Nap Transitions Demystified Part 2: The First Year

By Jessica Begley, MPH

From a squishy newborn, to a rolling and crawling baby, to a standing and maybe even walking toddler, your baby is changing fast in his first year of life. So are his sleep needs! Let’s learn about common sleep schedules for each age and how to navigate the transitions between naps in the first year of life.

While a newborn under four months old may take many naps of varying times and lengths, as your infant’s brain matures, so does his sleep. Your baby can go longer between feedings and handle more awake time and a napping pattern will emerge. You may find that the morning nap starts to lengthen first and will fall around a consistent time of the morning. For many babies that is around 8:00 AM. It may be a little longer before your baby’s second nap of the day becomes consistent, but when it does, it usually falls around 12:00 PM. These two naps of the day are important ones. They are physically and mentally restorative, helping your baby grow and learn at his best.

The next two naps of the day are much more variable. They may not occur at the same time every day and may still vary in length even after the first two naps become predictable. Most of the time they are just short cat naps happening in the late afternoon and evening. That’s normal. These naps are just bridges to bedtime; they help your baby get through the end of the day without getting overstimulated. While they are important because they save your baby from going into bedtime overtired, they are not as physical and mentally restorative as the first two naps of the day.
The 4 to 3 Nap Transition:
Around 4 months of age

As your child approaches 4 months old, you may see signs of the 4 to 3 nap transition like:

  • He just doesn’t seem to want to fall asleep for the 4th nap, no matter what you try. He may hang out happily in his crib or he may fuss and get angry.
  • You can’t fit in a 4th nap starting before 5:00 PM.
  • He takes a 4th nap, but starts to fight bedtime, leading to a bedtime later than 8:00 PM.
  • He starts waking earlier in the morning.

If your baby is showing these signs for more than a few days, you may be better off dropping he 4th nap instead of trying to hang on to it.  

Fortunately, the 4 to 3 nap transition is usually pretty easy. For most families, it happens naturally but here are some tips to smooth out the process:

  • Don’t be afraid of using an early bedtime during the nap transition. An early bedtime is more restorative than a late evening nap.
  • If your 3rd nap ends at or after 4:00 PM, don’t try for a 4th nap. Instead use an early bedtime.
The 3 to 2 Nap Transition:
Around 8 months of age

The next big nap transition usually happens around 8 months of age. Your baby can now go about two to three hours between naps and the first and second naps have lengthened out. This makes it harder to get a late afternoon cat nap in.

Here are some other signs of the 3 to 2 nap transitions:
  • Your baby has been fighting the 3rd nap of the day for at least 2 weeks.
  • The 3rd nap of the day is starting after 4:00 PM.
  • Your baby is waking cranky after the 3rd nap of the day.

Unlike the 4 to 3 nap transition, this one can be tricky! If your baby is still on the younger side, he may not be ready for a long stretch of 3 or 4 hours before bedtime if he skips his third nap. If this is the case, you can cap either the first or second nap of the day in order to fit in the third nap. This may help your baby hold on to the third nap until he is able to handle a longer wake period.

When your baby is ready to drop to 2 naps, try these tips:

  • Your baby may need an earlier bedtime for a few weeks until he can handle a longer stretch before bed. Set the bedtime earlier by 30 minutes or more if your baby acts tired. It’s easier for your baby to fall asleep earlier than go into bedtime overtired.
  • Once your baby is settled on two naps, you can create a consistent bedtime. Most babies do well with a bedtime around 7:00 PM. The goal is about 11 hours of night sleep.

Navigating nap transitions can be tough. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if we are better off holding on to naps or letting them go! Hopefully these tips can keep you confident as your baby’s sleep changes during the first year of life. Next month we’ll tackle the second year of life and dropping naps for good (even though we all wish our kids would nap forever)!

Jessica Begley, MPH is a certified sleep consultant, lactation counselor, and founder of The Baby Sleep Geek. She’s passionate about building parents’ confidence in their ability to meet their child’s sleep needs. You can learn more about Jessica at