4 to 3 Nap Transition: How to Get it Right

Updated Nov 1st 2022 | timer 10  min read

4 to 3 nap transition
Elissa Gross

Medically Reviewed By medical-check-mark Elissa Gross Board Certified Pediatrician & Lactation Consultant

Mandy Treeby

Written By Mandy Treeby Chief Baby Sleep Consultant

When you first bring your baby home, they sleep a lot. In fact, newborns sleep about 75% of the day. This number will drop as your baby grows, and your baby grows very fast: Before you know it, they’re doing the 4 to 3 nap transition.

So, when do babies transition from 4 to 3 naps? We’re here to answer that and other nap transition questions, including Are there early wakeups with nap transitions?, Why do babies nap so often?, and How do I do the 4 to 3 nap transition?


IN THIS ARTICLE:


When Should Babies Transition from 4 to 3 Naps?

Generally, babies typically transition from 4 to 3 naps at around 3-4 months – most babies (age adjusted) will transition down to 3 naps by 16-weeks or 4-months.

Keep in mind, your baby is an individual and goes at their own pace. As with all things related to baby sleep, it’s important to know your baby’s sleep cues and adjust when you think it’s the right time for a change. Typically for this transition you’ll notice your baby fighting bedtime since their last nap is too close to bedtime – then you know it’s time to make a change.

Why Do Babies Transition from 4 to 3 Naps?

You’ve likely noticed that your baby’s sleep has become more organized over the past 4 months. Where once they slept all the time, they likely began taking betwen 4 and 5 naps around 2-3 months – but still sleep may have seemed to be a bit all over the place.

This is because during this time, their sleeps have been organizing around their circadian rhythm – the “internal clock” that regulates sleep. As the circadian rhythm takes shape, your baby’s sleep becomes more organized and further consolidates at night.

This is known as the maturing of the circadian rhythm and it typically happens around that 16-week mark – and with more sleep happening overnight and stronger naps during the day your baby is ready to transtion from 4 naps to 3.

If you’re looking to demystify sleep, you can consider sleep training a process that will help you tune in, work with and strengthen your baby’s circadian rhythm to help your baby learn to fall asleep faster and sleep longer – two skills that set your baby up for sleep success later in life.

Do 4-month-olds Still Need Night Feedings?

Yes. Your 4-month-old is still growing very fast, so even as their begins to slowly consolidate at night, they’ll still need night feedings for a few more months. Most babies aren’t ready to night wean until somewhere between 5 and 9 months of age.

How Do I Know My Baby is Ready for a 4 to 3 Nap Transition?

Regardless of whether it’s the 4 to 3 nap transition or the 3 to 2 nap transition, here are the traditional signs your baby is ready for a nap transition.

  • Your Baby Won’t Fall Asleep at Naptime: If your baby is suddenly and consistently struggling to fall asleep during a nap, it may be time for the 4 to 3 transition.
  • Your Baby Protests Naps: Along the same lines, if your baby is actively resisting or protesting a nap, they may be ready for the 4 to 3 nap transition.
  • Your Baby Can’t Fall Asleep at Night: Your baby’s wake windows shift as they age, so sometimes, as they reach nap transition age, your baby will take a nap out of habit and not really need that nap. This can make it hard for them to fall asleep at night. If your baby is suddenly not tired at their typical bedtime, it may be time for the 4 to 3 nap transition.
  • Your Baby Stays Awake and Isn’t Fussy: We love this one – a sign your baby is ready for a nap transition is that they miss a nap and aren’t cranky or fussy. They’re just their sweet selves – a definite sign your baby might be able to lose that nap.
  • Your Baby Stays Awake and Is Fussy: On the opposite end, if your baby is very fussy during naps, they may be getting too much sleep, which can throw off their sleep cycles. That said, surprising fussiness is a sign your baby is ready for a nap transition.

As with anything related to sleep, it’s important that you notice changes over a number of days (even weeks) before making an adjustment. If your baby resists a nap one day but not for the next 3 or 4 days that one day of nap upset doesn’t mean it’s time to drop a nap.

Are Naps Related to Overnight Sleep?

Naps are more than little breaks your baby takes during the day. They’re an essential part of your baby’s 24-hour sleep cycle. In fact it’s how your baby sleeps during the day that sets them up for sleep at night.

Why Do Babies Nap So Much During the Day?

