Our guide to the lunch nap
You may have heard us talk about the lunch-time nap being the longest most restorative nap of the day for your little one, and while we all would love for this nap to be smooth sailing, unfortunately that long stretch of sleep can be harder to achieve than you may think!
In this article, I'm going to share my experience with the lunch nap (the highs AND the lows) and explain some of the reasons why that long nap can be tricky to achieve. I'll also be sharing some tips and tricks for how you can help your baby to nap for longer.
In this article:
- Why do we recommend a long lunch nap?
- The newborn stage
- 4 month sleep regression
- 8 month sleep regression
- Tips to achieve a longer lunch nap
Why do we recommend a long lunch nap?
In the sleep schedules in our Little Ones App, the long lunch nap is a constant from the newborn stage, right through to toddlerhood. But if this nap can be tricky to achieve, why do we recommend it? Here's a few reasons why:
- Most people (adults and babies alike) have a natural dip in energy levels between the hours of 12pm and 2pm. Napping at this time means babies are more likely to fall asleep, stay asleep (all things going well) and it is when sleep will be the most restorative for them too.
- If you have more than one child following our sleep schedules, they will napping at roughly the same time, which gives you a break during the day too!
- If your baby is having their longest nap in the morning, this can encourage early morning waking and cause them to become overtired by bedtime, leading to bedtime battles and more overnight wakes. A long lunch nap helps to ensure your baby's sleep is well-balanced across the day.
- When the lunch nap is the longest nap of the day, it also makes the nap transitions at 6-8 months old and 12-15 months old, much smoother for your little one (and for you!).
The newborn stage
When my youngest was about 4 weeks old, Amanda and I were refining our our sleep programs and methods, so I started implementing our own advice in terms of awake times and nap times/lengths with my little one. This helped to make sure she was perfectly ready for sleep at her nap times, so that she would have a nice long lunch nap.
At this point I was side-settling my baby fully to sleep, in her cot, and resettling her the same way. Sometimes she’d fall asleep while I was feeding her before a nap or in the night (she was breastfed), and that was fine! I knew that at this age that wasn’t going to really be impacting the quality or length of her sleep.
I made sure she was really well-winded after her feeds (trapped wind is a really common culprit for waking in the newborn stage!) and that she was swaddled for both naps and overnight sleep, to prevent her startle reflex from waking her up.
By the time my baby was closer to 11 weeks old, she started to have noticeably differentiated stages of sleep and this is when catnapping started to creep in! This is when a baby wakes after just one cycle of sleep, which is around 35 to 45 minutes. Catnapping can start as early as 8 weeks old and is a normal developmental stage that all babies go through.
Since I knew my baby's sleep environment, feeds and awake times were spot on, I decided it was time to ease back on fully settling her to sleep and start to gently guide her towards self-settling. This would give her the best chance at resettling herself back to sleep in between cycles.
I would side-settle her until she was in the zone for sleep, then back off and let her do the last bit of falling asleep on her own. She didn’t ever cry or get upset; she would sometimes get a bit frustrated and grizzly but I’d just go back and side-settle her again when that happened. Sometimes she just lay there quietly until she fell asleep, no crying at all, just figuring out how to do it and that she COULD do it!
It took maybe 1-2 days of doing this at the start of naps before she was pretty much falling asleep independently.
The 4 month sleep regression
Once the 4 month regression was in full swing however, her lunchtime nap definitely took a hit and that's what I really wanted to share with you - that this is a very VERY “normal” occurrence between 3-6 months old. The 2 hour lunch nap that we recommend in our Little Ones App is what we're aiming and hoping for, but it is absolutely not a case of “it has to happen every day and if your baby doesn’t do the full lunch nap there’s something wrong”.
My baby would do a long nap some days, and other days she wouldn’t. Almost every 2nd day she wouldn’t do it and I would go in and try and resettle her. I would turn up the white noise, I would side-settle her, I would get her out of her cot, I would feed her.
Sometimes she fell asleep while she was feeding and I would just let her sleep on me for the rest of her nap and use it as a chance to have some down time (and a cuddle!) myself. Sometimes she wouldn’t resettle or go back to sleep at all though.
