What is a “Forced” Nap Schedule for Babies and When is it Useful?

drop a nap fighting naps forced nap nap schedule Aug 02, 2022
What is a Forced Nap Schedule for Babies and When is it Useful

During your baby’s first 12 months of life, their sleep habits are ever-evolving. As soon as things feel like they’re clicking and you’ve finally got a routine down with your little one, things change. A new skill pops up and disrupts sleep, wake windows need to be longer, or it’s time to drop a nap. 

Nap transitions can be especially difficult for babies and parents. They involve deciding if and when it’s time to actually drop down a nap, stretching wake windows, and can often include your little one fighting that last nap but then barely making it to bedtime. 

And then there are other instances where babies don’t seem to be dropping naps at all, even when developmentally (and for the sake of a sound nighttime sleep) they should be headed in that direction. 

In these instances, parents can choose to implement a “forced” nap schedule. 

What is a “Forced” Nap Schedule and When Should You Implement One?

A forced nap schedule is recommended when your baby gets down to a 2-nap schedule, and it is exactly how it sounds: forced. For example, somewhere between 6-9 months (usually closer to 9 months), your baby would naturally drop down to 2 naps and show signs that they’re ready to drop a nap.

Some of those signs may include:

  • Your baby is suddenly up at 4 or 5 am every morning and won’t fall back to sleep.
  • Your baby takes 30 minutes (or more) to fall asleep.
  • Your baby keeps waking in the night, sometimes for hours, and is usually not upset. They simply just can’t fall back to sleep!
  • Your baby’s last nap of the day keeps shifting bedtime later by more than 30-60 minutes.
  • Your baby is suddenly taking 30-minute catnaps when normally they sleep for at least an hour.

Paying close attention to your baby’s age-appropriate wake windows and nap transitions is another easy way to gauge when it will be time for your baby to drop a nap! Most babies fall within these ranges: 

Wake windows:

  • 0-8 weeks: awake for 45-60 minutes
  • 2-3 months: awake for 90 minutes MAX
  • 3-6 months: awake for 2 hours MAX
  • 6-9 months: awake for around 3 hours MAX
  • 9-12 months: awake for around 3-4 hours MAX
  • 12-18 months: awake for 5 hours MAX

Nap transitions:

  • 0-8 weeks: should be taking 4-6 naps. 
  • 8 weeks-3 months: transition from 4 down to 3 naps.
  • 3-6 months: most babies this age take 3 naps per day.
  • 6-9 months: transition from 3 down to 2 naps.
  • 9-12 months: most babies this age take 2 naps per day.
  • 12-18 months: transition from 2 down to 1 nap.
  • 18 mo - 3yr: most babies/toddlers this age take 1 nap per day.

(Want to keep these wake windows and nap transitions handy on your phone? Check out my FREE Sleep Tips Download for children 0-3 Years old!)

However, If this isn’t happening naturally (your baby isn’t showing any of these signs), you can impose a forced nap schedule. 

Up until this point, you would be putting your child down for their daytime naps by relying on their wake windows and tired cues. With a forced nap schedule though, your baby’s naps would happen at the same time each day (example: 10 a.m. and 2 pm.), REGARDLESS of their wake window or if they are showing any tired cues. 

Relying solely on the clock during this time will help your baby get into a routine, and also ensure that their last nap doesn’t interfere with bedtime! 

Tips on How to Drop a Nap

Whether your baby has started showing signs that it’s time to drop a nap, or you want to try implementing a forced nap schedule, transitioning to a new nap schedule can be a struggle for both babies and parents! 

Here are some things you can try when transitioning down on naps:

  • Slowly stretch your baby’s wake windows by 15 minutes every few days rather than jumping to a new nap schedule your baby might not be able to tolerate right away. 
  • Add in an afternoon catnap to ensure your little one isn’t falling asleep right before bedtime. A catnap could look like a car or stroller ride where they can doze off for 20-30 minutes without the fight for a formal crib nap.
  • When necessary, you can try moving bedtime earlier to anywhere between 6-630pm. An earlier bedtime (as needed) for an overly-tired baby is actually more helpful in getting restorative night sleep than a late nap and later bedtime would be [1]!

​​​​​​If you find yourself still struggling with your little one’s sleep, please know that you are not alone and that I am here to help. Download one of my comprehensive sleep guides


[1] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32861189/

Need help transforming your child's sleep? Check out my sleep offerings for children 0-3 years old!


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