Circadian Rhythms & The Science Behind Your Child's Naps

It may seem that some babies are natural sleepers. They fall asleep easily, take lengthy naps, and sleep well overnight. Then there are other babies who need more assistance to get in the daytime sleep that they need and struggle to take lengthy naps. What if I told you, all children can take good, restorative naps if given the right opportunity?

The key to helping babies achieve their best nap is having them nap at the correct time of day as when they nap is more important than how long they nap.

Circadian Rhythms

We all have biological clocks (circadian rhythms), which are controlled by the rotation of the earth on its axis. Our circadian rhythms serve as an internal timing mechanism for sleep based on dark (night)-light (day) cues.

When we sleep in sync with these rhythms we can not only fall asleep the easiest, but we also receive the best quality, most restorative sleep. By being aware of of your child’s circadian rhythms and offering their nap(s) accordingly, you can ensure they receive the sleep they need as a one-hour nap at the biologically correct time is much more restful than a two-hour nap outside of your child’s biologically-driven schedule.

Interestingly enough, while the timing of our “sleep waves” change as we age, they remain consistent for all children of the same age with only slight variance.


What time should your child be napping?

For babies four months and older on a two or three-nap schedule, the morning nap should start between 8:30-9:00am, followed by an afternoon nap starting between 12:30-1:00pm. Toddlers and beyond on one nap, should be starting their nap between 12:30-1:00pm.

Babies under four months, do not yet have a circadian rhythm. Instead, watch the clock to keep their wake period short and react to their sleep signals. That is, signs that show they are ready for sleep. The key to successful sleep, is ensuring they are asleep before becoming overtired. If your baby is fussy, it is likely they are already overtired.

Want to Relate?

As an adult it can be hard to relate to the strength of sleep rhythms as our busy lifestyles leave us falling into bed exhausted. However, if you consider jet lag, you will find a feeling familiar to a child sleeping outside of their circadian rhythm. After reaching your destination you most likely have a hard time falling asleep and staying asleep and despite sleeping your typical stretch of nighttime sleep, you wake feeling far less rested. This is how a child, sleeping outside of their circadian rhythm feels.

*The original version of this post appeared in Macaroni Stork

Well Rested Baby is a team of Family Sleep Institute certified sleep consultants that helps families like yours identify, address, and correct their children’s sleep issues. WRB works with moms and dad’s to create customized sleep plans that reflect a family’s comfort level and philosophies. When paired with WRB’s 360-approach, the entire family is set up for sleep success. WRB offers a variety of support packages. Contact WRB today to schedule a consultation or learn more about how we can help you and yours get the sleep you need and deserve.