As I've mentioned in previous posts (see here and here), my biggest sleep issue with my own daughter was naps. I don't know if I'm just horrible with Google searches, but I couldn't seem to find any answers about correctly timing the naps.
In this 3-part blog mini-series, I'll go over how to time naps according to different ages so that hopefully YOU don't have as much trouble figuring out naps!
Last week I talked all about how (and why) I use circadian rhythms to determine naptime for babies older than 6 months. If you missed it, go check that out before moving on :)
By 18 months old, most babies have been transitioned to one nap, though if you let them, some babies can hold onto two naps until more like 20 months. When Baby goes down to one nap, we want that nap to start between noon and 1pm (closer to 12 or 12:30pm if she dropped to one nap around 15-16 months, but more on the 12:30/1pm side if she held onto two naps a bit longer) to be in line with her circadian rhythms. Then, once the nap is firmly pushed to 1pm (by about 24 months), you don't need to move the start time of the nap ever again.
If you need to adjust anything about the nap, it will actually be when the nap ends. Some babies take extra long naps and then fight bedtime; then since they went to bed late, they'll take another long nap the next day and the cycle will continue. Since nighttime sleep is the most restorative sleep of all, we want to prioritize night sleep over day sleep (though both are very important for a happy child!). See below for some approximations of how much nap sleep and night sleep Baby should be getting at different ages:
18-24 months: 2.25 hours of nap sleep, 11.25 hours of night sleep (~13.5 hours total)
2-3 years: 1.5-2 hours of nap sleep, 10.5-11 hours of night sleep (~12.5-13 hours total)
4 years: 11.5 hours total sleep, sometimes all at night, sometimes split between a nap (1-1.5 hours) and night (10-10.5 hours)
5 years: 11 hours total sleep, sometimes all at night, sometimes split between a nap (45-60 minutes) and night (10-10.5 hours)
Note that you only need to cut a nap off if it is interfering with bedtime.
To determine bedtime for your child, use waketimes. This means that bedtime is actually flexible and it could be different each day. If Baby has a bad nap day, she can make up for it with a bedtime that is earlier than usual.
18-24 months: 4-5 hours
2-3 years: 4-5.5 hours
3-5 years: 4-6 hours
So if Baby sleeps from 1-3pm and has a waketime of 4 hours, she'll go down for bed at 7:00pm. However, if Baby only sleeps from 1-2pm, she'll go down for bed at 6:00pm. Most of the time, Baby will get into a groove that keeps her bedtime right around the same time every night; however, if she has a shorter or non-existent nap because she has an eventful day or is going through a growth spurt, she'll recoup that missed sleep with her earlier bedtime. As long as bedtime falls in the 5:30-8:00pm range, Baby should do pretty well with it.
Some people worry that if Baby goes to sleep earlier than usual because of an off nap, she'll wake up in the early morning. Most of the time, that is not the case. This is because rather than sleeping her usual 2 hours in the day and 11 hours at night, Baby has now slept only 1 hour in the day, so she'll make up for that by sleeping 12 hours at night.
Babies are different, so you'll need to watch certain things about Baby to determine whether or not you've got the waketime right.
First, watch how Baby is while she falls asleep.
Does she scream and flail and really fight going down for bed? If so, she likely needs a shorter waketime.
Conversely, does Baby lay in bed contentedly playing or only lightly fussing for more than 20-30 minutes before falling asleep? In that case, you may need to lengthen the waketime.
The other thing you'll need to watch is how Baby is the moment she wakes.
Does she wake with sad or mad cries, either in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning? This is a sign of overtiredness, so her waketime should be shortened.
Never increase or decrease waketimes by more than 15 minutes at a time, and wait to see a pattern for at least three days before changing a waketime.