Controlling Nap Lengths

Sometimes you have to do a little controlling of naps to help sleep turn out for the best.

With younger babies this can mean not letting them sleep more than 1.5-2.5 hours for each nap during the day so that they 1) eat often enough and 2) have enough daily waketime and 3) get their days and nights right. See Eat/Wake/Sleep Routine (EWS) and Parent-Directed Feeding (PDF) for various ways to do this.

Shortening a nap to help other naps
With older babies you sometimes need to shorten a nap, particularly the morning nap, (this can start as early as 10 months of age) for day and night sleep to go well.

The reason for this is if the morning nap is too long, many babies/toddlers won't be able to sleep in the afternoon (even if they are dead tired) which makes for a very long afternoon for mom and baby. If a baby doesn't have sleep from his morning nap until bedtime he is going to be extremely tired by bedtime and you may end up with brand new problems (resisting going to bed, waking at night etc). Plus, the afternoon nap has been found to be the most restorative so if any nap shortening is going to take place, it is best to avoid involving the afternoon nap and focus in on other naps. Sometimes to get the afternoon nap to take place, you end up having it really late which moves bedtime late (Read more on this below).

If your child does end up missing an afternoon nap for whatever reason, it would probably be a good idea to have a super early bedtime.

On a side note for those of you troubleshooting naps, a super early bedtime can sometimes result in a natural shortening of the morning nap which would then help restore the length of the afternoon nap.

Shortening a nap to help with night sleep
If your child is sleeping too long during the day then he's likely missing out on some night sleep. Since night sleep is more restorative than day sleep (although both are needed with young children to function well!), you don't want to skimp on the night sleep in place of super long naps or too many naps.

Sometimes this happens when you are trying to fit X number of naps in but to get your child to actually fall asleep for the naps, you have to have them far apart. As you get them farther apart bedtime moves later and later, especially if you've got long nappers. So to get enough nights sleep you need to either drop a nap, or reduce the length of one of them.


  1. What do you think is the best way to wake a baby for a feeding? I try to do it gradually - turning on lights dimly, stopping swing if he is in one, etc), but he is still often mad when I disturb his sleep.

  2. Laura

    That's a hard one bc if you wake him up at a bad time during his sleep phases he won't feel so great. But it's a bit hard to work around when they are really young and you are trying to feed them often during the day to help them sleep longer at night. As time goes by you may notice that if he sleep too much/too little he ends up being cranky and then you will be able to work around this if possible.

    A gradual waking, like you mentioned, is a great idea. I would probably go full on bright lights/sun with a young baby though since they aren't as sensitive to light as an older child. I would also unswaddle if he is swaddled and lay him on a flat surface by himself (this really helps keep babies awake during feedings too). You could then start talking to him to help him rouse. Around 4 months or so I would even open the window curtains/blinds and the door to the room then walk out for a few minutes before coming back to help my son wake up a bit. He didn't fully wake up by this but it helped.

    It's possible some of the "madness" he shows is a feeling of hunger suddenly kicking in. Is he happy after you feed him? If not, maybe he didn't get enough sleep and needs a shorter waketime. Good luck!

  3. What is considered "too long" for morning naps?

  4. Vee,

    It depends on the age of your child and how well they are sleeping for the afternoon nap. Before you wean this nap it is usually around 2 hours long assuming your child isn't having problems with short naps. You want to start decreasing the length of the morning nap when the afternoon nap length is suffering and isn't improved by a little increase in waketime before the nap. For some kids this happens around 10 months, for others it happens shortly before they drop the morning nap.

    Also, generally the afternoon nap is suppose to be the longest so that you 1)don't end up dropping this nap first leaving you with only a morning nap and a child that is cranky by the time 3pm or so comes around and 2) so that your child has the longest nap of the day before the longest period of time they are up. That said, if your child is having a 3 hour nap in the morning and a 2 hour afternoon nap and sleeping well at night I wouldn't really try to "fix" things unless you start to notice the afternoon nap shortening before the morning nap or similar problems.

