I know. Some of you are probably laughing hysterically at the title of today’s article. Too much nap time sleep?! Lots of you would probably give anything to have that the problem in your house!
We understand that! Most of the parents we work with have babies and toddlers who struggle with nap time sleep. We typically help families who are working towards longer, more restorative naps. These babies and toddlers 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: “Is my child sleeping too much?” After all, as a new parent, we don’t always know what our nap expectations should be! A baby or toddler who spends long periods napping each day may not have time to work on the 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 fine. At this stage, it’s very normal for newborns to sleep anywhere from 14 – 18 total hours during the day. It’s also typical 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. Don’t impose any kind of rigid schedule at this time. That said, there are two times that we recommend parents wake their newborns from long naps. First, you’ll want to wake your newborn from long sleep if your newborn seems to have day/night confusion. 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, we recommend limiting one nap to two hours and keep your baby up for at least 30 minutes to an hour to help “reset” his clock.
Second, you’ll want to wake your newborn from long sleep if he is not waking to feed. It’s normal for newborns to have one longish stretch of sleep each day. (Hopefully it happens at night!) Aside from that, your newborn should wake every 2-3 hours to feed. If your newborn isn’t waking this often to feed, then wake him yourself. It’s important that newborns eat round the clock in order to grow properly.
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 normal. In fact, there’s a name for it — the 4 month sleep regression!
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 are 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? Remember that after the newborn stage, your baby’s napping should not surpass 3 hours total for a day, on average. Of course, there will be exceptions, but if naps get too long during the day, it can impact night sleep. The amount of total sleep in a 24 hour 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. 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.
But remember, 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 reason for concern would be 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.
However, 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. 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 where too much sleep can signal an underlying medical problem. So, 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.