husband included) understands this. I am feeling very alone. I live 8 hours away from my family, but his family is very big and all nearby – the pressure to attend family events is overwhelming me since husband has a hard time declining so many invitations. I feel like she will outgrow this need for rigidity, but everyone else acts as though I created a non-flexible child by my responses to her needs. Can anyone help with a few understanding words? When we are on schedule, our days are incredibly fun.

  8. Bridgette says

    I am a go with the flow person. Alas, my daughter is not. I can try and fiddle with her nap schedule to fit plans for the day but I end up with a cranky overtired baby every time. I’ve learned I need to be home by noon for lunch so she can nap at one. If we’re out in the car after 12, she falls asleep in the car and its never a good 2 hr nap, and we are in trouble later on that day. I’ve tried to move her back to two naps when needed but that doesn’t ever work either.

  9. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Gill — sounds like you’re dealing with this early rising the right way. This could simply be a phase that’ll pass.

    Glad to hear that you’ve found a schedule that suits both you and your baby girl! Thanks for commenting, Gill. :)

    @ Debbie — I understand totally. My kids have all been this way, too! Of course, the plus side of this (for me, at least) has always been that when my kids were in their cribs, with lights off and white noise machine running, they’d conk out immediately. But you’re right; the downside is that if we were ANYWHERE else at naptime, they wouldn’t fall asleep.

    I will say that I’ve noticed this is something that tends to get better as kids get older (probably because they need little to no naptime sleep once they’re past their toddler years). I’d also guess that, even if you didn’t attempt to do anything differently when you have a second child, things might naturally work out to be more flexible with your second. I say that because, once you have multiple kids, you’re juggling multiple schedules, and that can mean that your younger one simply has to sleep on the go from time to time. Does that make sense? When multiple children are involved, everyone has to get a little more flexible, including mom and dad.

    Thanks for commenting, Debbie, and for sharing a bit about your situation! :)

  10. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Melissa — I’m so sorry to hear that you and your girl are struggling. :( Short naps can be killer, for everyone in the family! A consultation (https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-toddler-sleep-consulting-services/) will certainly help with this, especially if you feel too exhausted to try figuring this out on your own (and it sounds like that’s the case for you!)

    If it helps, you can download a sample sleep plan (http://www.babysleepsite.com/download-sample-sleep-plan/) for free, to see what our plans look like and what they include.

    Hang in there, Melissa! And keep us posted on what happens with your little girl.

    @ Shruti — you’re in luck: I wrote an article on this very topic a few months ago! It’s on the differences between nap training and nighttime sleep training: http://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-naps-2/nap-training-how-and-when/. See if this gives you some insights and tips that help in getting your little one to nap better. And do keep us posted on your nap training progress!

    Thanks for commenting, Shruti. :)

  11. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Wendy — here’s my two cents: it sounds like you’re doing a fabulous job. Truly. You know what works for your little girl, and you’re providing that for her – which is exactly what fabulous moms do! I’d say ignore any negative vibes coming from friends/family and keep doing what you know is best for your little girl. You’re right; she will outgrow this with time, and soon, it’ll be much easier for her to have a shorter nap, or to go to bed later than usual.

    When possible, accept invitations to things that don’t have to interfere with her schedule (i.e. events you can come to late, once her nap is done, or leave early, when it’s time for her to go to bed.) That’s a nice compromise, since it allows you and your daughter to participate in the fun without compromising her sleep.

    Hope this helps, Wendy! And I empathize with your situation. I’m 8 hours from my family, too. That distance can be hard sometimes, can’t it? But rest assured that, from what you’ve said here, it sounds like you’re an excellent mom to your little girl. :)

    @ Bridgette — I’m jealous! I so wish I were a go-with-the-flow kind of girl. One of my closest friends is, and she teases me about my Type-A personality. ;)

    Good for you for recognizing that your daughter isn’t as go-with-the-flow as you are, though, and for realizing that you need to accommodate her sleep needs, even though that means a little less flexibility for you. That’s a sign of good mothering! And honestly, before you know it, she’ll be done with daytime naps, and it’ll be much easier to get out of the house.

    Thanks for commenting, Bridgette!

  12. Carolyn says

    Melissa, I hear you! My little guy is now 14 months but when he was a little younger, about 9-11 months, he would only take two 40 minute naps and would wake in the night still! It was so frustrating and I tried everything. You know what finally worked? We had to take him to emerge one evening and his bedtime ended up getting pushed back an hour and a half. This had NEVER happened before. The next day he slept 90 minutes in the morning and 90 minutes in the afternoon. So we tried a later bedtime for a few nights (we changed bedtime from 7:30 to 8:30), and the longer naps kept on happening every day! In fact, he still takes two naps at 14 months, although one of them has shortened up to an hour. I just remember being where you are and reading all about how an earlier bedtime might help baby sleep better, but I’ve found that the opposite was true for my little Wyatt. Good luck, I really hope something works out for you!
    Oh and when it comes to rigidity or flexibility, I always make sure my little one has only 3 hours of wake time between naps. So depending on when he wakes up in the morning (usually 6:45ish), his nap times will change slightly. So we work with a nice mix of flexibility and rigidity, and it works for us!