  5. hi rachel, i have a 5 month old daughter who sleeps like a champ at night from 630p until 8a (only the occasional disruption, and i still do a dreamfeed because i don't want her going without food for that long), half of the time i have to wake that sweet child up.

    naps are another story..she always goes in phases of good naps and bad, even though i have tried to stay consistent with babywise and healthy sleep habits as my guidelines. her morning naps i can count on more than 50% of the time, and i let her, she will sleep 2.5 or 3 hours. but it usually means a scant afternoon nap. lately the afternoons have been very dicey, rarely we will get over 1.5 hours, but usually 45min. she has not taken that third nap in a couple of weeks. the last couple of days she stayed up from 1p until 6p, for which she was definitely on edge but not a monster. you can see why i have to put her to bed so early! it, of course, makes sense that she have the longest nap prior to the longest wake time, but i'm a little hesitant that it will backfire! have you tried this?

    is it possible that she doesn't need to have as much daytime sleep because of how long she sleeps at night?

    also, do you have any tips on how to go about controlling her naps to see if i can add some time to her afternoon nap?

    thanks a lot, your blog is great!

  6. the Roache hotel,
    I would work on focussing on the waketime length and nap length. Start with focussing on the morning nap and going from there. Keep a sleep log so you can seee what lengths work out. My guess is that she can tollerate 1.5-2 horus at a time, probably less in the morning with more in the evening. Less waketime after bad naps (though still somewhat half decent). As for nap length. You might want to limit each to 1.5-2 hours. I would maybe even try not to do much more than 12 hours at night at this time. But I would wean from that slowly as naps improve. If you drop it too much she may be too overtired to sleep or naps.

    She probably needs as much day time sleep as others to stay at her best but might be unable to do so with so much night time sleep and without teh correct waketime and nap lengths.

    As for controlling naps, limit the mornign nap. Mabye to 1.5 hours. Then work with the waketime after to see what works best. Go from there.

    You seem to know your stuff pretty well. A little tweeking and you should hopefully have it figured out. She really is doing very well sleep wise. Yes, maybe not totally consistent, but still very good for her age :)

  7. rachel, thank you for the advice! just a day or two after i wrote you, she started to sleep better for her naps. i did extend her wake time, but i'm unconvinced that anything i do ever matters; i'm just lucky that she sleeps as well as she does. i know better at this point than to have expectations, so i'll enjoy it while it lasts!

    i really appreciate your approach to parenting. it's hard to accept some genetically predisposed traits in your kid when all of these books tell you that your child "should" be doing x or y. sometimes, maybe most of the time, they just are the way they are. it's a little scary but also comforting!


  8. the roache hotel,
    Glad she is sleeping better. happy to be of help!

    As for expectations, I try to hope for the best, work toward my goals, but expect the worst. Then I don't get too upset when the worst inevitably happens :)

  9. Hi Rachel, wondering if you could help me. My baby is 3.5 months old and I'm trying to establish a consistent sleep schedule but not sure where to begin as I think there are a number of issues at play.

    Here's what his schedule has been like for the past week:
    - goes to sleep btw 9:30 and 10 (I put him in his crib earlier but that seems to be the time he falls asleep on his own)
    - wakes btn 2 and 2:30 to nurse (I tried to push him to 3 last night and he wasn't having it)
    - wakes again btn 5 and 6:30 (I would normally nurse him again and put him back to bed until he woke around 9:00 but then would have trouble with his next nap around 11:00. I then read in Ferber's book that the last part of his sleep is actually his morning nap so the last couple of days I treated his 5-6 waking as being up for the day
    - morning nap starts btn 8 - 8:30 depending on when he woke up. The other day I woke him after 3 hrs (resulting in a 30 min afternoon nap); today I woke him after 2 hrs (still resulting in a 30 min afternoon nap)
    - afternoon nap starts btn 1:30 - 2:30 depending on tired cues and lasts 30 - 45 mins
    - a third nap starting from 6 - 7 and lasting 30 - 45 mins is sometimes required before bed because he gets so cranky

    My goals are to get him to sleep earlier (btn 8 and 9); get him to wake later (7 would be fine) and reduce early evening crankiness.

    If he wakes btn 5 and 6, should I put him back to bed or keep him up until the morning nap? How long should I let that morning nap go for? And where do I cut off the last nap before bedtime?

