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Is My Baby Ready for a Nap Schedule?

Dear Heather,

My 4-month-old sleeps at totally erratic times. Sometimes she'll take huge 3-hour naps (rare), and other days it seems like she's awake all day. Should she have a nap schedule?

#sleepynotsleepy

Dear #sleepy,

Not yet, but soon!

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Her nervous system and internal clock are still developing, so it's best to keep a regular bedtime—but let naps be flexible. At her young age, I'd still recommend you go by what we describe in "The Happy Sleeper" as the "span of awake time" in between her sleeps, not by the clock.

The span of awake time is the amount of time a little one can be awake before the pressure to sleep builds and a nap is called for. Missing that window will make her overtired and harder to put to sleep. Plus, she'll be less able to play, learn and interact if she's past her prime window for sleep.

A 4-month-old can usually be awake for about 60 to 90 minutes in the morning between wake up time and first nap. After that, the window grows slightly to more like 2 or 2.5 hours between the last nap and bedtime. Use that as a guide, and it's all you need to decide when to put her down. Whether she sleeps for 30 minutes or two hours, it doesn't really matter. What matters is not keeping her up too long in between sleeps.

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Once she's closer to 6 months, you'll probably see a pattern emerge that tells you she's ready for a by-the-clock nap schedule. Something around 8:30 a.m., 12 p.m. and 3 p.m. will usually do the trick at this age.

Sleep happy,

Heather

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Sleep expert Heather Turgeon, co-author of "The Happy Sleeper: The Science-Backed Guide to Helping Your Baby Get a Good Night's Sleep—Newborn to School Age," will fix your family's sleep problems in this space as she does in her home consultations. Turgeon's solutions are nonjudgmental, kind and—best of all—based on science.

No situation is too challenging. Leave your sleep problem in the comments. Let's all get a good night's sleep, finally.

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