  13. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Carolyn — thanks so much for sharing this advice with Melissa, and for giving her some insights into what worked for you! Very kind of you. :)

  14. Melissa says

    Thank you so much Caroline! I can’t believe I never thought to try that. I guess I’m so caught up with thinking how tired she is and needs to go to bed early. I will be trying a later time and see how she goes. Fingers crossed for a miracle lol :)

  15. Audrey says

    I am a Type A, & feel a good nap schedule helped me survive the 14 months of poor night sleep – at least I knew he would nap! I have friends though that fall into the flexible category & can give me a hard time about being at home for his naps – “but don’t you ever go out for lunch?”. I just say, if I can’t do what I need to do within the 5 hours either side of the lunchtime nap I’m obviously not being efficient! Besides, if Teddy gets overtired our lives are awful until he catches up – why would I bring that onto us unnecessarily? It is funny, it ain’t worth fighting it, they win if they aren’t getting what they need sleepwise!

  16. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Audrey — “they win if they aren’t getting what they need sleepwise” — amen to that! Yes, yes they do. Our little ones don’t exactly push through exhaustion the way we adults do (which is probably a good thing, actually).

    I’m glad to hear that you’ve made peace with your Type A-ness, and have found something that works for you. And good for you for sticking with what you know is best for your son!

    Thanks for commenting, Audrey. :)

  17. Kate says

    Wendy, my heart goes out to you! I don’t have any advice to share with you(other than to try to ignore others’ non-undertanding), but know that you’re doing a great job with your daughter. You’re the one who spends the most time with her and you’re the one who knows her needs best. That’s all there is to it! I hope this helps you a little bit :)

  18. Karen says

    I have my 8 month old on a great schedule – or perhaps it’s that he has me on a great schedule. Either way, he is a very happy baby and I get many compliments on that. However, people are also quick to tease me or at least comment on my rigid schedule. But I contribute his pleasant demeanor to his schedule. If he begins to fuss and get cranky, he’s either hungry or tired. He has napped in his port-a-crib at times when we are out also, but usually not as long as he normally would if he was home in his crib, and it also takes a bit longer for him to settle into his nap.

  19. Diana says

    I think it is simply about what your baby needs. My now 6-months old is on a pretty nice schedule. Sleeping at night 8pm-6:00 am and has two naps during the day, all sleep happening in his crib. But it was not like this until about a month ago. For the first 2.5 months he wanted to nap in my arms only, could not do absolutely anything about this. Then at 2.5 months he started feeling uncomfortable in my arms, but still refused to sleep in his crib. So he was napping during the day, only in the stroller or in the swing at random times for random amount of time. Around 5 months, he started rolling on his belly, and he preferred this position to sleep and then he refused to sleep in the swing or stroller. At that point I moved him in the crib. And the moment I put him down, he goes instantly on his tummy and sleeps like that. It took him about 1-2 weeks to get adjusted to the crib, during the day but now he is fine. In the beginning he kept waking up a few times during the nap, but I went, picked him up, rocked him and then he was falling asleep again. Now he doesn’t need this anymore, he simply sleeps. Unless he is not feeling well, and that is a different story…..On the other hand he always slept in his crib at night. And 8 pm for the night was not a time that we decided on, was the time that we observed to work best for him. Basically flexibility on my side and trying to figure out what my baby needs helped me stay sane….

  20. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Karen – good for you for doing what you know is best, in spite of pressure from others!

    @ Diana – thanks for sharing the details of your experience with us! And you’re right; flexibility is key. Well said! Thanks for commenting, Diana!

  21. Christi says

    I feel like I am a little bit of both rigid and flexible all at once. We rigidly “float” my baby’s nap schedule, i.e. we go by awake time rather than a specific time on the clock, so my little one naps for however long he naps for, and then is up for an hour and a half until his next nap.

    The problem: a floating schedule means bedtime is at different times every day. I was wondering whether you think having a regular bedtime is better than having a floating bedtime. I know routine is important, but sometimes if he naps late, it is really hard to put him down after only 45 minutes of awake time, and on the other hand, if he naps early, it’s hard to keep him up long enough to reach his “bedtime” without having him hit his second wind or pass out from sheer exhaustion while I’m nursing him before bed.

  22. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Christi — this is a good question. I’d say it depends on the age of your baby, to be honest. I think the kind of floating schedule that you describe here is perfect for a newborn or a young infant (maybe up to 6 months). During the first six months, it makes perfect sense to create a schedule that’s driven by your baby’s rhythms and needs and not by the clock.

    I think that for older babies, though, a more clock-based schedule is appropriate. And by the time you reach the toddler stage, having the same bedtime each night is important, since it provides consistency and helps reinforce the daily routines and schedule.

    Make sense? Hope this helps, Christi! Thanks for commenting. :)

  23. Kate says

    My situation is kind of like Christi’s: my 6.5 month old baby wakes up at irregular times. Most days it’s around 7:30, but sometimes he has to get up at 6:30 to come to work with me, and other days he sleeps until 8:30. It makes it hard to schedule naps by the clock. Nap length varies as well. Would you recommend waking him up in the mornings to gain consistency? Or putting him down for naps at the same time every day anyway (even if he has only been awake for an hour)?

    (For what it’s worth, I can’t work on a real schedule with him until he’s 7.5 months anyway–that’s when my girls will be back in school!)

  24. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Kate — Two easy ways to help develop a more clock-oriented schedule include establishing a consistent bedtime and wake time. Try to pick times that work well with your general schedule. There will certainly be days when bedtime and morning wake time may vary, due to schedule, but if you can stay consistent most of the time, that will really help your son get into a nice rhythm.

    As for naps — that’s tougher. I’d recommend trying to establish clock-based nap times, but use your judgement day to day in determining if a nap should happen earlier or later, depending on outside factors (like how long it’s been since the last nap, if morning wake time was too early/late, etc.)

    Does this help? Thanks for commenting, Kate!