    Sorry about the novel! Thanks for reading. I look forward to your response! Cheers, Carolyn

  10. Carolyn Wong,
    Take a look at this post
    I would consider the feed at 5/6 to be a night feed but then wake around 7 ish to start the day. The next nap at this age should happen no more than 2 hours later (maybe even 1 hour, being the morning nap), but likely less. Ferber's wake times are longer than most anyone out there, and most moms will say that if they do them, baby gets too overtired and sleeps badly. But every baby is different. Check out the wake time post for more on this.

    I would try to have more of a 7-7 routine generally. AT this age bedtime is often a bit later and will shortly move earlier. So you may end up having an extra feeding and nap in there in the evening with a later bedtime. Or you might be ok with a 7-7 routine and a dream feed (see post) with some or no waketime during the dream feed. I think the big issue here is the lack of sleep. He needs more during the day. aT this age babies are often up for 1.5 hours then take a good nap (assuming they don't have an issue with cat napping, which many babies do--check out the post short naps). If you get more sleep in during the day the evenings will be less cranky. At this age you will still have to work a lot with sleep cues and a little by the clock. You will be able to do more of the clock as he gets older and older. I would probably let naps not go more than 2 hours at this age, unless he is really lacking on sleep then a bit more might be fine. you will have to see if a super long nap ends up causing issues.

    Good luck. It is tricky to figure out. I am working on a post about the EWS routine which might help you out a bit. Pretty much baby wakes, then east, then plays then sleep and the cycle repeats. Only works this way with long naps. With show naps it may be eat/play/sleep/play/eat/ etc. I think this routine makes it a lot easier to get on a sleep routine.


    1. Rachel, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. We're starting to figure things out a bit more. I will try moving his bedtime slowly to an earlier time. The last few days he has been fussier than usual so I looked up your Wonder Weeks post and lo and behold, there's one at 15 weeks!

      Thanks again! Your blog is great and I think it's amazing that you're helping so many people. Cheers, Carolyn

  11. Carolyn,
    I'm so glad things are starting to fall into place a bit more. Just take it a day at at time and remember that there are always regressions :)

    It really is great to know when those wonder weeks are. It helps out way more than you'd ever think beforehand. At lease this was the case for me.


  12. Hi Rachel,
    I have a 9.5 month old who has always been a great night time sleeper but not such a good daytime napper. Currently he sleeps from about 7pm-7am at night. He usually does about 1.5 hours in the afternoon from 1.30ish on and goes down pretty well. For the last two weeks he won't go down for his morning nap. I was putting him down about 9.30am and have tried making it earlier and later but he will play and cry for up to an hour until I give up because we have to go out somewhere. A few times he hasn't had a morning nap at all and has coped ok but 9.5 months seems too early to drop his morning nap altogether? I'm reluctant to start the nap much later than 10am as it seems to muck up the rest of the day.

    Any advice? Great blog by the way.

    1. Sedgecombe,
      Make sure to do an earlier bedtime when he struggles with naps, as well as an earlier afternoon nap if he doesn't take the morning nap (well, I'd do this but some people will recommend you keep with the same time as usual with the afternoon nap and do an early bedtime).

      Most likely 2-3 hours is going to be a good waketime before that first nap. What were you at before? Try jumping back to that. Keep a log of what he does then.Does he play (screaming in protest for a second then playing counts too) or does he cry an overtired cry. If it's been a while since you had things going smoothly at this time, add some extra waketime in and be consistent for at least a few days before changing things (and keeping track of how he responds). He may be having an off week or something. Oh, as you move that morning nap later you may want to shorten it some if it causes issues with the rest of the day.

    2. Thanks Rachel. It's taken me a while to respond as we've been away a bit so things were all over the place. We are now getting consistent morning naps! I've found that putting him down earlier around 9am seems to be working well. I did have to let him cry it out once for about 15-20 mins but since then no problems. He usually takes 30 mins to get to sleep and only sleeps for 30-45 mins, occasionally longer. But that seems to be enough and makes it easier for us to go out and do things in the morning.

      Thanks for your help!

    3. That's great to hear that you've figured out how to get things to work best for your family Sedgecombe! Harder done than said sometimes!

