How many naps does your little one take a day? Mine just grew out of naps about a year ago. I’m still mourning the loss of those three to four-hour segments of uninterrupted mommy time. That’s right, my kid was a long napper. He preferred the long once-a-day naps to two or three shorter scheduled naps.
Honestly, I never made a huge effort for a scheduled nap time. We sort of fell into our routine. But once we did establish a routine, I appreciated it. I saw value in keeping scheduled nap time sacred. Let’s examine some pros and cons of scheduled nap time to see what approach might work best for you.
The Pros of Scheduled Nap Times
1. Carved-Out Mommy Time
I mentioned this before, but doesn’t the idea of scheduled mommy time sound heavenly?
Let’s face it: Even the most tireless new moms need some me-time. Whether it’s to tidy up the house or finally take that shower you’ve been longing for, we crave the chunk of time that’s free for us to do as we please.
I often sat down and read for a while. If there weren’t any pressing chores, I felt no guilt in binge-reading a good book or catching up on TV shows and movies. (Okay, and sometimes, I napped with my baby. No harm in doing that either!)
Whatever you choose to do with your mommy time, the point is, you have it. That me-time can make you a calmer, more effective parent.
2. A Calmer Kid
If you enjoy the blissful mood your baby is in just after their nap, you can give credit to baby’s hormones. Recent studies show that feel-good hormones are released during a nap, leaving them all smiles and coos when they wake up.1
A scheduled nap time helps to regulate those hormones. It also teaches your child’s body how to regulate their sleep schedule.
Since cranky kids are hard to put down for a nap even when they need one, a predictable schedule absorbs some of that crankiness. If your toddler learns that she’s going down for a nap at a certain time, she may be able to follow the routine without a huge fuss. And, of course, you get a happier baby right on schedule.
3. A Better Nighttime Sleeper
How well does your little one sleep at night?
If they are a great sleeper, chances are your nap schedule is helping. It seems that the kids who are good daytime nappers who can soothe themselves to sleep without much difficulty are also sound sleepers at night. Those same kids tend to have a regular sleep schedule, so their Circadian rhythm is tied to their routine.
Sleep requirements vary from child to child, but typically, a kid no longer physically needs to nap by age four or five. Until then, these naps factor into a child’s circadian rhythm and determine many smaller outcomes, from mood to growth spurts.2
The Cons of Scheduled Nap Times
1. Not for Mommies On-The-Go
As a new mom, I was a homebody. I was okay with working remotely, hanging out with my baby, and just working life around the schedule we fell into. But I realize that the stay-at-home, totally tethered-to-baby’s-schedule life, is not for everyone.
If you’re an adventurous mom who likes to pack up the diaper bag and do some errands, scheduled nap time might not work for you. Spontaneous napping during a stroll through the park or a short car trip may be more conducive to your family’s lifestyle.
That said, experts refrain from recommending napping on the go. They say that kids lulled into a nap in motion, such as in a car seat, may have trouble self-soothing for a deeper sleep later in childhood.3,4
Some babies are easy sleepers, though. If yours is one of those kids who can sleep through a thunderstorm or a family party, you might just be blessed with a kid who thrives on unscheduled nap time.
2. Harder Adjustment to Physiological Changes
Thinking back to my little guy’s newborn days, I can hardly believe how different our daily routine is a few years later. His nap times shifted and adjusted from the growth spurt to the teething phase to the preschool days.
Since I wasn’t a stickler for a firm schedule, it was simple for me to readjust with each growing pain. We just went with the flow, and I noted what had changed.
Religiously sticking to a nap schedule might mean you’re in for a more challenging transition for both mom and child during growth spurts or developmental leaps. Researchers discovered that naps for kids are tied to their physiological development more than anything else.5
So sometimes, the need to flex that schedule comes out of nowhere. While you’re both busy readjusting to the new norm, you get stuck with a moody toddler.
Striking a Balance With Scheduled Nap Times
The consensus among experts is that a scheduled nap time is excellent. Yet, it’s not ideal for everyone. Maybe the perfect balance is to aspire to a schedule but remain flexible. In retrospect, that’s what I did, and it may be why our experience with napping has been positive!
My son didn’t fight naps often. He rarely got to a point where he was too fussy to fall asleep. Perhaps that’s because while we stuck to a routine, we slipped into it naturally without forcing it.
I still made sure baby napped each day. But it wasn’t the end of the world if the nap happened a half-hour later than usual, for example. My casual relationship with our schedule allowed room for shifts and phases. Also, once he was done with naps, I could recognize it and take it for what it was.
Quick Nap Time Rules of Thumb
Though the need for a firm schedule is debatable, here are some recommended rules of thumb for naps:
1. Don’t skip naps altogether—Unless they’re transitioning away from naps around four or five, try to ensure a nap takes place each day.
2. Try for a cool, dark environment—If you’re not lucky enough to have an easy sleeper, prepare the nap time environment. A cool, calm, dark place is most conducive to sleep.
3. Use white noise—If your child is a light sleeper, white noise can mask the sounds of daily activities. There is no need to run the drier or vacuum, though. Just buy a white noise machine for your child’s room.
4. No naps close to bedtime—Hectic days sometimes result in postponed naps. But don’t wait until early evening for the nap to happen. You may end up with a kid who can’t sleep through the night.
What works well as your nap time strategy? Are you a fan of scheduled nap times or no? I’d love to know what you take away from your experience.
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