Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
Focus on Naps
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Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child

5th Edition: 
A Step-by-Step Program for a Good Night's Sleep

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Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child

5th Edition: 
A Step-by-Step Program for a Good Night's Sleep

Buy now

Report 3Focus on Naps


When naps are going well, the bedtime might be a little later, but when naps are not going well, the bedtime needs to be a littler earlier. These reports include paying attention to early bedtimes.

Here’s an account from the mother of a 3-month-old infant who successfully accomplished the midmorning nap and helped her baby sleep better at night:

It started at just 12 weeks. Katie was so fatigued she would cry for hours, screaming completely out of control, scratching her head, pulling her ears. Holding her didn’t help, so it wasn’t hard not to pick her up—she screamed anyway.

Instituting a new day schedule was easy. As soon as she started getting cranky, I rushed her to her crib to sleep. She would watch her mobile, and then sleep for hours at a time. The first week, she was so tired that she only stayed up thirty to fifty minutes at a time and slept three to four hours in between. The key for me was to get her down before she got really upset.

The afternoon was when she was awake the longest, and then it was hard getting her to sleep at night. The first few nights under our new regime were the worst. Positive reinforcement from my doctor was important then. I had to hear several times that this “cure” was the best thing to do.

The first night under our new strategy, my husband lay on the floor in her room (I guess to make sure she didn’t choke) while I sat crying in our living room. Finally, after forty-five minutes, Katie was quiet! Hurray! Each night she cried less and less, and I handled it better and better. After a week, her hysteria was gone! Sure, she cried a little sometimes, but now she was on a schedule. She napped two or three times a day, two to four hours at a time, and slept twelve to fifteen hours a night. Sleeping promotes more sleep, and makes it easier to fall asleep. It’s a catch-22.

Writing down the sleep patterns helped, too. For one week I kept track of every time I put her down and every time I picked her up from her nap. At the end of the week I noticed a distinct pattern. She fell into it herself!

Here is an account from a mother who started early with her second child:

As patients of Dr. Weissbluth, we were ready to commit ourselves to promoting good sleep habits in our children. When our first son, Hayden, was born, it was easier said than done. Being new parents and not knowing what the different cries meant, we would pick Hayden up at the slightest whimper. We were quick believers when at 4 months we were a bit more seasoned and decided not to rush in at the first cry. The cry lasted fifteen minutes, and then it was smooth sailing; he gradually went to bed earlier and earlier until we reached a 6:00 p.m. bedtime with a 6:30 a.m. wake-up, and then naps at 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. This pattern still holds true minus the first nap, and bedtime is at 6:30 p.m. at almost 3 years old. He is social, happy, sweet, and most of all well rested.

With the birth of our second child, a girl, Lily, we were busy with Hayden, now a toddler, and were quite the experts on all the “signs” babies give out. We had a rule: If she was sleepy and not crying (even at a few days old), she was to be put in her bassinet. We still played with her and enjoyed her, but we were not walking around the house with her twenty-four hours a day. We also provided Lily with the same nighttime routine we give Hayden: dim the lights and give a massage, bath, bottle, book, and bed. This prompted Lily to develop a quicker sleep schedule, and we found by 2.5 months she was sleeping through the late-night feedings. By 3 months she was going to bed at 5:00 to 5:30 p.m. and sleeping until 6:30 a.m. Also at 3 months we began putting her down for her midmorning nap two hours after she woke up, and that began her nap schedule. Now Lily, almost one, wakes up at 6:30 a.m., takes her first nap at 8:15 a.m., takes her second nap at 12:30 p.m., and is in the bathtub by 5:00 p.m. and asleep by 5:30 p.m.

We are vigilant about not letting either child nap in the car, strollers, or for that matter miss naps or have delayed naps. Once our children are in their cribs for the night, we don’t hear from them until the morning . . . no night waking or games! We greet them each morning with a smile on their faces.

We are committed to having well-rested children and will defend our decisions with any naysayer suggesting we don’t get to be with our children at night or we are too strict with the daytime schedule. We find too often it is the parent who is putting the child on their schedule instead of vice versa.

Babies yearn for routines and respond unbelievably to them. Again, we feel that we have two of the happiest, sweetest children, and knowing that teaching them good sleep habits and, more important, the ability to fall asleep unassisted is the best gift you can ever give!

Here is one parent’s account of how shortening the interval of wakefulness during the day between naps helped her child nap better and sleep better at night.

