How to Set a Nap-Time Routine

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Rubbing eyes? Time for a nap. Credit: jamiesdesigns, Flickr

Figuring out your baby needs more sleep can be a humiliating experience, as anyone with a screaming child in the grocery store or on an airplane can attest. Coming up with a nap time routine has a big payoff: a few hours of peace for mom and dad and a happier baby.

So how do you make it happen? Experts say there are a handful of telltale clues that your child needs a nap before they completely fall apart. Classics like fussiness and rubbing of the eyes are two obvious symptoms. But keep an eye out for when they lose interest in playtime or get frustrated with toys -- both indicators that it might be time for some shut-eye.

They may not be able to tell you themselves, but you can learn to read the signs of a nap calling.
"A lot of what we're talking about is paying attention to your child," says Dr. Jeffrey Cain, chief of family medicine at The Children's Hospital in Denver.

As they get older, babies' sleeping habits space out a bit and become more routine. Most babies need two naps a day -- mid-morning and mid-afternoon -- for about two to three hours each. Then, sometime after their first birthday, most children will drop down to one nap a day.

For an 18-month-old, one two-and-a-half hour nap is sufficient, Cain says.

Growth spurts
also require more sleep, so the baby might take longer naps during those times.

Once parents notice the cues of crankiness, get into a regular nap time pattern. Because kids thrive on routine, setting one for nap time can help ease even the most reluctant child to sleep. Start with a quiet room, maybe give them a light snack. If it's noisy, turn on some soft music or white noise and give the baby a special blanket or other snuggle item. Reading is a great way to calm a baby or toddler down. Make sure the room is dark.

By 3 or 4 years old, your child will likely shorten the nap to an hour and a half or so. By the time they are 4 or 5, most children are ready to give up their naps, even if their mothers aren't.

You'll know they are done with napping when they are happy and full of energy without some midday sleep.

Related:
Bedtime Sleep Patterns

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.