And we understand that. Most of the parents we work with have babies and toddlers who struggle with nap time sleep, and who need to take longer, more restorative naps. Those babies and toddlers desperately need a solid daytime nap schedule to help them get the nap time sleep they need.
Still, a number of parents end up asking themselves the “is my child sleeping too much?” question at one point or another. After all, a baby or toddler who spends long periods napping each day may not have time to work on the gross motor and cognitive skills they need to be developing. And, a baby or toddler who naps a lot could wake more frequently at night.
So, how much nap time sleep is too much? Let’s answer that.
Nap Time Sleep in the Newborn Stage (Birth – 4 months)
Here’s the thing to remember about newborns: they sleep A LOT, and that’s perfectly normal. If you’ve read Dr. Harvey Karp’s Happiest Baby on the Block book, then you’ll remember that he considers the first three months of a baby’s life to be a fourth trimester, in which tons and tons of brain development is happening. It makes sense, then, that our newborns need plenty of sleep to compensate for all the growing and changing they’re doing! So, unless your newborn is truly never waking up, not even to eat, then you probably don’t need to worry about him napping too much.
At this stage, it’s very normal for newborns to sleep anywhere from 14 – 18 total hours during the day, and for their wake time to be an hour to 30 minutes (or even less.) As your baby grows, this wake time should lengthen, and their total amount of sleep should gradually decrease.
For these reasons, our general recommendation to parents of newborns is to let the baby sleep as long as she needs to, and to not impose any kind of rigid schedule. That said, there is one time that we recommend parents wake their newborns from long naps, and that’s when the newborn seems to have day/night confusions. As Nicole explained in a previous article:
When your baby is a newborn, he may come out being confused about day and night. Since most people say “Never wake a sleeping baby”, many new parents will let their newborn sleep 8 hours straight during the day, if they want to, but then wonder why he is up all night, sleeping on and off one hour here and there. Although I do agree with the adage to never wake a sleeping baby, there are exceptions to that rule, and this is one of them. In order to help your newborn sort out day and night, he needs to be awake during the day for his internal clock, or circadian rhythms, to adjust to life outside the womb. Therefore, it is best to limit any one nap to two hours and keep your baby up for at least 30 minutes to an hour to help “reset” his clock.
Nap Time Sleep in the Baby Stage (4-12 months)
Starting around 4 months (could be 3 months for some babies, or 5 months for others), you’ll notice your baby’s sleep patterns start to change. Your baby will start spending more time awake and less time asleep. This is perfectly normal. In fact, there’s a name for it — the 4 month sleep regression!
Here are Nicole’s observations (from a past article) about how much sleep is normal during the baby stage:
When your baby is sleeping 13-15 hours per day, this is within normal ranges for a very long time. If your baby is sleeping less, this may or may not be enough sleep. Depending on your baby’s age, a typical baby will sleep 11-12 hours at night and 2-3 hours during the day. Since averages are just those, your baby may indeed need more like 12 hours at night and 4 hours of sleep during the day. This is unlikely to be a cause for concern. It is a lot of sleep, but a great 12-hour night sleeper and two two-hour naps is fantastic and there is still enough up-time to learn all the wonderful skills such as rolling, crawling, walking, and talking. She likely needs more time to process all of it and simply needs more sleep than other babies her age. Watching her behavior when she is up is a good sign everything is okay.
However, what should you do if your baby is napping too much, and that’s causing her to wake too frequently at night? If this is the case, you may want to consider waking your baby from her naps. As Nicole puts it,
Except for newborns, your baby or toddler’s napping should not surpass 3 hours total for a day, on average. Of course, there will be exceptions, but many times if naps get too long during the day, it will impact night sleep, since the amount of total sleep in a day will remain relatively constant. If you feel bad waking your baby because she is sleeping horribly at night, but let her make up a lot of lost sleep during the day, it could reinforce the very sleep problems you are trying to resolve at night. It can become a chicken and egg problem. Instead, you should solve the night sleep problem and keep naps properly balanced. After all, night sleep is more restorative.
Nap Time Sleep in the Toddler Stage (12 months – 3 or 4 years)
As your little one enters toddlerhood, his sleep needs will gradually begin to decrease. At this point, most of his sleep should be happening at night, and he should be awake for most of the day. Naps will still happen, of course, but the large majority of his sleep should occur at night.
Here’s Nicole’s summary of a toddler’s standard sleep needs:
Just as it’s normal to have toddlers who can sleep 12 hours at night and take a 3 hour nap, there are also toddlers who sleep 11-12 hours at night and take a 1-2 hour nap. Again, there is a wide range of “normal” and the only time I’d be concerned is if your toddler sleeps so much that she doesn’t have time for gross motor activity or spending awake time with you where she can learn to communicate and other life skills.
Again, though, if you find that your toddler is taking extremely lengthy naps each day, and isn’t sleeping well at night, you may need to wake him from those naps. You may also want to consider waking your child at the same time each morning, even if he’s had a sleepless night the night before. Here’s Nicole’s recommendation on that:
If you have a toddler schedule that is being thrown off with a long night-waking, or insomnia, in the middle of the night, the worst thing you can do is let her sleep in the next morning. Now, I don’t mean one off day here or there. Of course, then, you’d let her sleep in. What I mean is if your toddler is staying awake for long periods night after night, you need to be proactive and help her sort out her schedule. Although there are a few exceptions, long waking at night is usually caused by a schedule problem, especially if she is sleeping enough, but in multiple fragments. When you let her sleep in, this only exacerbates the schedule problem.
A Reminder: Follow Your Instincts, and Seek Medical Care if Necessary
We can’t end the article without saying this: there are cases (rare though they may be) in which too much sleep can signal an underlying medical problem. So parents, follow your instincts. If you know your baby or toddler is sleeping too much, and you think a medical condition might be to blame, don’t hesitate to see a healthcare provider.
Has too much nap time sleep ever been a problem at your house? How have you coped? Share your tips with our readers!
Whether it’s napping too much or not nearly enough, your baby’s nap time issues may have you ready to make a change. If that’s the case, make sure you are not making those pesky 7 Common Napping Mistakes and/or check out Mastering Naps and Schedules, a comprehensive guide to napping routines, nap transitions, and all the other important “how-to” of good baby sleep. With over 40 sample sleep schedules and planning worksheets, Mastering Naps and Schedules is a hands-on tool ideal for any parenting style. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3 Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (for babies) or The 5 Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (for toddlers). Using the same unique approach and practical tools for success, this e-book helps you and your baby sleep through the night. Or, join our Members Area packed with exclusive content and resources: e-Books, assessments, detailed case studies, expert advice, peer support, and teleseminars. It actually costs less to join than buying products separately! For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations. Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a sleep plan; sometimes you’re just close to the situation or too tired to!