What’s More Important – Naps or Night Sleep?

Naps or Nights

When you work on helping your baby sleep better, sometimes it’s hard to know whether you can get even more sleep from him. Sometimes it might feel you are being greedy wanting more sleep – when you’ve already come so far. Or, sometimes when you work on naps, night sleep goes out the window or vice versa. This article will talk about whether napping or night sleep is more important and general guidelines to know whether you have a good balance of night sleep and naps.

Do babies need naps and night sleep or is night sleep enough? Are catnaps sufficient?

I had a client tell me once their doctor told them “Babies don’t need naps. They’re extra.” I was pretty shocked to hear this considering babies need A LOT of sleep. That was just once I’ve heard that, thankfully!

Will your baby survive? Yes, a baby can survive without any naps at all, but I would argue that it would likely affect their development, mood, and behavior. There are likely a few rare babies who don’t nap and are very happy during the day. And, some will likely grow up to be intelligent babies. Just like I’m sure there are babies who get an above-average amount of sleep and are still fussy or cranky (and maybe have average intelligence with challenging behavior, who knows?). There are always a few exceptions who are on the extreme end of any spectrum. My eldest son could barely function being awake longer than one hour 15 minutes until after 7 months of age, so he definitely thrives on getting the sleep he needs. There is NO way he’d be able to learn much of anything in his state when he is overtired, even now that he’s older. But, I have heard plenty of stories of babies who are happy and smiley with just little catnaps during the day.

But, are catnaps enough?

In my opinion, your baby’s happiness and behavior is the #1 thing you should watch when deciding whether he is getting enough sleep. Next, would be his development or abilities. If your toddler becomes extra clumsy and gets hurt a lot, for example, that could be a sign he is extra tired. How good is our balance when we are exhausted? If his attention span is very short sometimes and not others, perhaps this is a sign as well (short attention spans are normal, in general, so it might be hard to tell, but you know your baby best!).

Always keep in mind that your baby’s total sleep in a day will stay relatively constant, so a baby who sleeps 12 hours (some even more), it will directly impact how much sleep she may or may not need during the day. If her average total sleep is 13 1/2 hours then that means she may split 1 1/2 hours into 2-3 naps, for example. That means if you have a 6-month-old who takes three naps, you might be looking at three 30-minute catnaps, if she’s sleeping 12 hours at night. If she has above-average sleep needs, she can nap more than that.

So, what’s more important? More night sleep or longer naps?

As most of the articles on this site will say, this will depend on your baby and may take some trial and error, but here are some of my general guidelines and philosophies:

  • If your baby is sleeping longer than 12 hours at night, but barely napping during the day, I would absolutely shorten night sleep to achieve longer naps and “balance” your baby’s sleep. Wait, you want me to wake my baby? :O Yes, as much as I try to help our babies sleep, this would be one situation I would wake your baby. Ideally, this would be a short-term strategy and her body will then regulate. You may need to find the right schedule for your baby.
  • If your baby is sleeping just 10 hours (or less) at night, I consider this the minimum for all ages who likely frequent this site. Therefore, I would say the opposite, in this case, and say that if your baby is napping more than three hours per day, you should shorten naps to achieve more night sleep OR it’s time for a nap transition. If your baby is sleeping 10 hours or less and not napping much, then that is likely a different issue and you likely need to think about sleep training.
  • If your baby is sleeping 11-12 hours at night, then I consider this the ideal amount of night sleep and I would work on achieving a good balance of napping, respecting her sleep needs. What I mean by that is that if your baby averages 14 hours of sleep in a day, for example, and is sleeping 12 hours at night, don’t expect much more than two hours total during the day. Trying to push her to nap too much and you are liable to affect her night sleep and you will end up in a vicious cycle. If she thrives on just 11 hours of sleep at night, but more napping, that is good to know, too!

There are so many variables in our babies’ schedules and how much our babies sleep. Your unique baby has unique sleep needs, so don’t be afraid of doing your own research on what’s best for YOUR baby and use what the books say or how much your friends’ babies sleep as a guideline, not a rule.

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27 thoughts on “What’s More Important – Naps or Night Sleep?”

