A set nap is when your baby can have nap time at the same time every day. Find out why that is a benefit, what age baby might be ready, what times baby’s naps should be, and when those set naps might be disrupted.
“Set Naps” describes when you have your child’s nap time be at the same time every day no matter what time the child woke in the morning or woke from the last nap.
I have often been asked about set naps over the years. Parents wonder when they should move baby to set naps and stop worrying so much about wake windows (wake time length) and sleep cues.
I am a bit leery of the idea of telling you what age to do set naps. I think having the idea of “set naps” in your mind can set you up for failing to recognize when the child needs more sleep for some reason, needs nap time moved back, or needs you for some reason.
As you move to set naps, remember that even with set naps, there will be times your baby will need nap to start earlier or go longer for whatever reason. You will still need to be aware of your baby’s needs.
WHY HAVE SET NAPS?
When your body sleeps at the same times every day, it gets tired at those times. It is definitely preferable to be pretty consistent from day to day.
Some moms do find that set naps can fix chronic short nappers. I think a big reason for this is just training the body to be tired at certain times and awake at certain times. At the very least, it makes your life a little easier and a little less concerned about what time nap needs to start. The constant analyzing is put behind you.
A great thing about the time when baby comes to be more consistent with naps is it is easier for you to plan your days around baby’s naps.
WHAT AGE TO START SET NAPS?
I find babies are typically ready for “set naps” around 6-7 months old. You will want your child taking 2-3 naps and on a consistent feeding schedule (usually the four hour schedule is happening when baby is ready for this).
>>>Read: When and How to Move Baby to 4 Hour Schedule
I don’t want you to have your baby reach 6 months old and you decide naps are at 10 and 2 and never stray from it until baby grows into a toddler and drops to one nap.
I would prefer you think of “set naps” as naps start at the optimal time for baby until it needs to change.
If you follow my baby summaries, you will see that waketime length slowly increases over time. So if you decided that baby will be up for 1.5 hours in the morning and just stick with that, you will miss as baby needs to be up for 1 hour 40 minutes, then 1 hour 45 minutes, etc.
So nap time can be set UNTIL it needs to change.
Nap time can be set until it needs to change.
And it will need to change. And it will need to change often.
There will come a point when your child reaches a pretty consistent nap schedule…until you get into the pre-dropping phase.
WHAT TIMES SHOULD NAPS BE?
Nap times will range from child to child. By the time your child is old enough and consistent enough for “set naps,” she is likely up for 1.5-2 hours at a time before the nap starts.
If your child does not have a third nap, it can be longer–usually 2.5-4 hours.
You will have to go through the steps of figuring out optimal waketime length. Once you know your baby’s perfect wake window, you can set nap time.
FLEXIBILITY WITH SET NAPS
You need to be watchful of the set nap and not just slip into a state of complacency and miss signs that things need to change.
Watch for signs that your child needs her “set nap” time moved back. The biggest sign for this is that your baby will play in the crib for a long time before falling asleep.
So say your set nap time was 9 AM. Your baby starts to play in the crib instead of fall asleep, so you decide you better try 9:10 AM.
>>>Read: Little One is Playing in the Crib/Bed Instead of Sleeping
Watch for signs that your child needs her nap time length to be longer. This often follows the dropping of the third nap. As that nap is dropped, your baby initially might need that time that was spent napping in that third nap spent sleeping at other times. This can be daytime naps and/or bedtime.
>>>Read: Dropping the 3rd Nap: Impact on Baby’s Schedule
Your baby might also need a longer nap than usually because of:
- A sleep disruption earlier in the day or week
- Growth spurt (babies need more sleep when they are growing more)
Allow extra sleep when your child needs it.
Don’t freak out when your child veers from this “set nap.” Again, sleep disruptions, sickness, or growth spurts can mean your child needs to go down for a nap earlier than usual.
I find that when my baby needs to go down for a nap earlier than normal, she still sleeps until her normal wake up time. For example, if her typical morning nap is 9-11 AM, but I can tell she needs a nap earlier, I will put her down for a nap at 8:45 AM. She will typically still sleep until 11 AM.
If I try to keep her up until the time she is “supposed” to nap instead of putting her down earlier, she often won’t sleep as well because she is overly tired by that point.
There might be times your baby wakes early for various reasons. Again, make adjustments. Sometimes, you might still start the next naptime and the normal “set naptime.” But you also might need to start the next nap earlier than usual.
So if naps are 9-11 and 1-3, but baby wakes at 10:30 AM instead of 11:00 AM, you have to decide what to do with the afternoon nap. This is when you pay attention to your baby.
You might need to start nap anywhere between 12:30-1:00. You might be able to just wait until 1:00.
In most cases, when your baby is at the point of moving to set naps, you will do nap at 1:00 PM as usual. But there will be times you will need to start nap earlier.
As your baby gets older, your “set naps” will get more set. A 19 month old (who is down to one nap) is a lot more consistent day to day and week to week than the 9 month old.
Let me know if you have questions about set naps. For me, it was never a day I woke up and said, “From this day forward, naps will be at the same time each day!” It was more of a realization that the baby was so consistent and the schedule was so in place that we pretty much were on a set nap routine.