How Daycare Impacts Your Baby’s Sleep Schedule and Habits

When it comes to daycare, many parents have no shortage of questions, ranging from “What’s the staff to child ratio at this facility” to “How on earth am I going to beat traffic and manage a 5:30 p.m. pick-up time?!” But here’s one question you may not have thought to ask yourself: “How is daycare going to affect my child’s sleep?”

Some Babies Sleep Better at Daycare Than They Do At Home

Most daycares operate on a schedule for all children, including infants. If you haven’t adopted a schedule at home, you may find that your baby responds so well to this kind of consistent routine that he’s sleeping far better at daycare than he does at home! For instance, babies who struggle with naps at home may nap like a dream while at daycare. If this is true for you, and if you want your little one to sleep as well at home as he does at daycare, consider asking the daycare to write out their schedule and then try to duplicate it at home as much as you can.

Your baby may also sleep better at daycare because she knows it’s expected of her. Children are experts at knowing how to “read” adults. If your child has learned that her daycare caregiver won’t rock/sing/nurse her to sleep, then she’s much more likely to sleep without fuss when she’s at daycare. But at home, it’s a different story! If your child knows that you’ll spend hours rocking her to sleep, then she’ll likely require you to do it. If you suspect this is the case, consider weaning your child off her sleep associations at home (especially since you know she can sleep without them at daycare!).

Some Babies Sleep Worse at Daycare Than They Do At Home

Other babies fall into this category. This is especially true for babies who have highly-structured nap schedules and routines at home. It can be difficult for these little ones to adjust to a different schedule at daycare. For example, if your child is used to napping at a certain time each day, or if he’s used to napping in a certain way (with the shades drawn, with a certain CD playing, etc.), it can be very difficult for him to nap at daycare when that same environment isn’t provided. What’s more, daycare is usually a more stimulating place than home — there’s lots of noise, lots of toys, lots to see and do. This extra stimulation can make it hard for a baby to wind down enough to take a nap.

If this is the case, consider writing out your child’s daily routine and asking your daycare providers to follow it as best they can. You may also want to consider sending familiar items from home that will help reproduce your child’s napping environment. These might include sheets and bedding, a “lovey”, a lullaby CD, etc. A good daycare will be willing to work with you and will attempt to accommodate your child’s needs.


Your Baby’s Temperament Matters

If you’re struggling with daycare-related sleep challenges, it’s important to remember that your baby’s unique personality and temperament play a big part. Some babies are great at quickly adapting to new settings, new people, and new schedules. Highly adaptable babies will likely have no problem adjusting to different settings and sleep schedules, and for those babies, daycare may not present any real sleep challenges.

Other babies, however, are much slower to adapt. Slow-to-adapt babies have a much harder time dealing with change, and they tend to need lots of consistency. If your baby is slow to adapt, then it may be hard for him to transition easily between the setting and schedule at daycare and the setting and schedule at home. If this is the case for you, do the best you can to make the transition between home and daycare smooth and easy, and work to build in as much consistency as you can at home.

When Should You Make A Change?

If your child’s getting less sleep in daycare than you’d like, monitor her for a few weeks. If she seems to be coping well, then make the best of it. If you feel that your baby’s lack of sleep is affecting her health and well-being, however, consider making a change. For example, an in-home daycare with fewer children might be a good choice. Or hiring a private nanny might be an option, especially if you only need care a few days a week, or for a few hours each day. And there are ways to offset the cost of a private nanny. The practice of “nanny sharing” allows families to split the use of the same nanny and share the cost. If you do opt for a nanny, make sure to talk with the prospective nanny about following your schedule!

Daycare is a reality for children of working parents. For some, it may not affect sleep much (or it may even improve it!). For others, however, daycare will negatively impact sleep. If that’s the case for your child, educate yourself about healthy sleep habits, do everything you can to implement them at home, and then do what you can to make sure your daycare provider is implementing them, too.

Daycare can affect your baby’s sleeping habits and schedule, but you can help! 

