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For parents of little ones, there is NO shortage of advice on establishing proper routines and schedules for your babies. One VERY popular approach to daytime scheduling is otherwise known as the “2 3 4 nap schedule”. As a pediatric sleep consultant, I get asked about this schedule ALL THE TIME.
In this article, I will elaborate on what the 2 3 4 nap schedule looks like and provide you with my brutally honest thoughts on whether I recommend this schedule for most babies.
Firstly, what IS the 2 3 4 nap schedule?
The 2-3-4 nap schedule is a suggested framework to put your baby on who is napping twice a day. According to this schedule, your baby should be up for 2 hours before they go down for their first nap. 3 hours after that morning nap ends, your baby goes back down for their second nap. And then 4 hours after your baby wakes up from their second nap, it’s time for bedtime.
I should note that this framework is specifically geared towards babies over the age of 6 months. According to proponents of this schedule, babies on this schedule should be napping approximately 3 hours each day.
Hey Eva- should I use the 2 3 4 nap schedule for my baby?
Thanks for asking! Generally speaking, I’m not a huge fan of the 2-3-4 schedule. While this 2 nap schedule might work well for some easy-going babies, it’s not something I suggest for any baby from the get go.
Why? Simple. The 2 3 4 nap schedule doesn’t work most of the time.
In fact, this schedule will likely be disastrous for parents with babies struggling in the sleep department to begin with (i.e. almost every parent reaching out to me for sleep help). And here’s why:
1) Most babies by 6 months of age still need 3 naps.
The average 6 month-old baby can only be awake for 2-2.5 hours before becoming tired again. This means that most 6 month-olds will be VERY overtired on a 2 nap schedule due to the larger wake windows required to make any 2 nap schedule work, let alone the 2-3-4 nap schedule. And when a baby becomes overtired, this usually leads to MASSIVE sleep challenges.
The reality is that most 6 month-old babies require a 3 nap schedule until closer to the 8 month-mark (corrected) when they are ready to transition from 3 to 2 naps. This is because by 8 months of age, most babies can legitimately pull off bigger, 3-3.5 hour wake windows without becoming overtired.
2) The suggested wake windows in the 2-3-4 schedule (usually) don’t work!
Here’s the deal. If your baby is tired enough for a nap after only 2 hours of wake time in the morning, that same baby likely can’t stay awake for a full 4 hours before bedtime without becoming overtired. And on the flip side, if your baby legitimately needs a 4-hour wake window before bedtime and isn’t tired earlier, he is likely not going to be tired enough to nap in the morning after only 2 hours of wake time. The range in size between these wake windows is too large to truly work for most babies.
For example, a 2-hour wake window before nap 1 for a 6-7 month-old baby makes sense. But that same 6-7 month-old will likely be overtired after 3 hours of wake time before nap 2, he’ll almost CERTAINLY be VERY overtired after 4 hours of wake time before bedtime.
For an 8-9 month-old, on the other hand, a 2-hour wake window before nap 1 is usually too short. And while a 3-hour wake window before nap 2 might be spot on, a 4-hour window before bedtime is almost always going to be too big at this age.
Now, for a 10-12 month-old, a 2-hour wake window before nap 1 is almost always too short. A 3-hour wake window before nap 2 will also be too soon of a nap . These short wake windows can lead to catnaps and even full-on nap refusals.
Now, obviously every baby is different. And if you happen to have your baby on this schedule and the wake windows appear to work, there’s no need to change anything. But for the majority of babies on this schedule, they will be undertired and overtired all at the same time, leading to difficulty falling asleep, nightwakings, early rising, and short naps.
3) The schedule (usually) doesn’t mathematically add up
On the 2-3-4 nap schedule, a baby is suppose to have 9 hours of wake time throughout the day (2+3+4), plus 3 hours of daytime sleep. This equals 12 hours of wake time plus daytime sleep. This means the baby would need to sleep a FULL 12 hours each night for this schedule to work.
Here’s a sample schedule for you using this 2-3-4 nap framework:
830am-10am- nap 1
1pm-230pm- nap 2
Now, if your baby happens to be a 12 hour night sleeper, this schedule COULD work (though no guarantees- see problems # 1 and 2). BUT if your little one “only” sleeps 11-11.5 hours at night, your baby’s morning wake time will creep earlier each day on this schedule.
For example, when a baby is on the above daytime schedule, followed by 11 hours of nighttime sleep, your baby will be up at 530am for the day the following morning. That’s not fun.
Feeling a bit overwhelmed? Grab a copy of my free sleep chart here! This chart will help you figure out your little one’s sleep needs so you feel confident and empowered as a parent.
So what kind 3 nap schedule DO I recommend instead?
Again, so flattered you asked 🙂
A 6 month-old napping 3 times a day usually needs smaller wake windows, more wake time throughout the day, and more daytime sleep totals.
Here’s an example of a schedule that WORKS:
830am-10am- nap 1
1230pm-2pm- nap 2
430-515pm- nap 3
715pm- bedtime (lights out)
This schedule is MUCH more age-appropriate for a 6 month-old since it allows for 2-2.5 hour wake windows, an 11-11.5 hour night, and approximately 3.5 hours worth of daytime sleep. To learn more about 6 month-old schedules and wake windows, read this article.
And what about when a baby IS ready for a 2 nap schedule?
Here’s an example of a 2 nap schedule for a 10 month-old. A typical 2 nap schedule for a 10 month-old baby typically involves larger wake windows with slightly shorter nap totals than what we see with a 3 nap schedule.
930am-11am- nap 1
230pm-4pm- nap 2
Unlike the 2-3-4 nap schedule, this schedule has a 3 hour window before nap 1 and 3.5 hours of wake time before nap 2 and before bedtime. This schedule also calculates 11 hours of nighttime sleep, all of which is MUCH more aligned with the needs of a baby in this age range.
While the 2 3 4 nap schedule might work well for some families, it’s crucial to recognize that it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution and that it’s often a terrible fit for most babies. If it DOES work for your baby, just remember that your little one is the exception, not the rule 🙂
So if you’re attempting to make this schedule work for your baby and your little one agreeing to it, you now have all the clarity you need to understand why! The KEY is to ensure that your little one’s schedule and wake windows are customized towards THEIR specific needs.
**And lastly, come join my FREE Facebook community group where you can get your sleep questions answered by experts, get access to free sleep tips and regular Q&As, and where you can connect with other sleep-loving parents of little ones! Can’t wait to personally connect with you there 🙂**
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