“Never wake a sleeping baby.”
My guess is that most of you have heard this piece of advice at one time or another, and if you haven’t, you just wait! While I certainly don’t enjoy waking up a sleeping child, sometimes it’s necessary for the sake of other naps or overnight sleep.
So in this blog, we’ll walk through the four main reasons I tell parents to wake up their sleeping babies and toddlers:
- You should wake your baby or toddler if their nap is interfering with bedtime.
- You should wake up your baby if a nap exceeds two hours (and the exceptions!).
- You should wake up your baby or toddler if they’re getting too much daytime sleep.
- You should wake up your baby or toddler if they sleep more than 12 hours at night (and the exceptions!).
You should wake up your baby or toddler if their nap is interfering with bedtime.
When I work with families, we almost always aim for bedtime to be between 6:30-8:00 pm, to ensure their child can get a solid 11-12 hours of overnight sleep before having to wake in the morning.
And some babies who are just about ready for a nap transition or some toddlers who take an extra long afternoon nap might need that nap to be capped in order to still get to bed at an appropriate time.
For example, if it’s 4:15 pm and your 9 month old is still napping, wake them up so they can still get to bed before 8:00 pm! Or if your 2 year old usually goes to bed around 7:00 pm and is still napping at 2:30, it’s time to wake them up so you don’t have to push bedtime back too far.
If you don’t wake your child from a nap that is going later than usual, know that you will need to push bedtime back to make sure your child has enough sleep pressure to actually fall asleep. Plus your your child may not get their usual 11-12 hours of sleep that night if the later nap also causes them to max out on daytime sleep (see reason 3 for more info on this).
You should wake up your baby if a nap exceeds two hours.
If your baby takes multiple naps a day, I strongly suggest capping naps when they reach two hours so they still have time for another nap or two before bedtime.
If they only take one nap a day, should I wake my toddler from a nap?
I’ll be honest, waking up a sleeping baby is not super fun, but waking up a sleeping toddler is even less fun. But yes, sometimes it is still necessary!
I find that a two hour nap in the middle of the day works well for most toddlers (some only need 1.5 hours) and helps them still get to bed on time. Some toddlers are still able to sleep for 2.5, maybe even 3 hours in the middle of the day and still get to bed on time. And as long as it’s not impacting they’re night time sleep (11-12 hours), that’s okay!
But again, bedtime would ideally fall between about 6:30-8:00 pm, so if that longer nap pushes bedtime back and cuts into the 11-12 hours of night time sleep we’re looking for, then yes, we need to wake your toddler from that nap.
- If you have a newborn, you can let them nap for up to three hours. It’s important, however, to make sure your new baby is eating regularly during the day, so you might have to wake your newborn before that three hour mark to keep their feeds on track.
- If your baby or toddler is sick, it’s okay to let them nap for more than two hours. Sleep is what they need more than anything to heal, so let their little bodies sleep!
You should wake up your baby or toddler if they are maxing out on total daytime sleep.
I know, I know, “sleep begets sleep.” And it does – great daytime sleep is so helpful to great night time sleep! However, my goal is to see kids sleeping 11-12 hours at night, and if there is too much daytime sleep, that might start cutting into night time sleep.
As a quick reference:
- 4 month olds should not get more than 4 hours of daytime sleep.
- 6-12 month olds should not get more than 3 hours of daytime sleep.
- Once your child transitions to just one nap (between 12-18 months), the range widens to 1.5-2.5 hours of daytime sleep.
So if your four month old had a morning nap that lasted 1.5 hours, their second nap was 45 minutes, and their third nap lasted 1 hour, you want to make sure you wake your baby from their final nap after 45 minutes so they don’t exceed four hours of daytime sleep.
Similarly, if your eight month old took a two hour morning nap and they’re still sleeping an hour into their afternoon nap, wake them up! We don’t want their daytime sleep to be more than 3 hours, otherwise their night time sleep will likely be affected.
Too much daytime sleep can cause for unnecessary night wakings and/or an extra early morning, because they simply don’t need any more sleep in a 24 hour period.
You should wake up your baby or toddler if they sleep more than 12 hours at night.
In general, we’re looking for babies and toddlers to follow a “12 hours of day, 12 hours of night” model, with some wiggle room on either end, of course (some kids only need 11 hours!). If babies, especially, sleep more than 12 hours at night, we run the risk of cutting into their daytime sleep and their naps may be shorter than normal.
When on a set, clock-based schedule, with a 7-7 schedule often being “ideal”, I recommend families try to stay within about 30 minutes of that wake up and bedtime, when possible (this set schedule becomes more realistic and consistent as babies get closer to 6 months old). This is because our kids’ natural body clocks are fairly strong and we don’t want to throw off the rest of their day (i.e. short naps or struggling to fall asleep for naps)!
So if a baby or toddler went to bed at 7 pm and is still sleeping at 7:15 am, I recommend parents wake them to stay within 30 minutes of their normal daytime schedule so they don’t get too thrown off. Some kids seem more sensitive to even just 15-30 extra minutes of sleep, so if you notice your child has a tougher day of naps when they sleep more than 12 hours at night, make sure you set your alarm and wake them up after 12 hours.
- If your child no longer naps during the day, extra night time sleep is okay if that’s what they need! My oldest dropped her final nap a few months before she turned three and she still sleeps 12.5-13 hours a night, and is in bed by 7 pm every day. Because that extra sleep isn’t affecting her bedtime or overnight, it’s okay!
- If your child is sick, let them sleep! They need sleep more than anything else right now, so it’s okay if they sleep more than 12 hours at night.
So while it’s never fun to wake a sleeping child, and I certainly don’t love waking up my sleeping girls, sometimes it is just necessary.
Naps and night time are so connected (“sleep begets sleep,” right??) that it’s sometimes worth waking your sleeping baby or toddler in order to preserve that next nap or their overnight sleep.
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