  13. Rachel! You mentioned in one of your comments that this starts happening around 10 mos and that's where I'm at exactly. If my son naps past 1030 he won't go down for the afternoon nap no matter what time I move it to unless I eventually go in and rock him and then only for a short nap and wakes so so grumpy.

    My question is though: it seems he would like to sleep from 9-1045/11 but this seems too long for him. He goes down easiest when he wakes around 1015/20 and then goes down between 130/45. Ok the question is that now that he wants to sleep longer when I wake him he is so so upset and grumpy. How do I figure out the best time in his sleep cycle to wake him - and is this the right thing to do?

    1. Molly Erwin,
      Trial and error is you best bet. Try having him wake a tiny bit later and a tiny bit earlier. Try having him wake up more naturally (open the blinds but don't wake him). See if turning on a show or music or reading books right when he wakes helps. I will try to have kids wake up naturally if I can, if not, I'll choose the nap that make the most sense or that they will wake up happy from. Sounds like you can't go any later, so try a bit earlier or consider (if it works) making the first nap very long and then having a short afternoon nap at a later time.

  14. Hi Rachel,

    My 4.5 month old has just come out of the 4 month sleep regression I think.

    Until about a week ago (for a few weeks) I couldn't get her to sleep more than 40 mins for naps when she would wake up screaming and I would feed her. I have been trying to implement the Eat, Activity, Sleep routine but am EBF and is not always that easy especially with the 40 min naps. She now is able to put herself back to sleep after the 40 mins and now naps for a lot longer. My problem is that her morning nap is now really long! I have been waking her up after 2.5 hours to make sure she feeds 4 hours from the last feed but I'm sure she'd sleep longer.

    In the morning I put her down to sleep about 1hr40min -2 hours after she has been awake and she goes to sleep on her own in her cot. I would like to try and get her to take a longer sleep at lunchtime (at the moment she only sleeps for about 40mins sometimes an hour and then takes a nap in the buggy a couple of hours or so from bedtime. (This is only 30 mins)

    Alaya goes to bed anytime around 6.30-7.30 normally I aim for 7 but depends on when the last nap of the day ends. She is still feeding 2 times at night at around 10.30 - 11.30 but the last few days has been closer to 12.30-1am. She then feeds around 3.30-4.30 but the last few days has been closer to 5-5.30.

    Should I try and alter her nap patterns during the day to get a shorter nap in the morning and a longer one at lunch or go with it at the moment and see what she does on her own. The days that I have woken her up to get to a club or an appointment she doesn't sleep anymore in the afternoon and ends up grumpy because she doesn't sleep enough.

    Thanks in advance

  15. Hey there,

    I have an 8 month old with an irregualr sleep pattern, my question is, we have Tuesday morning activity and its always at 930, but my daughter always seems to fall asleep around 8 or 830am, so should i wake her to go to our activity? I try to keep her up but she won't have it..... postpone the activity?

    1. Char,
      If you can easily work around things that disrupt naps, I would do it. If it's hard to work around, then I would skip it only if your child has a really hard time with a disrupted routine. You could always try to have her down by 8 Tuesdays (make sure to get her up at a consistent time in the morning) then get her up by 9:30. That'll give her a good nap still.

  16. Almost 9 month old who I'm having a hard time watching for the right time to put her down for nap #2! It's like if I miss it I'm toast and she's miserable and cries for 3+ hours!! :( she wakes around 6:30/7 every morning and nap#1 is around 9-10:15/10:30. Nap #2 seems to be around 1 is our best time but its hard to make it if we are out for the day! So, according to this post it will be best to either shorten the first nap or have a car nap so we can be at our destination when she wakes. Am I right? Also, if she wakes at 3 from her 1-1:30 nap should bedtime be 7? I've been doing 7:30! Thank you for all you do!! My lo is VeRY sleep sensitive

    1. Tarayn Comer,
      If you need to be out, then those options sounds good. Most likely she'd do better with a bit earlier of a bedtime, maybe even earlier than 7. Test it out and see how she does.


    2. Thank you so much! I will try for an earlier bedtime and see what happens.

    3. One more afternoon nap question--sometimes she goes to sleep and wakes at the 45ish min mark and will not go to sleep but these are disastrous as well! The crying starts after she's been up about an hour and she can't make it any longer. Do I just put down for another nap at this time or put her to bed earlier?