  1. My 12 month old sleeps 7-8 hours at night and will only take a 2 hour nap. He used to be such a good sleeper. Now he is awake at 3AM and wants to party until 12:30pm. Then he will only nap for a couple hours. I try to get him down for more naps during the day and give him some warm milk when he wakes up, and try to sooth him back to sleep. Nope. He wants to sleep only 10 hours total. I recognize his sleep indicators, but no matter how spot on I am, and how long I work at getting him to sleep, he just doesn’t. He’s not too hot/cold, he’s not teething, he’s not hungry. Nothing works. He just wants to be up at 3AM and will not nap until 12:30pm. Do you possibly have ANY advice?

    • Hi Kristin,
      Thank you so much for your comment! What you’re describing sounds really hard and I’m sorry you’re going through this. I would definitely refer you to one of our sleep consultants with a case like this. We have worked with families with similarly difficult schedule difficulties before, and a sleep consultant could look at *everything* – your current schedule, when and how much he’s eating, how he’s falling asleep, what you’ve tried already – and help you figure out what’s going on with a step-by-step plan to get his sleep as solid as possible. He may be a short-sleeper, but it’s relatively rare at this age, so I’d bet there’s a gap somewhere that we can help you address. You can review our consultation packages here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-toddler-sleep-consulting-services/
      Please hang in there, and let us know if you have any questions!

    • Hi @Alli, thanks for visiting the Baby Sleep Site! The recommendations for stretches of sleep (say 11-12 hours) would include night feedings, so for example, if your 6 month old slept from 7pm-7am, but woke up to feed 3x, we would still say that was 12 hours. I hope that makes sense! For more specific schedules and recommendations, be sure to look at our sample schedules and you can choose your child’s age for an appropriate schedule here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-sleep-feeding-schedules/
      Hope this helps!

  2. My 17 month old only sleeps 10 hours at night and naps between 1&1/2 – 2 hours a day. Is that enough? I feel like he should be sleeping more.

    • Hi @Sarah – Thank you for writing to us! There is a very wide range of sleep needs, especially as our little ones get into the toddler months and years. Trust your instincts, and if you feel that he is not well rested with the 11.5-12 hour total for the day, then do feel free to work on getting him to stretch that a bit! Have you checked out our guide written just for families of toddlers? It should be a great guide for your family. You can read about and get the free toddler sleep guide here:
      Good luck Sarah!!

  3. I am so jealous of all these mums.

    My baby is 16 weeks and since day one has only slept 6-8hoirs in 24 hours total.
    Usually about 4 hours at night and 2 hours in naps throughout the day.
    I use a stopwatch to time, as my Mum mentioned how unusual this is.
    Feel quite exhausted all of time now.

    • @Blanke – Thank you for stopping in to our sleepy little village. I’m sorry to hear your little one isn’t sleeping very well. It’s very normal for a baby 16 weeks old to sleep in short bursts often through out the day and wake at night for a feeding. Each baby is so very different from the other so please don’t feel bad or jealous! You’re out here looking for help to get your baby to sleep better and that’s what matters now. Here is an article that you may find helpful – it covers a few tips on getting your 4-mo old to sleep and has another link specifically for work with a 14 – 16 week old baby: https://www.babysleepsite.com/how-to-get-my-baby-to-sleep/how-to-get-my-4-or-5-month-old-to-sleep/

      If you continue to run into obstacles or nothing you do is working, please consider one of our consultation packages where you can work one on one with one of our expert sleep consultants who can design a plan of action to help your baby sleep better. You can read about those here:https://www.babysleepsite.com/services

      Thank you for stopping in again and commenting – please come back soon!

  4. Thanks Nicole! She was just about to walk AND picking up several words at the same time. We kept the “rest” consistent, and she finally got back to napping, only once a day but relatively consistently again. I appreciate your response and your willingness to walk us back from the ledge. Now we’ll know what to look for and how best to respond in the future.

  5. Help! My daughter just turned 8 months old and all of a sudden her daytime naps have gone haywire or ceased to happen at all! I think it might be related to development (she just started taking a few crawling steps and also loves to stand and hold onto things).

