When determining a nap schedule, there are generally two ways to do it. The first is naps based on wake time length – wake time being the amount of time in between each nap or sleep time. For nap times based on wake time length, the start time of a nap is determined by the time they woke from their last nap plus the proper wake time length. If the baby wakes early from one nap, the next nap’s start time moves earlier and the whole schedule shifts forward.
Another way to schedule naps is “by the clock”. A by the clock (BTC) nap schedule more or less strictly adheres to the clock. Naps start and end at the same time every day regardless of how the preceding nap went. For example, naps are set from 9am-11am and 1:30pm-4:00pm.
Generally babies start off on a nap schedule based on wake time length and as they get older they move toward a schedule that is more strictly by the clock. How do you know when to make the switch?
Reasons to switch to a BTC schedule:
There are a few reasons to move to a BTC schedule, three of them being:
- To fix early waking issues, either in the morning or from naps (45 minute intruder)
- To align naps with other children or conform baby’s schedule to the family schedule
- To teach baby to wait contently in crib
>>Using a BTC Schedule to Fix Early Waking Issues:
Sometimes babies wake early from naps or in the morning because they are either overtired (you put them down too late) or under-tired (you put them down too early). But some babies seem to struggle with short naps or early waking no matter what time you put them down. In my experience, the best way to deal with this issue is BTC naps. Start putting them down for a nap and getting them up from a nap at the same exact time day after day.
Why does this work? Mark Weissbluth (author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child) points out that babies (just like adults) have both sleep rhythms and wake rhythms.
“It is as important not to let children sleep when they are biological wake mode as it is to help them sleep when they are biological sleep mode. Usually if a nap doesn’t occur, it is best to keep your baby awake and go to the next sleep period, whether it is another nap or night time. ” (pg 139)
If you are putting your baby down for a nap at different times each day (based on wake time since the last nap), it is going to be difficult for them to acquire a solid rhythm of sleep and wake times. Once you start putting them down at the same time every single day, their natural sleep and wake rhythms develop and sleep improves.
Secondly, sometimes the only fix for the 45 minute nap is some crying. It’s normal for babies to wake 45 minutes into a nap because this is the end of the first sleep cycle. They need to learn to fall back asleep unassisted (self-soothing). As an example, one of my twins wakes up around the 45 minute mark probably a third of the time. He will often either cry out for 20-30 seconds or babble. I do not intervene and 100% of the time he goes back to sleep. If I were to go in at the 45 minute mark because I hear him awake, I would not be giving him the opportunity to take the full nap.
My first baby struggled with 45 minute naps for the first 3 months of her life – until I started leaving her in her crib for the full duration of nap time. When I first started leaving her in her crib after she woke at the 45 minute mark, she cried until I got her up at the end of nap time. After a short time, she started waking up after 45 minute minutes, babbling a bit, and then falling back asleep. After a few days of that, she started sleeping through the sleep cycle. My next three have all done the exact same thing, although I started younger and younger each time. If you want your baby to learn to sleep through the 45 minute intruder, you have to give them the opportunity to practice.
It should be noted that if your baby can’t put himself to sleep at the beginning of the nap time (if you rock to sleep, for example), they aren’t going to be able to put themselves to sleep in the middle of a nap either. The first step in this case would be to get your baby falling asleep independently.
>>Using a BTC Schedule to Align Naps With Family Schedule
I have four children, none of which are in school yet. It is absolutely essential for my sanity that they nap at the same time in the afternoon. For this to work, I have to keep their schedules by the clock. This would also be true for moms who have school drop offs and pick ups for older children. Doing naps by the clock allows you to create and carry out a schedule that works for your family.
>>Teaching Your Baby to Wait Contently in the Crib
An absolutely vital aspect to a BTC nap schedule is that naps both start AND end by the clock. This means if your baby wakes up an hour into their nap, they remain in their crib (or bed) until the scheduled end of nap time. This teaches the baby to be content waiting in the crib once they’ve woken. YOU WANT YOUR CHILD TO HAVE THIS SKILL. Nap time is important for both baby and mother – just because the baby wakes early doesn’t mean the mother’s rest time should be cut short. Thinking ahead to toddlerhood, kids go through plenty of phases where they either short nap or stop napping for a period of time. If they are not used to nap time length being set by the clock (or by you, the mom), these phases can quickly lead to the end of napping altogether. You need your child to be used to staying in nap time for a long duration of time regardless of whether or not they are actually sleeping.
How To Set Your BTC Schedule
It’s pretty simple. Write out an age appropriate schedule that works for your family and stick to it. Don’t know what is appropriate for your baby’s age? Google it. There are literally THOUSANDS of baby schedules available online. Find a mom with kids who nap well and just do what she’s doing. You can check out my sample schedules here, but I’m missing quite a few because I didn’t write them down with my first two kids. Scroll to the bottom of that page for links to sample schedules from the BFBN ladies.
Once you decide on your schedule, stick to it for at least 2 weeks. That should generally be enough time to figure out if it’s working or not. If it’s not working after 2 weeks, make adjustments and try for another 2 weeks.
Exceptions to the BTC Schedule:
The first and most important caveat is newborns. Newborns DO NOT do well on a BTC schedule because they can too easily become overtired. For new babies it is better to follow a schedule with naps times based on appropriate wake time length. Weissbluth seems to suggest moving to a BTC schedule around the 4th month. My experience has been that BTC schedules become successful when the baby can handle at least 90 minutes of wake time.
The second caveat is growth spurts or sickness. If your baby is going through a growth spurt and wanting to eat many more times per day (and taking full feedings each time), obviously you should get them up and feed them. The idea is not to leave your starving baby in the crib crying because BY GOSH nap time hasn’t ended yet! Let’s be reasonable people here.
Lastly, there should be some flexibility in terms of bedtime after a day of bad naps. When you first start a BTC schedule, it’s totally possible that your baby is only going to sleep 90 minutes for the entire day. Obviously, come early evening, they are going to be a complete mess. I would NOT keep them up until their regular bedtime if this is the case. Put them down early. You may need to do an early bedtime for a few weeks, until they adapt to the new schedule.
The Freedom of the Schedule
My cousin and I were talking the other day about nap schedules. She told me she doesn’t have a nap schedule because she wants the freedom to be able to get out of the house at any time. I see her point. But to me, the real freedom is being reliably kid free for 2-3 hours every single afternoon. On the week days I have the freedom to read, to cook, to blog, or even to nap every single afternoon. On weekends I have the freedom to spend a few kid-free daytime hours with my husband. I need that time away from them, and honestly, they need that time away from me. I’d give up running errands at 2pm for that opportunity any day.
The ladies from the BFBN are all posting about naps today! Check out what they’ve written:
Katrina from Mama’s Organized Chaos:
How to Avoid Short Naps
Kimberly from Team Cartwright:
Dealing With Short Naps with Twins
Carrie from Wiley Adventures:
Waketime Lengths: A Quick Fix For Short Naps
Valerie from Chronicles of a Babywise Mom:
What to Do When Your Baby is Taking Short Naps
Shea from The Moses Home:
Short Naps and the Colicky Newborn