In November, our third daughter, Rebecca, was born. At that time I prided myself on how well I schlepped our new baby everywhere and how wonderfully she slept in and out of the car seat all day.

Our days were filled with errands and car pools; Rebecca would be nursing and napping on and off all day. What a cooperative baby, I used to think. But I was so exhausted by evening that I found the only way to survive was to sleep with her, waking up every hour or so to shift her so that she could nurse on the other side. I knew then that having her in bed with me wasn’t such a terrific idea, but it was the only way for me to get any rest.

When Rebecca turned 5 months old, I placed her in her crib instead of going to sleep with her at my breast. As I anticipated, every few hours she began to cry, expecting me to be by her side. I would quickly run into her room and rock and nurse her back to sleep . . . until the next time she woke up.

And so our next pattern began. She would wake up every few hours, and I would faithfully run in and get her back to sleep. I was certain she would grow out of this bad habit . . . our other two had.  A few months passed. By now Rebecca was weaned to a bottle and I was sure things would change for the better. That didn’t happen. In fact, things got worse. There were many nights when Rebecca would get up every hour on the hour. I tried letting her cry, fifteen minutes at a time, but it was much easier to just go in and give her a bottle.  When Rebecca was 1 year old, this pattern of frequent waking continued. It was difficult leaving her with a babysitter on the occasional evening we went out. I knew that within an hour or so of our leaving she would be up crying for me. I actually felt sick leaving her.

When Rebecca was almost 13 months old we went to see Dr. Weissbluth. When we left his office I felt prepared for battle—armed with all the mental ammunition I needed to change Rebecca’s nightly wakings. We started the program of shorter intervals of wakefulness the next day.

In a week’s time, the change in Rebecca was phenomenal! She was always a happy baby, but when she began to sleep better, she became even more relaxed, more affectionate, and more fun to be with.  The change in her sleeping pattern has had an effect on everyone in the family. I don’t yell and lose my patience with my older children quite as much, for I am better rested and I feel so much better physically and emotionally.  This has been one of the most rewarding and positive experiences that we have shared as parents. We are so proud of Rebecca and also pat ourselves on the backs for a job well done.

Shhh! Rebecca’s sleeping!

Here is one mother’s account of how an early bedtime did not help her child become better rested and able to take two naps, but subsequently it did help when the single nap was delayed until midday.  

Sophie has always been inconsistent when it comes to napping. Some days she would sleep for half an hour, others she wouldn’t sleep at all. And if I was lucky, she would take an occasional hour nap. I decided it was time to get help before the situation became worse.

Sophie was 13 months old when I met with Dr. Weissbluth. She was sleeping for thirty minutes in the morning; her midday naps were unpredictable. At night, getting her to sleep was even more frustrating. Sophie had always been a great nighttime sleeper. Then, all of a sudden [cumulative sleepiness], she was waking up several times throughout the night. Not only was her mental state unbearable, but physically she did not look well. As for me, I was becoming mommy the monster. There were days when I thought I was going to lose it. I blamed myself for her sleeping disorder, even though I was doing everything right—putting her to bed early, keeping a consistent nap time, and putting her down in her crib for her naps instead of allowing her to sleep on the go.

After looking over Sophie’s sleep log, Dr. Weissbluth gave me several options: Try an earlier bedtime (5:00 p.m.), lots of stimulation when awake, and soothing her longer at night. The goal was to allow her to catch up on her sleep.

My husband and I put the plan to work. He supported the decision of an earlier bedtime, even though his time with her was already limited. Unfortunately, Sophie’s sleeping did not improve. She continued to take one nap for thirty or forty-five minutes and then skip her midday nap. She and I were both exhausted, and my frustration level was sky-high at this point.

During our follow-up conversation, Dr. Weissbluth asked if I would consider dropping her midmorning nap. He recommended the continuation of an earlier bedtime (5:00 p.m.), which, surprisingly, she welcomed. Although I was hesitant to drop her midmorning nap, I was determined to get my happy child back.

So I put plan B to work. For the first several days, Sophie could barely keep her eyes open past 10:30 a.m. I was able to keep her up until 11:00 a.m. and then 11:30 a.m. for the next several days. She continued to take thirty-minute naps. I called Dr. Weissbluth and he reminded me that she was still trying to catch up on sleep, that it would take several days for her to feel rested. After day four, she was staying awake until 12:30 and sleeping for an hour. And she was sleeping through the night—no more nighttime waking. By the end of the week, she was starting her nap at 12:30 and waking up at 2:00 p.m. And Sophie and Mommy were happy.