If resettling her was making me feel anxious or frustrated, I’d just get her up and work off her awake times before putting her down for her next nap. Depending on how she was going, I'd either let her sleep longer at the afternoon nap to catch up or I’d follow our catnapping schedule for the afternoon instead.
Because I had the knowledge about her sleep and a good idea of how much she needed to sleep each day (the same knowledge you can have in our Little Ones App), I was far better equipped to navigate things when they didn’t go according to plan. I could follow her lead to an extent, or adjust her naps for the rest of the day, using the timings in our sleep schedule as a guide.
On the days where she did resettle herself during the lunch nap, I would text Amanda and say “OMG I think she’s doing it”, in genuine disbelief! Then the next day she’d prove me a liar!
So, we 100% feel your pain - the lunch nap was a tricky, unpredictable pain in the bum for us too.
All you can really do is try to make sure things are lined up to give your baby the best chance at sleeping longer - following age-appropriate awake times, feeding and winding your baby really well, a great sleep environment and guiding them towards self-settling. After that, it's up to them!
8 month sleep regression
Because my daughter was already self-settling before the 4 month regression fully hit, it was a lot easier on her, but in saying that, we still definitely felt it and it wasn’t until closer to 6 months that the lunch nap started consistently happening.
And then of course, we had the 8 month regression and the lunch nap took a hit AGAIN! Instead of 2 hours, her nap would sometimes only be an hour or an hour and a half. Instead of stressing about it though, I would say “yep cool, that's a developmental stage, we’re just going to keep pushing through”.
If she woke early from the lunch nap and she was happy, I’d leave her in her cot so she was at least still resting. If she was upset, I’d just get her up and get on with the day, assessing whether she might need a power nap to get her through till bedtime or whether she might last if I brought bedtime earlier.
Tips to achieve a longer lunch nap
What I really wanted to share with you in this article is that the lunch nap is the ultimate nap goal. It’s what we’re aiming for long-term, but it’s certainly something that takes time to click into place and we don’t want you to worry if your baby isn’t doing the lunch nap immediately, or during the tricky 3-6 month bracket, or during a sleep regression!
It doesn’t mean your baby is broken or that our sleep schedules aren't working for them. It means your baby is only human! We know babies aren’t robots. Sometimes your baby will need more or less awake time than we recommend in our sleep schedules. Sometimes they won’t do the lunch nap, sometimes they need an earlier bedtime - this is why we have detailed troubleshooting notes in our Little Ones App too.
If you do want to know how to get your baby to nap for longer though, here are our top tips:
- 1. Make sure their sleep environment is setting them up for success. We recommend a dark room, white noise and a swaddle or sleeping bag (depending on whether they are rolling yet), for both naps and overnight sleep.
- 2. Your baby needs to be perfectly ready for sleep in order to achieve the long lunch nap so make sure their awake times are appropriate for their age. If your baby is under or overtired, this can cause them to wake early from their nap and be hard to resettle back to sleep. This is where the sleep schedules in our Little Ones App really come in handy!
- 3. A hungry or uncomfortable baby is not going to be able to sleep for very long so ensure your baby is well-fed and winded before putting them down for their lunch nap. Some babies might need a quick top-up milk feed before the nap, to make sure they don't wake hungry.
- 4. From around 3-4 months, start to guide your baby towards self-settling. Once the 4 month regression hits, your little one is going to start waking fully in between sleep cycles and if they rely on you to get to sleep at the start of their nap, they are going to need your help to get back to sleep in between cycles as well.
- 5. If your baby does wake up after one sleep cycle, leave them to see if they’ll go back to sleep - always give them the chance. If they’re under 6 months, see if you can resettle them all the way back to sleep (however you can), otherwise use the catnapping schedule in our Little Ones App.
If your little one does end up having a short lunch nap and you can't get them back to sleep, don’t sweat it. We’ve all been there and it doesn't mean you're doing anything wrong! The lunch nap can suck for a while but don't give up on it - tomorrow is a new day to try again.
Our sleep experts can help you to get longer naps happening for your baby during the day, and great sleep overnight too. You can reach out to them in our Little Ones App for more personalised support and guidance.