Creating a 4 month old nap schedule can solve sleep regression and bedtime battles. Learn best practices to get your baby on a sleep schedule using real life examples.
When my eldest was 4 months old, I felt like I did the impossible: I went to a clothing store with him, tried on some clothes, and even bought some (win!).
You see, at that stage, I felt like I could never leave the house because of his nap schedule. He was taking shorter naps (45 minutes was a “long” one for him) and had equally short wake windows. Any outing seemed impossible when we had to rush home for his four (and sometimes more) naps.
I had no idea how to reduce the number of daytime naps to a more manageable three times a day without keeping him awake past his usual two hours. It seemed like we were stuck with either frequent naps or an overtired baby who’s been awake far too long.
It’s a dilemma that we all face. Maybe you’re thinking of following a 4 month old nap schedule, but aren’t exactly sure if that’s even possible. Your baby’s naps vary from 30 minutes to two hours of sleep—not exactly a predictable pattern to base a schedule on.
Maybe you’ve tried putting him down for a nap by the clock—at 9am, 12pm, and 3pm—but found that he was already cranky even by the first nap. Or your biggest struggle is what to do when he wakes up crying from a short nap. He doesn’t go back to sleep, even if you leave him in the crib.
And sometimes you simply wonder how you even know when to transition him to fewer naps, or how many naps he should even take.
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Best practices for creating a 4 month old nap schedule
As messy as creating a 4 month old nap schedule can feel, thankfully babies are adamant about letting us know what they need. Still, as a first-time parent, it’s easy to second-guess your decisions or to feel like you have no idea what you’re doing.
After having three kids, I’ve made it my goal to share what helped me, so that others can try it for themselves and hopefully have a better experience. Because as different as each baby is, certain best practices are common among 4-month-olds.
Take a look at these best practices for creating your 4-month-old’s sleep schedule:
1. Experiment in 15-minute increments
Many moms feel stuck trying to create a 4 month old nap schedule because of the length of naps and awake times. Outings feel impossible when the baby is already cranky after an hour. Getting to even three naps a day means hardly any sleep and a lot of time awake.
I can definitely relate. My baby wasn’t exactly taking the two-hour naps I kept hearing other babies his age were taking. Still, there’s a way to work with what you’ve got.
To get better sleep, start experimenting with your 4 month old nap schedule in 15-minute increments. If he only naps for 45 minutes, extend his official wake-up time to an hour. If he can only stay awake for an hour and a half, keep him up for an hour and 45 minutes.
Stick to this new schedule for a few days and see how he adjusts. I know that feeling of panic when the baby has been awake too long, or that he hasn’t had much time to nap. By experimenting with just 15 minutes, you’re able to fine-tune his schedule without stretching him too thin.
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2. Base nap times on when your baby last woke up
When you think of a “schedule,” you probably think of set times of the day, every day. After all, in an ideal world, babies would sleep and eat at the same time, no matter what. And you likely followed a schedule in the past, like eating lunch at noon or leaving work at 6pm.
So, it’s easy to assume that schedules are the same with babies.
Except they’re not exactly the predictable type. Some naps stretch for three hours, while others are a mere few minutes (or none at all). Sometimes they’re done eating in five minutes, while other times they can nurse for an hour.
Trying to base their naps on set times like a 9am nap and a 12pm feeding schedule isn’t realistic.
Instead, base nap times on when your baby last woke up—and put him down to sleep no more than two hours later.
If he woke up for the day at 6:30am, his next nap should be no later than 8:30am. If the next day he wakes up at 7am, then his first nap would be at 9am. By basing naps on when he last woke up, you’re ensuring that he isn’t overtired and is actually sleeping when his body needs to.
Now, two hours is a general range. Some babies are ready for sleep even sooner than that, while others can stretch their awake time a little longer. But two hours is a good place to start for this age.
3. Follow the EASY sleep routine
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As a first-time mom, I quickly saw how breastfeeding my baby would lull him to sleep. Any time he got sleepy, I took that as my cue to feed before putting him down. Unfortunately, this created an unsustainable habit. Each time he felt sleepy, he needed to feed to fall asleep.
Then I heard about Tracy Hogg’s The Baby Whisperer, where she talks about the EASY routine (Eat-Awake-Sleep-You). Rather than feeding him to sleep, I started feeding my baby after he woke up. Now our routine looked more like this:
- wake up
- sleep (the “you” is focusing on self-care while the baby sleeps)
Then the cycle would repeat, feeding him after he woke up instead of feeding him to sleep.
Not only does this routine avoid the dependence on feeding to sleep, but it also gives you a steady rhythm to your day. Rather than following set times of the day, you do what’s next based on what had just happened.
4. Have a (really) early bedtime
Many parents who have a hard time reducing the number of naps their babies take struggle at the end of the day.
They find that even with 15-minute increment stretches in both naps and awake times, the last few hours of the day can feel miserable. Plus, you’re dealing with the physical toll at the end of the day where willpower fades and exhaustion sets in.
The secret? Have an early bedtime… a really early bedtime.
Some parents swear that a bedtime routine as early as 5pm has helped give their babies the sleep they need as they adjusted to a new nap schedule. But even small increments can help, especially when your baby doesn’t seem like he can stay awake much longer.
And remember, the early bedtime is a temporary situation to help him adjust and feel better rested. As they say, sleep begets sleep, so the more rested he is during nighttime sleep, the likelier he is to nap better the next day.
5. Drop the last nap
As babies begin to sleep in longer stretches, they’ll likely have fewer naps throughout the day. If you find that your 4 month old is ready to drop a nap, try ditching the last one.
Let’s say he naps four times a day. See if you can stretch his awake and nap times in small increments so that you can eventually drop that last nap.
Another option is to put him down for a “cat nap,” or a short nap, and wake him up with enough awake time before bedtime. And still, yet another option is to skip that last nap, short or not, and simply move bedtime earlier.
How do you know when to change the nap schedule?
Perhaps the biggest question lingering in your mind is: How do I even know WHEN to change my baby’s 4 month old nap schedule?
A good time to transition and experiment with your baby’s naps is exactly when it’s messy. When your go-to patterns become less predictable, and your baby has been extra fussy. After all, if it’s working fine, then you wouldn’t find yourself with a need to change anything.
For instance, if you find that he has been extra fussy for that last nap, especially for five days in a row, that’s a good sign to experiment with or drop it.
As you can see, a 4 month old nap schedule isn’t one that’s set in stone. Rather than going by the clock, base naptime on when your baby last woke up. Then, follow the EASY routine and feed him after he wakes up.
Stretch his sleep and awake times in 15-minute increments as you transition to fewer naps. If needed, have an earlier bedtime—even if temporary—and drop naps starting with the last one. And finally, you’ll know it’s time to adjust your 4 month old nap schedule exactly when it seems to throw you off.
You can help your baby develop healthy sleep habits!
Despite the rushed shopping trip, I felt proud to take my 4-month-old baby on an outing I normally didn’t do. We even got home in time for his second nap—but to be sure, we spent the rest of the day just hanging out at home.
Get more tips:
- “At What Age…?” Baby Milestones You Don’t Always Hear About
- How to Get Your Baby to Take Longer Naps
- How to Stay Calm When Your Baby Won’t Nap
- The Biggest Reason Your Baby Will Not Sleep (Even After All This Time)
- What to Do When Your Baby Wakes Up Crying Hysterically
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