“When can I get my baby on a clock-based nap schedule??”
At some point in their parenting journey, most parents ask this question – they’re craving that by-the-clock nap schedule!
For newborns and young babies, awake windows will dictate the entire schedule and routine of the day. Which is, in essence, a “clock-based schedule,” but your baby will certainly not be napping at the same time and for the same length each day.
It’s after the two nap transition, however (usually around 7-8 months), that many babies are ready for a set schedule, by-the-clock schedule.
And then they can be on a set schedule when taking both two naps and one!
(If your baby is not ready for that the two nap transition but you’re looking for more consistency in their schedule, check out this post about how to get on more of a predictable schedule.)
So what do I mean by “set schedule”?
Rather than focusing so closely on awake windows, you will now be able to look at the clock and know that at the same time every day, your child should be napping.
We essentially set your baby’s circadian rhythm around the clock, and this schedule is based on what is developmentally appropriate at your baby’s age.
Do I have to move to a clock-based schedule?
The short answer is no!
If you have been following awake windows and it’s working well for you, you can absolutely keep doing so.
If, however, something just isn’t clicking with your little one’s sleep, or you’re eager to get on a set schedule, you can do so once your child transitions to two naps! And to be honest, most babies and toddlers I work with thrive on that schedule consistency and predictability.
I always suggest a set schedule for babies and toddlers taking just one nap a day, and I highly recommend babies on a two nap schedule do so, as well.
Set Nap Schedules for Babies and Toddlers Taking One Nap
The ideal one nap schedule for babies is:
- 7:00 am wake up
- 12:00-2:00 pm* nap
- 7:00 pm bedtime
*Some babies are able to take a 2.5-3 hour afternoon nap and still sleep 11-12 hours overnight. Three hours is the maximum length of a nap at this age. And if that’s your baby, awesome! Oppositely, 1.5 hours is the shortest nap length we should see on a one nap schedule.
Around 18-24 months, some toddlers benefit from a bit of an adjustment to this schedule.
The ideal one nap schedule for toddlers is:
- 7:00 am wake up
- 12:30-2:00/2:30 pm* nap
- 7:00/7:30 pm bedtime
*I’ve even seen some toddlers benefit from a nap as late as 1:00 pm, however that is the latest I recommend pushing naps when we want to keep bedtime before 8:00 pm.
(If you’re wondering how to know when it’s time to transition to one nap, or how to make that transition, read here.)
Set Nap Schedules for Babies and Toddlers Taking Two Naps
Why do I suggest moving to a set, two-nap schedule?
There are a handful of scenarios where I encourage parents to make the switch from solely focusing on awake windows to following a clock-based schedule:
- Your little one has transitioned to two naps and you want to go by the clock!
- Your baby has gotten into a pattern of early bedtimes and therefore early wake-ups and you can’t seem to get out of the cycle.
- You’re having a hard time figuring out how to drop the third nap while avoiding overtiredness, but your child’s bedtime is getting too late (past 8:00 pm).
- Your baby is on two naps but his naps are short and inconsistent.
- Your little one has transitioned to two naps but something is just off.
(If you’re wondering how to know when it’s time to transition to two naps, or how to make that transition, read here.)
7-9 Month Schedule
An ideal two nap schedule for babies around 7-9 months old looks like this:
- 7:00- wake up
- 9:30-11:00 nap 1
- 2:00-3:30 nap 2
- 7:00 bedtime
10-12 Month Schedule
An ideal two nap schedule for babies around 10-12 months old looks like this:
- 7:00- wake up
- 10:00-11:30 nap 1
- 2:45/3:00-3:45 pm* nap 2
- 7:15/7:3o pm bedtime
*Yes, sometimes that means you’ll have to wake your baby up! This is important so we don’t cut into overnight sleep (the goal is 11-12 hours) and so bedtime doesn’t get pushed back too late.