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59 thoughts on “How Daycare Impacts Your Baby’s Sleep Schedule and Habits”

  1. Hello!
    My 2 year old has been in daycare over a year now and has no issues napping there (1 nap x 2 hours). I’m finding the last month he’s so overtired come bedtime, he’s so hysterical and there’s just no settling him. It can take over an hour for him to go to sleep.
    I’ve tried earlier bedtime, later bedtime, no stimulation before bed and nothing seems to be working. It’s exhausting 🙁
    Do you have any suggestions?
    Thanks xx

    • Hi @Hailey –
      Thank you for writing to us about your two year old! Sorry to hear that bedtime has become so rough lately! Have you checked out our sample schedules to make sure that bedtime and wake up time are at good times for him? Here’s a link:
      An earlier bedtime may be a good thing, especially since he is so overtired when it’s bedtime, and you may have to keep trying and playing around with the time to find the right one! You sound like you’re on the right track with keeping things mellow and no stimulation before bed, and hopefully, you have a solid and calming bedtime routine too?
      For more help, I’d recommend checking out our one on one consultations, where an expert sleep consultant can really fine tune and get you all on a good schedule! please contact us if you’d like more info about this! And hang in there Hailey!

  2. Hello,
    My 13 month old is a light sleeper, easily stimulated and needs a certain setting to go to sleep that he doesnt get at daycare. He wakes up around 6am , doesnt have a nap at daycare until 1pm, rarely actually sleeps, and by the time i pick him up, hes asleep in the car and is down for the night. If i dont feed him in the car, he will not get to eat dinner. This causes frequent inconsolable night wakings and snacks in the middle of the night. i am exhausted, i feel like i havent slept through the night in over a year and im even more exhausted now because im pregnant with number 2. Unfortunatly, a change in child care is not possible at this moment as i am on a government subsidized program. Any advice on what to do is welcome.

    • Hi Grace,
      Thank you so much for writing! I’m sorry to hear you’re struggling so much with your son’s sleep schedule and daycare! This definitely sounds like a very challenging situation. I hear you that’s there’s no flexibility in the daycare you can use, but is there any way the administrators can adjust your son’s schedule or nap environment, maybe by putting him in a younger room for naps? If you haven’t talked to them, that is probably the best first step. If they aren’t flexible, or can’t be, please email us – we’d love to get you some more resources to help! Hang in there!

  3. I’m struggling with the 2-1 nap transition with my 12 month old. It’s dictated by daycare because she moved to the toddler room. Although she’s been in daycare since she was 6 months old, she’s never taken good naps there. At home, she naps well and sleeps 11-12 hours overnight.

    Nap at daycare is from 12:30-2:30. Lately she’s only been napping for 30-45 minutes. I follow a 4.5 wake time between nap and bedtime so when she comes home, that means she’s going to sleep at the earliest 5:30. With an early bedtime, she’s waking up between 5am-5:30am. 6:30 is my desired wake time but when she wakes at 5am and then doesn’t nap until 12:30, I just feel like she’s an overtired mess at home. Do I just look to the weekends for her to catch up with her sleep? Typically Saturday’s are bad with short naps, but on Sunday she takes longer naps and then Monday comes and we’re right back with short naps, early bedtimes and early wakes. I feel so bad for her like I’m depriving her of sleep. Is there anything I can do?

    • Hi @Stephanie – Thank you for writing to us, and sorry to hear that your daughter is struggling with naps at daycare! Have you asked about her being offered two naps? Perhaps the daycare can work with you for just a little bit until she is more able to take only one nap and make it to bedtime? I’m not sure what time you pick her up, but if there is time for a short nap, that may help get her to a later bedtime and later wake time too? And yes, helping her catch up on the weekends should help too! Good luck Stephanie!

  4. My little one is almost 15 mo and has always had excellent at naps at home (2 x 1.5 hrs). She just started daycare and is forced to go from 2 naps to 1. On the weekend, we do one nap and she seems to fine, but we don’t put her down until 1 and she sleeps till 3. So this gives us the proper awake time before bed (7/7:30). At daycare they put them down at 11:30/12 and she barely sleeps for an hour so really never sleeps past 1pm. Some days she makes it to bedtime okay, other days it makes her extremely fussy and she’s obviously exhausted. This has caused consistent night wakings that can’t be self soothed. One night she will sleep through the night, the next she won’t. I’m at a loss but can only put her to bed so early! Last night she was wide awake until bed time and seemed so happy, and then woke at 4:30 and would not go back down. Ugh tired mom over here.

