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The 2,3,4 Schedule

Who’s read about the 2,3,4 schedule for napping? Read on to find out what my thoughts are on whether this type of schedule can work for your baby.

What is the 2,3,4 schedule?

The 2,3,4 schedule for napping is pretty simple – two hours after your baby wakes for the day, you put them down for their first nap.  Three hours after that nap ends, you put them down for their second nap. Then 4 hours after that 2nd nap ends, you’d put them down for bed. Pretty simple right? Seems like a dream!? Read on 🙂

Who is the 2,3,4 schedule recommend for?

The 2,3,4 schedule is often recommended for babies 6 months and up.  Some experts recommend it if your baby is napping for a total of 3 hours/day. Other sources recommend that solids are introduced before beginning this nap schedule (not sure what solids has to do with it but hey!)

Hey Pam, what do you think about this schedule?

I’m glad you asked! I personally am not a big fan of the 2,3,4 nap schedule. I’m sure it can work beautifully for some babies (I would think very easy-type babies that are naturally good sleepers and aren’t very sensitive to sleep could do okay on this schedule). But for a vast majority of babies that have trouble sleeping (meaning most of the families I work with or families that would be seeking out sleep advice right now!) it can often spell more trouble.  And here’s why:

1) Most babies are not ready for 2 naps at 6 months of age

I personally recommend trying to hold off the transition to 2 naps until baby is closer to the 8 month (adjusted) mark.  Reason-being that a 6 month old (unless it’s a baby who has consistently always taken very long naps or consistently always slept through the night) will have a very hard time coping with the longer awake times needed to sustain 2 naps. On a 3 nap schedule, baby is generally awake about 1.75-2.5 hours during the day. This is a good number. Once we jump up to 2 naps, baby needs to be awake more like 3-3.5 hours (or even 4 hours if we are attempting a 2,3,4 schedule!) This is a huge jump and many babies will not be able to cope with these long awake times without becoming overtired (which can then lead to short naps, nightwakings, bedtime battles, early wake-ups, etc.)

2) There is a shortage of awake time in the day

If you add up 2 + 3 + 4, that = 9 hours. So on a 2,3,4 schedule, we are aiming for baby to be awake for a total of 9 hours in a 24 hour period. If we take that 9 hours and add the 3 hours of naps we are aiming for with this schedule, that gives us 12 hours. Let’s take a 7 month old for example who requires 14 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period. With those 9 hours of awake time + 3 hours in naps (12 hours) that leaves us with 12 hours remaining. That means we would need that baby to sleep for 12 hours every single night in order for them to not start waking earlier than they already are. With this schedule, what can slowly happen is the wake-up time creeps earlier….and earlier….and earlier. Until we’re stuck with an early wake-up and no way to get out of it. Here’s a visual to help you to process this:

700am – baby wakes up for the day
900am-1030am – 1st nap of the day (great nap baby!)
130pm-300pm – 2nd nap of the day (there’s our 3 hours!)
700pm – bedtime

Now this baby needs to sleep for 12 hours that night to make it back to 7am, but baby has already had 3 hours in naps so they only have about 11 hours left in their ‘sleep bank’ to get them their 14 hours. So baby wakes up at 630am (because baby had 1 feed, so we exclude time awake for that):

630am – baby wakes up, ready to take on the day
830am-1000am – 1st nap of the day
100pm-230pm – 2nd nap of the day
630pm – bedtime (uh oh…we are getting earlier. Now we are expecting baby to sleep 12.5 hours to get us back to 700am, but with those 3 hours in naps, baby still only needs about 11 hours of sleep so chances are, they will now wake at 600am. And the next day 530am…..and so on).

Do you see what I mean!? The lack of daytime awake time can shift the schedule earlier and earlier. At 7 months of age, I would be recommending more like 9.5-10 hours of awake time in the day (and a 3 nap schedule, like the one outlined here) to ensure baby doesn’t start waking at the crack of dawn.

3) 2 and 3 hours is too short, 4 hours is too long

For a 6-7 month old baby, a 2 hour interval before the first nap is spot-on. This is exactly what I would recommend. But at 10, 11, or 12 months of age, for many babies (especially those sleeping well at night) this is much too short. We might start to see baby taking a long time to fall asleep or refusing that first nap entirely! Then we’re really pooched. 
For a 6-7 month old baby, a 3 hour interval before the 2nd nap is a bit long, but not terrible. At 8/9 months of age, this may still be appropriate, but at 10,11, or 12 months of age, this is often too short. And yet again, what we’d likely see, is short naps or refusals.
For a 6-7 month old baby, a 4 hour interval before bed is WAY too long. Heck, this is even too long for an 8,9, and probably even 10-11 month old baby! Again, some easy-type babies or naturally good sleepers may still sleep well at night with this long awake time, but for the majority, baby will start to become overtired and bedtime battles, nightwakings, sleep-cries, and early wake-ups will ensue (see my blog post here on more appropriate timing for bed). The timing of bed is the most sensitive time of the day and the most important for us to really nail. It’s the time we want to mess around with the least.  

In summary…

If a 2,3,4 schedule is working for your family – GREAT! Do not change a darn thing. As I always say, if it ain’t broke – don’t fix it! But if you’re attempting this schedule and it’s just not working for you, consider the above reasons to be why. A more flexible and age-appropriate schedule is what I would recommend. I suspect a lot of experts recommend this schedule because it’s ‘easy’. It’s easy to just say 2,3,4 and be done with it! But this definitely does not work for everyone and many babies are more sensitive to those extra few hours in the day – and that’s okay 🙂 

Pam Edwards is a Certified Infant & Child Sleep Consultant and founder of Wee Bee Dreaming Pediatric Sleep Consulting in Grande Prairie, Alberta. Healthy sleep is addicting and she has made it her life mission to help families all across the world get the sleep they deserve – a good night’s sleep doesn’t have to be a dream!