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Sleep Begets Sleep (How Naps Impact your Baby’s Night)

Did you know your baby’s night sleep is often dependent on the quality of their day sleep? Your baby will sleep better at night if they’re getting the right amount of sleep at nap time. Let’s talk about why sleep begets sleep!

Sleep begets sleep for napping baby

As a Pediatric Sleep Consultant, one of most important pieces of sleep advice I can give you is that sleep begets sleep.

Simply put, the better a baby sleeps during the day, the better a baby will sleep at night.

When babies are awake all night, it’s almost always due to poor naps during the day, leading to an overtired baby.

Let’s dive into why sleep begets sleep and how you can ensure your baby gets the sleep they need during the day so your whole family gets the sleep they need at night!

Baby napping in crib

What Does the Phrase Sleep Begets Sleep Mean?

The meaning of sleep begets sleep is fairly straightforward.

Basically, it’s the idea that a baby who is well-rested during the daytime hours will have an easier time falling asleep and staying asleep at night.

If that seems a little counterintuitive to you, I totally get it. I’m sure if you took a 3-hour nap in the middle of the day, you’d be counting a lot of sheep come bedtime!

But you’ve probably noticed that your needs and your baby’s needs are pretty different, especially when it comes to sleep.

The truth is, babies need a lot of sleep! It’s definitely way more sleep than you would guess, especially when they are newborns.

And while sleep begets sleep is a pretty great rule of thumb to live by in those early years, it won’t be the case forever.

Let’s explore why daytime sleep is the key to unlocking your baby’s best sleep at night.

A newborn yawns in mother's arms

Why Does Sleep Beget Sleep?

Ready for a quick science lesson to learn how this phenomenon works?

When we are overtired, our body releases the stress hormone cortisol. This gives us a second wind, and while it can be beneficial for older babies or even adults from time-to-time, for younger babies it can make it extremely difficult for them to settle down for sleep initially, fall asleep, and stay asleep for long periods.

Cortisol counteracts melatonin (the sleep hormone) and physically makes it more difficult to fall asleep.

It can also prevent our bodies from going into deeper sleep cycles once we fall asleep initially. So even if your baby is able to fall asleep after being overtired, they may wake up shortly afterward, or wake frequently through the night.

Sleeping newborn holding parents' finger

Does Sleep Beget Sleep in Newborns?

Newborn wake windows are especially short, which means there are more opportunities for them to slip into overtired territory.

Overtiredness is the exact reason why I use the sleep begets sleep philosophy. An overtired baby is very difficult to settle, and I want to help you avoid that!

In order to get to sleep, your baby needs to relax. It’s hard for them to relax if they feel overtired and agitated, and have those rise in cortisol levels.

Not only is an overtired baby just generally fussy, but they’re also less likely to eat well. This can impact how long they’ll stay asleep before waking for the next feeding.

In order to stay asleep, your baby needs to be well fed. They won’t feed well if they’re fussy.

If we can avoid an overtired baby, we’re well on our way to a better night’s sleep. You can avoid an overtired baby by making sure they get sufficient naps during the day.

If you’re not sure how long your little one should be awake between naps, I’m here to help! You can get printable sleep schedules for babies ages Newborn to 3 years old with my Baby Schedule Cheat Sheets.

My Baby Schedule Cheat Sheets include details about age-appropriate wake windows through toddlerhood, and include tips on when to extend wake windows to handle nap transitions. Check them out here!

Overtired baby crying in highchair

Tips to Optimize Your Baby’s Naps

Your newborn is naturally sleepy, but as they grow, you might need to take steps to help your baby transition into nap time more easily.

Here are some tips to set yourself up for success heading into nap time!

Set up a Space that is Conducive for Sleep

Follow the abcs of safe sleep and provide your baby with a sleep space in a room free from distractions. They will get the best sleep if it’s dark and calm, so consider using nursery blackout curtains and a sound machine.

A Well-Fed Baby Sleeps Better

Sleep and nutrition go hand-in-hand! Try to make sure your baby is getting full feeds as opposed to multiple snacking feeds throughout the day.

To avoid problems with reflux, give your full baby some time to digest before setting them down to sleep.

Baby crawling and being active before nap time

Make Sure your Baby has Enough Activity Before Nap Time

It’s difficult to break the habit of nursing your baby to sleep, so I recommend following an Eat-Play-Sleep routine or EASY baby schedule instead. This gives your little one some time to digest and burn off any extra energy before heading into nap time.

Routine is Key

Even from a very young age, your baby is capable of learning a routine.

If you keep a similar nap schedule from day to day, your baby’s natural biorhythms will align with those anticipated nap times. You’ll notice that your baby will begin to get sleepy around the same times every day!

My goal as a Pediatric Sleep Consultant is to teach you how to foster independent sleep habits for your baby. Whether you need help with naps or bedtime, let me help your baby get on a reliable and successful sleep schedule!

Mother holding awake baby's hand in crib

Is Sleep Begets Sleep a Myth?

You might hear people say that “sleep begets sleep” is just a myth. I must respectfully disagree, but I can understand why some people might think that!

Here’s the thing: sleep does not beget sleep if naps are too close to bedtime.

Napping also doesn’t help nighttime sleep if you have too many daytime hours dedicated to sleep in your baby’s schedule.

The key to sleep actually begetting sleep is helping your baby get the right amount of sleep during the day for their age, and still building enough activity into their schedule before bedtime.

Pay attention to wake windows, and be sure that your baby has been awake for an appropriate length of time before putting them down for the night.

Toddler napping

Does Sleep Beget Sleep in Toddlers?

As your baby ages into toddlerhood, they’ll need less and less sleep during the day.

A toddler’s natural development allows them to stay awake for longer stretches of time. That means they begin to function on less sleep than they used to when they were a baby.

But toddlers still need naps! Up until your little one turns two or three, they still need between 2-3 hours of nap time during the day.

You might notice that your toddler starts a nap-strike around 2 years old. However, I recommend trying to keep a nap in your 2-year-old’s schedule to avoid overtiredness and toddler bedtime tantrums at night.

Even after they turn two, toddlers can still use that 1-2 hour recharge in the middle of the day.

Most toddlers will be content to take a midday nap until they’re around 3 or 4 years old. Some even continue napping beyond that!

If you need help getting your baby to sleep and breaking the overtired cycle, I’m here for you! Schedule a free call to learn more about my sleep packages and how I can help your family get the rest you all need!

Amy Motroni