    4. Tarayn, I'd leave her in her bed for 1-1.5 hours, whether she is sleeping or not so she has a rest period. Then I'd probably put her down super early for the night. You can experiment and see what works though. IF she's crying after an hour, a 45 minutes nap might not make bedtime too late.

  17. Hi, I finally night weaned my daughter and trying to get her onto a 7-7 schedule. She has a tendency to wake up on the earlier side-somewhere between 530-6 and i put her down for am nap as close to 9 as I can get her to (830-9 range). On days when she wakes early, she tends to take a very long am nap- close to 2 hours. I have finally got the afternoon nap down- about 3.25 hours after she wakes from a.m. nap but she will only take about an hour nap. I really want her to take a longer pm nap because she seems less active and alert in the afternoon. I have been stretching her last wake time to about 4 hours ( a stretch) but most days that gets us to a bedtime of 630. Any suggestions as to how to get her to nap longer in afternoon? Is 8 months too young to be shortening am nap? I feel like she is taking a long am nap as a way to extend nighttime sleep. thanks so much for your help!

  18. My 14 month old baby wont nap in the afternoon anymore-he still takes a 90 minute nap in the morning. He goes to bed at 6:30 pm and wakes up at 6:30 am. However lately he keeps waking up at 4 or 5 am. I tried waking him up early from his morning nap after 45 minutes to see if he would then nap in the afternoon. But he still wont nap in the afternoon and then was really tired and cranky any tips please?

  19. Oh my goodness I do hope you can help! I have a champion napper of a 23 week old. She needs and takes a good 2 hour nap in the morning and again in the afternoon. She initially wakes after about 45 mins but just lays there and drifts off again. If we get her up in this initial wake up she is horrible and can only cope with an hour wake time so we have learnt to leave her until she is nicely awake after her 2 hours and then she copes with a good 2 hours wake-time! At night she wakes for a nightfeed at some point between 12 and 3 am, wakes at 4am just to lie in her cot awake for an hour and then wakes again at 6am. Again if we get her up at this time within 30mins she is tired and miserable so I now give her a bottle at 6am and she goes down again for 45 mins and we start our day ay 7am. The problem we have is that her first wake time has now increased from 1 hour a few weeks ago to 2 hours now and it has shifted all naps later and we are running out of time for a 3rd (catnap) before bed....Initially we tried it and bedtime got to near 8pm and just seemed too late as I need a break by then!!! So the last few days I have let her have her 2 2 hours naps and brought bed time forward to 6.30pm. Her 1st nap is now about 9am-11am and then she has one about 2-4pm (sometimes 1-3pm). If she wakes at 4pm I bring bedtime forward to 6.30pm but she now wakes after an hour before settling herself back to sleep and generally seems to have a very fidgetty sleep whereas before she was out for the count for the first 6 hours of the night! Should I cut her long naps short and try and keep a 3rd cat nap for a while longer? That means she would have about 4.5-5 hours of day sleep (shortened to about 4 hours if I cut her long sleeps short) I am anxious about doing this as she is such a tired grouch if she doesnt have the 2 hours! OR should we ride out the 3-2 nap transition (which I guess is what we have ultimately implemented) and hope her night sleep settles down again in a few days?? I honestly dont know what to do! All I DO know is I hope to get her into bed by 7pm and up no earlier than 7am for my own sanity.......Is there a feasible solution?! x

  20. I just start her day at 6am as that is when she if waking up regularly and then accept the first wake period will be short and shift all naps up and add the cat nap back in??!!!! I'm just worried she's getting about 5 hours sleep a day then in order to cope with the day and may sleep less at night again! ooooooh this parenting thing is a minefield!!! Jo x

