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5 Keys to A Successful Nap Routine

Have you figured out an ideal nap routine for your baby yet? Make sure you’re doing these five things to help your baby nap consistently and get the rest they need!

mom cuddling baby before nap time

Many parents have a solid bedtime routine in place and know that it does wonders for their child’s nighttime sleep!

But many people overlook the importance of a good nap routine.

Having a few naptime rituals can go a long way in getting your baby or toddler down easier for their nap.

Your nap routine doesn’t have to be fancy or even long.

Essentially it’s a shortened version of your bedtime routine. Even doing the same 2 to 5 activities each day right before nap time can go a long way in helping prepare your baby for sleep.

Your little one is much more likely to sleep better if you keep a consistent nap routine. Let’s talk about how to use a nap routine to improve your baby’s daytime sleep.

baby's diaper getting changed

Should Babies Have a Nap Routine?

The short answer to this question is yes. A nap routine is important to help your baby get the daytime rest they need.

As a Pediatric Sleep Consultant, I help my clients develop routines to help signal to their babies that rest time is near.

Your nap routine can involve whatever you like, and whatever makes the most sense for your family. I recommend that you keep it simple, short, and calm.

The most important aspect of a nap routine is that it is consistent. Keep the routine the same, so your baby learns to recognize the signals that mean it’s time to sleep.

Young baby swaddled for nap routine

What Age Should You Start a Nap Routine?

The first few weeks at home with your new baby are going to be an adjustment for everyone. Don’t stress yourself out about establishing an elaborate routine just yet.

You can, however, start getting into the habit of following a predictable daily flow during those first weeks at home.

Cycling through an eat-play-sleep routine helped to keep things steady for me in those tired new-mom days.

Eventually, as my daughter grew, she began to rely on that daily pattern too. Before we knew it, our days clicked into place and we both relied on the predictability.

Baby swaddled for nap routine

Babies can start to recognize routines from a young age. Newborn babies as young as 8 weeks old can start to recognize and settle in to a routine.

By then, their circadian rhythm and daytime sleep patterns start to regulate and become more consistent. Their day/night confusion is also subsiding.

You’re welcome to begin incorporating a nap routine in those early weeks for your baby’s naps, but it’s also never too late to start.

baby napping on the go in bassinet

What Is A Good Nap Time Routine?

Your pre-nap routine will be something that is unique and makes the most sense for you and your little one.

Whether your baby is a few months old or is an active toddler, there are some key components you’ll need to develop a successful nap routine.

In general, your pre-nap routine should include the following:

5 Keys to a Good Nap Routine

1. A Routine You Can Do Anywhere

A good nap routine is one you can do anywhere. Naps-on-the-go are almost always a part of baby’s life.

If you can use a few signals such as a white noise sound machine or a special song, then you can do a little nap routine even if you’re putting your baby down for sleep at grandma’s house or as you go on a walk.

Toddler napping in a dark room

2. A Dark and Quiet Space

It’s easier to fall asleep and sleep for longer stretches in a darkened sleep space with limited noise exposure. I am a big fan of using blackout curtains in the nursery and a white noise machine to achieve an ideal sleep environment in your little one’s room.

3. A Calming Activity

This can be as simple as singing a lullaby while you change your baby’s diaper, or speaking in a quiet, calming tone as you read a short and simple book.

We kept a handful of nap-themed books next to our rocker to choose from. Once our nap routine was firmly established, my daughter would start yawning as soon as we cracked open the book.

Mom reading to toddler for nap routine

4. Comfort Cues

A few quick cues can help your baby feel more comfortable and cue to their brain that sleep is coming.

After reading books, give a quick cuddle and then put your baby in a swaddle or sleep sack. See some of the best sleep sacks here.

For older kids, it can be helpful to change them into their pajamas for nap time.

5. A Safe Sleep Surface

If you know me, you know I’m a stickler for sleep safety. Even for short naps, the the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends your baby sleep on a safe surface like a bassinet, crib, or portable play yard.

As long as your nap routine includes these five main components, you’ll be well on your way to establishing great napping habits!

mom reading her twins a book as part of the nap routine

What is an Example of a Pre Nap Routine?

Your naptime routine can be super simple and short. About 3 to 5 minutes is all you need to cue to your baby’s brain that sleep is coming.

Here are sample nap routines based on your baby’s age.

Sample Newborn Nap Routine

There’s not much time in your newborn’s wake window to have much of a nap routine, but a simple routine will do the trick. For your newborn all your nap routine needs to consist of is the following:

  • Change baby’s diaper
  • Swaddle
  • Turn on white noise

Sample Baby Nap Routine

As your baby grows and is able to have longer wake windows, you can add a little more to their routine. For a simple routine to do before baby’s nap, I recommend:

  • Diaper change
  • Read one book
  • Put baby in sleep sack
  • Turn on white noise

Toddler Nap Routine

It’s helpful to carry your pre nap routine into the toddler years to help get older children ready for nap time as well. Here’s a simple nap ritual you can do for your growing toddler:

  • Read 2 books
  • Put toddler in pajamas or sleep sack
  • Turn on white noise

Eventually your child’s sleep needs decrease, and kids stop napping. Even after your toddler drops their afternoon nap and moves to quiet time, it can be helpful to keep part of the routine to make the transition smooth.

Nap routine and bedtime routine are similar

Should the Nap Routine Be the Same as Bedtime Routine?

It’s a good idea to make your nap routine similar to the bedtime routine, but shorter.

It’s easier for your baby to recognize nap time signals if they’re the same signals you use at bedtime.

Sometimes the bedtime routine includes more involved activities like bath time or applying calming lotion. These are things that can be cut out of the nap routine to keep it shorter.

Let’s say your bedtime routine includes a diaper change, reading three books, and then snuggles. These are all things you can keep in the nap routine!

Keep things in the same order, but maybe choose one shorter book and cut down the length of cuddle time.

Baby awake in their crib

One thing that really helps your baby settle in to nap time is sleeping in the same place that they sleep at night.

For younger babies, this might mean napping in their bassinet. For older babies and toddlers this means napping in their crib.

Of course, life happens! Sometimes your baby will need to nap on the go in their stroller or car seat.

If you keep the nap routine activities and location similar to your bedtime routine, you’ll have a much easier time getting your baby to sleep during those daytime naps!

Amy Motroni