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 or sometimes it might feel you are trying to be 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.

If I asked you what’s more important? Water or food? Which would you choose? Well, if you are like my husband, you might not like to drink any water. :) But, of course, our bodies need water and can only go approximately one week without it before we’d die. We could go 4 to 6 weeks, on average, without food and the record without sleep is almost 19 days. The actual number varies depending on you and the circumstances and, apparently, it’s easier to go without food, if you do have water. I don’t really want to find out. The bottom line is that we need food, water, and sleep, to survive. Does the same apply to naps and night sleep for our babies?

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 old, 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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How much is your baby sleeping, day and night?