The early bedtime is a non-negotiable component of healthy sleep training.  If you want your child to sleep soundly and wake up well rested, you have to marry the idea of an early bedtime.


  1. I have been implementing an earlier bedtime and have been trying to catch the drowsy signs to get my 11 week old down for naps and bedtime. Right now I feel like we are playing catch up from all the sleep deprivation from the last few weeks. The last 2 days, naps have been a little better but are still rough. I currently get him in bed between 6:00-7:00 but he doesn’t always go down easily. He wakes a couple times at night to nurse and doesn’t wake for the day until late- around 10:00 am. I’m wondering if I should be waking him in the morning but I feel like he’s so tired and want to let him sleep.

    1. Comparing “the last few weeks” with the “last 2 days”, “naps have been a little better”: Congratulations!! Please continue to focus on drowsy signs in the evening and early bedtimes because night sleep circadian rhythm begins to emerge around 6 weeks of age. Nap rhythms begin to emerge around 3-4 months of age. So be more focused on night sleep now and go with the flow regarding naps, for now. Please do not wake him in the morning. Because of his age, be patient, trial and error will be needed, and be optimistic. Blog Post #14 (Be Flexible) and Parents’ Reports #2 (Early Bedtimes) might be helpful. Good Luck!

  2. Hi Marc

    My 5 month old daughter wakes from her last nap of the day (her third) around 3:00pm. We then try and keep her awake for a 6:00pm bedtime. We follow the same bedtime routine each time and she doesn’t take long to drift off. However, she wakes up after 45 minutes every time and needs help to resettle- sometimes 4 or 5 attempts over a 30 minute period. She then sleeps a few hours until her midnight feed. Is it possible that she believes her 6:00pm bedtime is actually an evening nap? Do you have any advice on how we can get her to sleep through from 6:00pm?


    1. How does she look between 5-6pm? Please give a detailed description of her, mood, demeanor, sociability, and activity level.

  3. Hi Marc

    Between 5-6pm:
    we go for a walk
    she has a bath
    has a bottle
    we read her a book
    put her in her sleep sack

    We then go into her room, put the white noise on and she has a cuddle/sucks on her dummy, we put her in her bed and walk out.

    She is often tired and yawns during the walk because, by that point, she has been awake for around 2 hours. She becomes more alert when she has her bath- smiles and giggles. She doesn’t fall asleep with her bottle but is disinterested in the book. When putting her in her sleep sack she will often grizzle. She then goes to sleep very quickly with only a couple of minutes of settling.


  4. Hi- Thanks for sending me to Blog Post 9. I have been keeping a record over the past week of my daughter’s awake times and the length of her naps. I have noticed that she starts showing drowsy signs within one and a half hours of waking up. I had been keeping her up for two hours between naps before reading your blog- watching the clock and not my baby!- but I now start to settle her for a nap as soon as I see these signs. This has led to a fourth nap later in the afternoon, with her waking up from this no later than 4:45pm. On some days she has fought the fourth nap and has only had 20 minutes of sleep. Do babies find it harder to nap later in the afternoon?

    She seems to show drowsy signs after this last nap of the day within an hour of waking up. She has had some afternoons where she has woken up from the nap and started yawning and rubbing her eyes after 53 minutes awake and at other times, she has shown these drowsy signs within 10 minutes after waking up. Her bedtime is still between 6-6:30.

    We’ve noticed somewhat of an improvement since my initial blog post- she has had a few nights this week where she has either slept through from bedtime until her first night feed, or has required only a couple of attempts at resettling after waking 45 minutes after being put down. I am hoping that if we keep responding to her drowsy signs and trying to reduce her wake window before bedtime, she will feel better rested and start sleeping through.

    1. Congratulations! Nap sleep rhythms begin to emerge around 3-4 months of age and are well established by 6 months of age. Because your daughter is about 6 months old, establish an age appropriated nap schedule so that it is in synch with her biological nap rhythm for better quality day sleep. At the same time, the bedtime might have to be temporarily moved much earlier until naps improve. After she naps better, the bedtime might be moved later. This combination of imposing an age appropriate nap schedule and moving the bedtime temporarily earlier is described in detail in my book along with the speed bumps along the way. Be optimistic! You will be successful because you are already sensitive to the differences between her alert and drowsy states. The root cause that set all of this in motion was an old customary bedtime that was innocently a little too late.
      Sweet Dreams

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