    • Hi @Lorin – Thanks for writing to us and sorry that the daycare schedule has been tough for your little one! You’re definitely not alone! On those short nap daycare days, have you tried offering a second nap in the afternoon after you pick her up? I’m not sure if that will work with the timing of her pick up, but perhaps that will help? Otherwise, keep offering bedtime early on those short nap days. Hopefully with a little more time, she’ll adjust to the new routine and schedule! Good luck Lorin!

  5. Hi! I hope you are still reviewing comments for this post. My 3 month old just started day care and is on his second week. He had a pretty consistent 50-60 minute nap schedule every other hour during my maternity leave. At daycare, it seems like he’s having a lot of trouble sleeping at all. Twenty minutes here, thirty minutes there. He is so incredibly exhausted when he gets home and I’m not sure if it’s too early but I’m concerned about it affecting his health. He was a pretty good night-time sleeper before (waking up once around 3am) but now he he is falling asleep about an hour after getting home (around 6-6:30pm) and having trouble getting ready for bedtime which in the past has been 8-8:30 pm. Should I get him ready for bed and move his bedtime up and nix the nap after daycare? I don’t think there’s much I can do about the complete opposite sleep environment between home and daycare. There are 10 babies in the room, music and lights constantly on, etc. I mostly just miss my baby and don’t feel like he’s thriving in the same way he was at home when he was able to get more naps. Thoughts?

    • Hi @Rebecca – Thanks for writing to us and sorry to hear that sleep has become rough since your baby started daycare! This is pretty common, and he may still adjust in the coming days and weeks, and start to nap better! On daycare days, do consider an earlier bedtime, but likely he needs at least a short nap after, to help him catch up a little from the shorter naps in the day. Perhaps the daycare will work with you a little and offer a bit more of a soothing environment, if you can ask! Being away from baby is definitely tough, and I am sure that you miss him like crazy! Again, I hope that things smooth out as he gets used to the routine and schedule there! Good luck Rebecca!!

  6. Thank you for this article. I’m struggling quite a bit with LOs daycare. He is 13 months old and is an EXCELLENT sleeper at home…. he will even get his lovey and paci and let me know when he needs naps and i just put him in his crib and he sleeps. He’s magical in this way. So, when he’s at home, he takes 3 1-2 hour naps and sleeps at least 12 hrs at night. At daycare, for a 10 hour span, he usually only sleeps 30minutes. When he gets home around 430- 5 he passes out and doesnt wake up until 630 to 730 in the morning. So, hes getting sleep, but at the cost of: we dont get to see him and he’s missing dinner often. He’s a constantly happy baby, so I think the daycare thinks he doesnt need naps unless he passes out or something. I dont know. I’ve mentioned my concern multiple times, but it feels like my concern keeps getting buried under “we are trying.” I believe they have tried a little. They are kind of my only option for childcare and i just feel a bit stuck. I have only voiced my concerns to and encouraged his teachers, so Im wondering if you could give me any advice on how to approach the director. should i bring research with me? i hate the idea of offending, but after a month of seeing LO very seldom on weekdays, my heart is aching and im ready to bring a presentation if needed.

    • Hi @Megan, thanks for writing to us. I’m so sorry you’ve been struggling with your daycare not giving your son the consistency he needs to take a restorative nap. It does sound like he is really missing out a lot since he’s sleeping so much during the week when he’s home on the weekends! If it was me, and since it is your only viable option for daycare, I would definitely bring it up to the director in a nice way and see what solutions you can come up with together. Sharing some of our articles would be a great option as they are short and concise, rather than giving them an entire book and expecting them to read it. Here is a link to a sample toddler schedule that would be a great starting point in my opinion:
      I know a lot of daycares do transition many babies down to 1 nap earlier than they are actually ready for it because they have a mixed age range and so they go with the older babies or majority, so that may be something you end up having to work with, which is also not the end of the world. I do agree with your concerns though since your son is such an excellent sleeper that they may need a refresher on the importance of that part of their job.
      Good luck! I hope this helps! Let us know how it all turns out.