When to Adjust a Clock-Based Schedule
Some babies reach 10 months old and that first schedule example is still working great. Awesome, then no need to change! Or oppositely, sometimes your little one reaches 9 months old and something with that first nap schedule just isn’t working anymore.
If your baby was falling asleep smoothly for both naps, but now all of a sudden is taking 10+ minutes to fall asleep for their morning and/or afternoon nap over a few days, then it’s likely time for a schedule adjustment.
Or if your baby is still falling asleep in great time, however what was once a 1.5 hour nap is now a 45 minute nap, it is likely time to push that nap back a bit later.
How to Switch from an Awake Window Schedule to a Set Schedule
When making this switch, I always start with the morning nap.
If your baby wakes up for the day before 6:00 am, consider it a night waking and respond accordingly. If your baby wakes up before 7:00 am, try to keep him in his crib until as close to 7:00 as possible.
Then, regardless of if your child woke up at 6:00, 6:30, or 7:00 am, our goal is to start the first nap at 9:30 am.
Yes, I know that means an early riser will be awake extra long and overtiredness is a concern, but this is the best place to start. If your child really can’t make it to 9:30, it’s okay to put him down a bit sooner, but no earlier than 9:00 am; you can work your way up to 9:30.
While you’re baby is adjusting to having a set morning nap, you can keep following awake windows before the second nap.
We then focus on setting that second nap.
The ideal would be that your little one naps in the morning from 9:30-11:00, so that natural three hour awake window would land us at 2:00 pm for the second nap of the day.
The idea of a clock-based schedule, however, is that if your baby only sleeps for 45 minutes, or an hour and 15 minutes, we still wait for that second nap to be at 2:00 pm.
If his nap is a bit shorter than ideal, do your best to keep him in his crib until as close to 11:00 as possible; remember, we’re trying to train his body clock!
Same thing for that afternoon nap…our aim is for it to be until 3:30 (1.5 hours), so even if your baby wakes sooner, try to keep him in his crib until as close to 3:30 as possible.
We’re then aiming for a 7:00 pm bedtime.
When you first make this transition, your baby may need a bit of an earlier bedtime (i.e. 6:30 pm), and that’s totally normal! That will help accommodate for any overtiredness by catching up on sleep at night.
The “30 Minute Rule”
With a nap schedule that is set around the clock, we want to keep our little ones within 30 minutes of the “ideal” schedule, so as to not confuse their body clocks.
So if your baby usually sleeps for 1.5 hours in the morning, but for whatever reason only slept 40 minutes that day, you don’t want to bring their second nap forward an entire hour. The ideal would be that your baby still takes their second nap at the same time as every other day (i.e. 2:00 pm), but if they’re struggling to get there, 1:30 pm would be the earliest you want to lay them down.
Similarly, if your baby usually sleep from 12:00-2:30 and only slept until 1:00 pm that day, you do not want to bring bedtime forward to 5:30 pm, as your child’s body clock will be thrown off; 6:30 would be the earliest bedtime for a child who generally goes to bed at 7:00 pm. (Unless, of course, your little one doesn’t nap at all that day, then a 6:00 pm bedtime is definitely necessary.)
This is because once we set their little body clocks, straying too far from that schedule will make a nap or bedtime much more challenging to fall and/or stay asleep.
I know that nap transitions are tough, and transitioning to a set schedule can feel daunting, but it’s so worth it!
Some of you may be reading this and thinking, “Wow this sounds so strict! I don’t want such a set schedule for my child!”
First of all, I want to tell you that kids THRIVE on consistency, and having set nap schedules helps give them that. Are some kids able to sleep well and never have a schedule like this? Sure!
You don’t have to transition to a set nap schedule if what you’re currently doing works for you, however if your child is struggling with their naps, or following awake windows has been overwhelming, now’s the time to make the switch!
ps. If you’re looking for more help when it comes to your baby’s schedule, go snag my FREE Ultimate Guide to Sleep Schedules!)
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