Your baby’s brain is developing at the fastest rate of the entire human life span. To support this rapid development and growth, your baby needs to sleep and eat more often.

While every sleep cycle contains a mix of NREM (deep) and REM (active) sleep, how much of each kind of sleep is present depends on when the sleep takes place. That’s why the timing of naps is so important.

Naps are fundamental in your baby’s holistic development.

What is NREM Sleep in Babies?

The human sleep cycle is divided into two types of sleep.

  • REM Sleep: “Active sleep” that includes dreaming and a bit of moving around.
  • NREM Sleep: “Inactive sleep”. Though “inactive” – your baby is still and quiet – NREM sleep is when your baby’s memory absorbs all the information they’re learning.

NREM sleep is the deep, restorative sleep and super important to your baby’s mental development.

What Does NREM Sleep Have to Do With Naps?

NREM Sleep, the sleep that helps with memory, happens earlier in your baby’s sleep cycle. But not all sleeps are equal – the morning nap is more mentally restorative and the afternoon nap is more physically restorative.

How Do Naps Help Babies?

The tangible benefits of naps include:

  • Naps help your baby build their memory bank.
  • Naps help grow baby’s problem-solving skills.
  • Naps help your baby develop flexible cognition, such as noticing subtle differences in identical objects.
  • You can use naps to help your baby practice the act of falling asleep, a learned skill that your baby needs space and time to practice. Some people refer to thsi as self-soothing – an essential skill that sleep training can help develop and strengthen.

How Do I Do the 4 to 3 Nap Transition?

Sometimes babies will transition from 4 to 3 naps on their own: one of their afternoon naps will naturally become longer, while their last nap of the day, naturally shortens.

If your baby does not nap transition on their own, you can help your baby with the 4 to 3 nap transition by cutting out their final nap and temporarily adjusting their bedtime early by about 20-30 minutes. This will help shorten that last wake window until their body adjusts to the shift and will help you avoid them becoming overtired.

If you want additional help on nap transitions, or anything else related to your baby’s sleep, download the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™. It offers comprehensive guidance on everything you need to know to help your baby learn to fall asleep independently and stay asleep – a skill that helps them grow big and strong and, let’s be real, helps you sleep better, too!

What Should I If I’m Not Ready for My Baby to Nap Transition?

Iget it – sometimes nap time is the only time you can relax, get work done, shower – you name it, nap time is incredibly important to parents struggling with sleep deprivation.

While a nap transition has to happen at some point, you can delay it slightly – and temporarily – by adjusting your baby’s nap schedule.

Now, this is a bit trickier when your baby is taking 4 naps, because there isn’t as much “wiggle room” on adjusting nap times. However, if you want to maintain 4 naps and put off the 4 to 3 nap transition for a week or so, you can temporarily move your baby’s bedtime back. This will extend their wake window while also maintaining their sleep schedule. But it comes with the risk that your baby will become overtired or potentially have a knock on effect to early rising or other nap upset.

I always recommend following your baby’s lead and adjusting with them – it may feel a little painful to lose that nap, but it’s way better than disrupting every sleep!

Why Do Babies Nap Transition?

While naps play an essential role in your baby’s development, eventually your baby is going to need to sleep longer at night – both because biology says so and because they need to learn to be active during the day and sleep at night.

A nap transition is a sure sign your baby is developing well and adjusting their sleep to meet their needs.

Ultimately fewer naps lengthen your baby’s awake time during the day, or wake windows, which builds up their night time sleep drive. 

What are the Signs My Baby Needs a Nap?

If you haven’t yet identified your baby’s sleepy cues, now is a good time to get familiar with them. Sleepy cues are a great way to know your baby is ready for a sleep:

  • Fussiness: If your baby is irritable, they’re probably ready for a little R&R.
  • Glassy or Glazed Eyes: Babies are constantly looking around, absorbing anything and everything they can about this world. That is – unless they’re tired. If your baby is simply staring into space, eyes glassy or glazed, they likely need a nap.
  • Eye Rubbing: Babies will often rub their eyes when they’re ready for a nap or bedtime.
  • Ear Tugging: Babies will also pull at their ears if they’re tired – that’s how frustrating it can be for them.

Do Naps Have Bedtime Routines?

You may have established a bedtime routine, but what about naps? Do naps have a pre-sleep routine, too?