    1. Hi, I could have written this post. Did you come up with an answr? Thanks

  21. Hi Rachel,
    I have a 14 month son and he's started not sleeping through the nights (he's never been cobsistent good at it). We've moved house, rooms, tried him in his own room and in my he's had a fair amount of disruption.
    However, his current pattern is almost killing me! Morning nap 9-10/10.30 afternoon 2.30-4 bedtime 7.30/8... Wakes up needing to know you're there at about 11/12 then wakes up desperate for milk at 2.30 the sleeps till between 4.30-6 am.
    He will not go back to sleep if he doesn't get the milk at 2.30, although he doesn't drink much of it. If left to cry, he will simply keep crying with great force until it's time for breakfast of morning nap. There's no way of almond him down either.
    It's bizarre and I'd really welcome your advice. He's an absolute delight all the time, eats well, plays and laughs all day long. But I don't know what to do about this pattern.
    Many thanks,

  22. Sorry...several typos there but j think you get the idea? 😀

  23. Hi, just wondering if you were able to help! My 11m twins are really good nappers but don't always sleep well at night. They happily sleep for 2x 1.5h during the day but it is then hard to get them to bed by 7pm (my goal whenever possible!) Is it better to have shorter naps or should I just accept that bedtime is 8pm instead?

  24. Hi. My 8.5 mo the old always naps for 1.5 hours in the morning (about 2.25 hours after waking) but only 30 minutes in the afternoon. I have tried shortening wake time, lengthening wake time, feeding before nap, not feeding before nap, and just about everything else I can think of. How do I lengthen the afternoon nap? He sleeps about 7-6:30 at night.

    1. Hi Katie, did you figure this one out? In exactly the same boat with my almost 8 month old! Sleeps 7-7, naps at 9 for 1h30 and then only takes 30mins at 1.30pm!! I have been a firm believer in cot sleeps, both naps in his cot! Thanks, Helen

  25. Hi

    I'm really struggling with my 10 month old son. He has suffered from cmpa and reflux since he was born but this seems to be under control for the last month. His sleep has always been a disaster. I have tried everything you can possibly think of. Shortening naps, making them longer, putting him to bed early, putting him to bed later, he is never over tiered when going to bed and he does fall asleep within 5 to 10 minutes. He is breastfed but always goes into his own cot to sleep after a feed. Tye trouble is he wakes at every sound. I have tried keeping a white noise app running during his sleep which seems to help a little. The problem is he wakes up after every half hour cycle whether it's for a nap for bed time. I have to out him down and most of the time he does sleep again or at times I have ever to rock him to sleep again. I have even done sleep training so he is capable of self soothing as he does at times but still waits for me most days. His current routine us sleeping between 9 and 10pm and wakes around 9 and 10am. His first nap is around 12.30 or 1 depending when he woke up. He usually sleeps 1.5 to 2 hours with that waking at 30 mins. His second nap is 5.30 6 and sleeps for 1.5 hours. The problem is he wakes up allllll night long every hour and wants a comfort feed. I have tried not giving this but he screams the house down. I have tried earlier bedtime before you mention it. It has never made a difference. He has had bedtimes at 6,7,8,9. They have never made a difference to the way he sleeps at night. He never had trouble falling asleep it's always staying asleep. I don't know if it's separation anxiety but then he has always done this every day until now. I get around 4 hours sleep a night and now I'm coming to a breaking point. My husband works nights so I'm alone and really don't kbow what else to do. I have read every sleep site and book and taken on board everyone's advice but it has never helped me. The most he can stretch to is 2 to 3 hours at night before waking again and at times he is awake for hours in the middle of he night wanting to play. Please please can someone help me
    Am I doing something wrong? I am following his lead at the moment because even early bed times never made a difference to his sleep and so I just let him be. He is a very happy baby when he is awake and very active and has reached all his milestones early it's just his sleep is terrible and it's affecting me and how much patience I have left in me:(

    Thanks for any advice

  26. This comment has been removed by the author.

  27. I'm not sure if this post is still being monitored but it's worth a try...your site is the first one I've found that references something that makes sense for my situation!

    My 10month old was a great sleeper but suddenly started refusing the afternoon nap. For us, that is at 330/4pm because she sleeps approx. 9p-8am and then has a morning nap 11-1230.

    Lately that morning nap has been longer, nearly two hours, and I push the afternoon nap start time back accordingly. But perhaps she just needs one nap now? It's been a few days of trying CIO in the afternoon that goes on for 30+ mins. She also always wakes up cranky from the afternoon nap. Suggestions welcome!