    I nurse her to sleep for naps but she awakens when I put her in her crib and doesn’t go back to sleep (she used to be able to do this before everything went haywire). I also nurse her before bedtime at night but for some reason she *knows* it’s nighttime and puts herself to sleep without fussing.

    Before these developmental things happened, she was sleeping from 8:30pm-7:30pm with maybe 1 wake up now and then to feed. Her morning nap was 2-2.5 hours after waking (slept for 1 hr 15 min) and her afternoon nap was the same: approx. 2-2.5 hours after waking (similar sleep duration). She sometimes needed a 3rd catnap to get her through to bedtime (we start bedtime at 8:00pm).

    Now, she shows tired signs but when I put her in her crib to nap, she becomes wide awake and refuses to sleep. She crawls all over her crib and pulls herself up to her knees holding onto the crib railing. She rolls and plays and doesn’t cry…until about 45 minutes into her “nap” when she wants to get out. When I take her out, she will play for about an hour and then becomes very fussy and shows major tired signs…so I nurse her and she falls dead asleep for about 2 hours. She awakens from that nap and shows sleepy signs again about 2 hours after awakening…so we do the whole nap routine again and it fails, just like the 1st nap.

    I know she’s too young to drop the morning nap and I know she’s so overtired by the time she can actually fall asleep for the 2nd nap that she just crashes. It’s not good for her and I’m at my wit’s end.

    Is there something else I can do or is this just a phase we’ll need to ride out?

    • @ Caro- If your son is awake for long periods in the night (2-4am) and sleeping 12-14 hours at night, you may need some schedule adjustments. Here is a link to a sample schedule for 8 month olds to use for reference:
      You may want to cut out some of the night feeds to help him sleep longer in the night too?!
      Best wishes!

      @ Karen- It sounds like the 8-10 month sleep regression! Have you read this article?

      For nap help we do offer a free nap guide called, 7 Common Napping Mistakes. You can get this guide for free by entering your email address here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/free-baby-nap-guide/

      Many babies master going to sleep at night before naps, keep up the hard work and and consistency, as it may be a phase that you both get through quickly. If you’d like to be more proactive or if the problems persist, we also have an ebook available for purchase. This ebook, Mastering Naps and Schedules is available for purchase at http://babynapswell.com . You can purchase this book directly online and we will then send you the link to download the book to your computer. You can purchase the book with a personalized sleep consultation too.
      Good luck!

      @ Len- So glad that your consistency paid off and she is napping again!

  6. My Daughter (2 years 7 months) gave up her day nap just before her 2nd birthday, but reguarly falls asleep in the car etc. If she sleeps in the day she wakes at 5am at the latest. (We have always battled with her early rising.) When she sleeps (usually 1-2 hours) she wakes up in an awful mood. However, she obviously needs a day nap sometimes. I just let her crash ever so often. My son is 8 months and until a week ago never napped for longer than 30 mins and often only 2 naps a day. He was always tired. (Although he’s sleep 12-14 hours at night) He has just started napping for 1 hour plus, but has started waking during the night instead.(from 2- 4am, he’s all smiles, if he’s in our bed, and wants to play he’s working on crawling too) He breast feeds every 2/3 hours at night still and I always feed him to sleep 🙁 I’m hoping that the improved day naps will help the night.

  7. @Haidi, thanks for your reply. I will check out Nicole’s schedule. Best of luck getting your little one back on track!

  8. @Sara, I’m afraid I can’t help you because my son’s so-called routine totally went out the window in the last couple of weeks. 🙁 I think he’s having separation anxiety.

    Nicole has a 7-month schedule that looks very sensible.

    @Nicole, thanks for your advice! I will definitely try it as my son’s bedtime has steadily become later and later. It is now 8:30pm! It used to be 6pm — with the time change, that still should only be 7pm.

  9. @Haidi: I have twin daughters who are 7.5 months old and I’m trying to transition from 4 naps to 3 as well. Do you mind sharing your son’s daily schedule, including when he naps and eats? I’d most appreciate it b/c my challenge right now is trying to get them to stay awake longer between naps but also making sure their eating schedule isn’t completely thrown off and that they aren’t taking naps on a near-empty belly. Thanks!!

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