Updated: May 19, 2021
When I had my youngest child, Charlie, in May 2017 my parents came to visit me in August. By then I had already started my sleep consultant certification and I knew a lot more about pediatric sleep. One thing I learned is that sometimes you need to wake a baby to protect night sleep and build enough sleep pressure for naps/nights.
My mother looked at me like I was crazy when I would wake Charlie up from his 3rd nap of the day. She just didn’t understand why I would wake a sleeping baby. We all heard this advice, right? This is why I am going to explain why and in what situations you would want to wake a sleeping baby.
Wake your newborn to help with day/night confusion. You certainly do not want your newborn sleeping all day and then up all night, right? Unless you are a vampire and prefer to be up at night, but I have a feeling this isn’t the case. Exposing our body to light helps to set our internal clocks. For the first few months, I recommend napping your baby out in the open and waking them every 3 hours during the day to feed. You want to have most of their calories occur during the day, and expose them to natural light so when night comes, their bellies are full and the darkness signals night.
3 months and older…
If your baby is older than 3 months old, sleeping a lot during the day, and tends to stay up for hours at night then you will want to look at capping the naps during the day. We all have a sleep bank and if your little one sleeps too much during the day it will take away from their night "sleep bank" (and their total sleep needs in a 24 hour period). Average night sleep is about 11 hours; however, some babies have higher sleep needs and can sleep up to 12 – 13 hours at night (although the latter is quite unusual).
If the last nap of the day is occurring too late be sure to wake your baby to a bedtime between 6:00pm - 8:00pm. Between the ages of 3 – 8 months I recommend no naps past 5pm, and after 8 months naps should end by 4pm to protect an age appropriate bedtime.
Lastly, if you are holding off on a nap transition like the 2 to 1 then you will want to cap naps as well and wake your baby. A child is not usually ready to transition to just one nap until 13 – 18 months of age (15 months being the average) and if you can adjust his schedule by capping naps and holding onto those two naps instead of rushing into a transition then be sure to do so because it can make for a smoother and shorter transition.
Remember, there’s no reason to rush into a nap transition. Take it slow, and steady…and then it will end smooth. Be sure to check in regularly this year and I will talk about other sleep myths and debunk those too!