Yes, naps can and should have a routine, but this routine is far shorter and less mandatory for naps. Here’s why:

You have less time to settle your baby for naps, so any naptime routine automatically has to be shorter. If you take too long, your baby may miss the end of their wake window and become overtired.

Also, babies’ bodies make smaller amounts of melatonin during the day; this means they can more easily “breakthrough” their sleep drive and miss a nap if a naptime routine goes on too long.

A naptime routine may also stimulate your baby – they’d rather stay awake and be with you.

So, if you want to do a naptime routine, keep is super brief: a little cuddle, a small story, and then put your baby on their back in their crib. If they’re still awake and alert, that’s okay – consider this extra practice for “self-soothing” – your baby’s natural ability to calm themselves to sleep.

This is an essential part of sleep coaching – luckily, sleep coaching with something like the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ builds your baby’s self-soothing powers so that they can fall asleep alone.

Are There Early Wakeups with the 4 to 3 Nap Transition?

We understand you may not want to hear this, but, yes, sometimes the 4 to 3 nap transition leads to early wakeups, but this is temporary and will pass. It’s simply all part of the process – and remember, a little less sleep now will make the world of difference for you and your baby later.

How Do I Prevent Early Wakeups While Nap Transitioning?

Experts agree that to prevent early wakeups while nap transitioning, you should move your baby’s  bedtime foward slightly to bridge the window between the end of the last nap and bedtime – this can be a life saver when it comes to easing them through the transition.

My Baby Won’t Nap; What Do I Do?

Whether nap transitioning or not, sometimes babies simply won’t take a nap. If you’re in this situation, I typically recommend the ‘1-hour rule’ (90-min rule for older babies). Using this rule you leave your baby for the full hour to see if they fall asleep. If they don’t, then enter the room and try again near to the next nap window.

It’s possible that they don’t sleep, if content thenquiet time will help them relax and prepare for the rest of their day, if protesting sometimes all they need is a few extra minutes to decompress and fall asleep.

You’d be surprised how often a baby who protests naps will wind up enjoying one despite themselves.

What if My Baby Doesn’t Fall Asleep Until the Very End of Their Naptime?

Sometimes your baby won’t fall asleep until the very end of their nap time. If that happens, let your baby sleep until they wake up on their own. It’s better they get that rest than not. Note: If your baby doesn’t fall asleep until the end of a nap, you may have to adjust their next nap or bedtime to accomodate.

What if My Baby Stays Awake Their Entire Nap?

Though not ideal, it’s alright if your baby stays awake during their entire nap. Simply try again for another sleep next time they show sleep cues as close as possible to the next nap window or bedtime.

If this happens consistently, or you’re having any trouble with your baby’s sleep, download

Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™. It has everything you need to understand and effectively sleep coach you baby: 1 click sleep tracking, personalized sleep schedules, customized sleep coaching methods and these incredible mini meditations to help parents stay centered, calm, and in control in the face of any parenting challenge, day or night.

FAQs:

Can a 4-month-old have 3 naps?

Yes, 4-month-olds can have 3 naps, though just as often 4-month-olds still need 4 naps for an extra couple of weeks. It really depends on how your baby is sleeping overall.

Which nap transition is the hardest?

Every baby is different, though the 2 to 1 nap transition is typically the hardest.

Can babies nap at 4pm?

When you transition from 4 to 3 naps, the 3rd and final nap of the day (often called a catnap) should fall around 3pm, ideally don’t offer that nap later than 4pm and don’t let your baby sleep later than 4.30pm, so as not to interfere with bedtime.

Should my 3-month-old have 4 or 3 naps?

3-month-old babies typically still need 4 to 5 naps. You can start thinking about transitioning from 4 to 3 naps at the 4-month mark.

As your baby nap transitions, their sleep patterns will change. To help them get all the sleep they need now, and as they grow, download the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™. It will automatically adjust your baby’s sleep schedule and sleep coaching method as their sleep needs evolve. It’s seriously a life-saver – and a sleep saver!

Sources:

“Many naps, one nap, none: A systematic review and meta-analysis of napping patterns in children 0-12 years,” Sleep Medicine Review.
“Mandatory Nap Times and Group Napping Patterns in Child Care: An Observational Study,” Behavioral Sleep Medicine.
“The effects of napping on cognitive functioning,” Progress in Brain Research.

Disclaimer: How We Wrote This Article

The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

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