  7. hello! My daughter is almost 5 months and started daycare about 2 weeks ago. I gave our daycare (home daycare with only 5-6 kids) a schedule and they dont seem to be following it outside of the first nap that she takes pretty much right when she arrives. I sleep trained her at 12 weeks and since shes been sleeping 12 hours a night and able to put herself back to sleep without our intervention. Her nap lengths are always up in the air sometimes 20 minutes, sometimes 3 hours! So it’s not easy to pin down an exact schedule for the daycare to follow. but i did provide them with what i’ve found to work well for us at home. Every 1.5 hrs of wake time, she goes down for a nap. But with all of the daycare stimulation it seems like she isn’t falling asleep that often and when she does its 20 minute intervals (outside of the morning nap-she seems to do well for this one).
    Since starting daycare shes had a couple episdoes of waking up in the middle of the night unhappy and unable to self soothe. We thought maybe it’s the 4 m regression but it hasn’t been consistent. We found out one of those days the day care let her sleep for 6 hours during the day (multiple naps, not all at once) so we told them over 4 hrs is way too much sleep. They’ve been better but nothing is consistent. Should we give her a few more weeks to get a bit more of a routine at daycare? Should we be more strict with the daycare to help keep her schedule? They refused to let me bring her sound machine and shes in the same room as all the bigger kids so i think theres too much stimulation for her to wind down. Any thoughts..advice? thank you!

    • Hi Kasey,
      Thanks for using The Baby Sleep Site as a resource! I’m sorry to hear you’re having so much trouble getting your baby adjusted to daycare. It can be hard at this age with the regression, but also it does sound like she’ll have to develop some new positive sleep associations at the daycare, since she’s in a new environment and doesn’t have her white noise machine there. It can take some babies a good 2-3 weeks to get used to the new environment and caregiver, so if you’re generally happy with the care outside of the scheduling, you may want to stick with it. How strict to be with a provider is really a personal decision – my own experience is that most daycares will try to work with the parent on most things, but they have to balance the needs of all of their kids. Maybe some others can weigh in in the comments. I hope this helps, and hang in there!

  8. Hi My daughter is 12 months now and she’s been in daycare since 8 weeks old monday-friday. We started night sleep training at 6 months and it worked. Unfortunately, the nap sleep training was never a success. She never naps at home unless I bf her to sleep. She never naps at daycare either. They said once she falls asleep on the floor, they put her in the crib and she wakes up automatically. (Same as home). Now that she’s beginning to transition to the toddler room, I’m worried she won’t nap during nap time and it’s going to be a problem.

    • @Paula – Thank you for sharing and for reading. Naptime training is definitely and usually much more challenging than night-time training. It’s definitely possible that she just hasn’t learned how to transition to sleep from a more stimulating atmosphere / during the daylight hours. We’d be happy to take a closer look if it does become a problem or if you just decide you’d like more support during this time. Just let us know. Hang in there, Paula!

  9. My almost 6 month old started going to day care 2 days a week when I went back to work – he was about 4 months old. The remaining weekdays he spends in our home with my mom. He was sleeping very well at night before I went back to work, but then he started waking up frequently (usually more than 6 times at night!) and can’t get himself back to sleep without us coming in to soothe him. We thought it was just the 4 month sleep regression, but it is still going on. Recently we have realized that the nights after he is in daycare he sleeps through the night without issue, usually just waking up once after about 9 hours to eat. He doesn’t nap very well when he’s at day care, and he follows a pretty regular schedule when he’s at home so we expected that daycare would make his night sleeping worse, not better! We can’t figure out why daycare seems to help him sleep at night, and what we can try to do to replicate that in his days at home.

    • Hi Hannah,
      Thank you for using The Baby Sleep Site as a resource! Wow, your experience is the opposite of what we usually see with daycare schedules 🙂 We’d need to know a lot more about his home schedule and his daycare schedule to make a guess about what’s going on, but it may be just that something about his home schedule is not quite as age-appropriate as it could be. Please feel free to email us at [email protected] with your schedule, and we can try to help. Thanks!

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