Anchor naps are a simple but effective way to adjust baby sleep schedules. They are especially helpful in adjusting baby sleep schedules if early morning wake-ups are happening, after the end of daylight savings when clocks fall back, and when returning home after traveling in different time zones.
What is an anchor nap?
This technique is simply a nap that is scheduled at a consistent time each day. We usually suggest that you use the first nap of the day as your anchor since this nap tends to be the easiest and also sets the schedule for the rest of the day.
For toddlers, setting a consistent nap time will also help them get into a rhythm of resting during the day. Older kids may start dropping their naps, but continuing to have this predictable rest time will help them settle for some much-needed quiet time.
How do anchor naps work?
Especially when paired with exposure to natural light in the morning and late afternoon, anchor naps help to regulate your baby’s circadian rhythm, which is their natural sleep-wake cycle. By putting your baby down for a nap at the same time each day, you are helping to teach their body when it is time to sleep and when it is time to be awake.
How to use anchor naps to adjust baby’s sleep schedule
- Choose a time for the nap you’re anchoring. This time should be based on your baby’s age and wake windows. For example, if your baby is 6 months old, their anchor nap might be at 8:30 am.
- Put your baby down at the same time each day, even on weekends.
- Try to keep this nap the same length each day. This will also help develop consistency with the rest of the day’s schedule
- If baby wakes up early from this nap (or any nap), and is not super upset, wait 10-15 minutes before picking them up. This will give them a chance to fall back asleep on their own. Watch their cues. If they seem like they may fall back to sleep, go ahead and give them a bit more time.
- Adjust the other naps in the day based on the anchor. For example, if the anchor nap is at 8:30 a.m., the second nap might be at 12:30 pm and the third nap might be at 4:30 pm.
- We know that few babies follow rigid schedules. It’s ok (and normal) for there to be some variance in timing. If your baby is struggling to make it to the scheduled time, do the best you can and keep trying for a few more days. They’ll get used to the new schedule after a few days or up to a week.
Here are some additional tips:
- Make sure your baby gets exposed to bright natural light early in the morning and again in late afternoon. This exposure supports our baby’s circadian rhythm
- Try “grounding.” Especially helpful after traveling, spending some time outside with their feet on the ground (in grass, ideally) can help adjust to time changes. Yes, really!
- Create a calming nap routine that allows for winding down after playing. Clear transitions are helpful for babies and toddlers.
- As always make sure the nap environment is dark, quiet, and cool.
If you’re still struggling to help your baby with their sleep, reach out to us!
Here is a story of how anchor naps helped one family:
One of the families we worked with had a 6-month-old baby named Evie, who was struggling after the family returned from a trip to Hawaii. Evie was waking extremely early and her naps were all over the place. Her parents had been trying to get Evie back onto her schedule for a few weeks before calling us.
Her parents initially contacted us about our in-home sleep training, thinking they were going to have to start all over with Evie’s sleep. After talking to her parents for a few minutes, we really felt that all Evie needed was some consistency in her schedule, so we suggested trying an anchor nap.
At first, Evie would wake up early from her anchor nap, but her parents would wait 10-15 minutes before picking her up, watching Evie’s cues closely. Gradually, Evie would start to put herself back to sleep.
Meanwhile, since her nap was at the same time every day, Evie’s parents were able to better plan for her next nap- creating more predictability in the day for everyone.
After about a week and a half, Evie was going down easily for her first nap, and taking longer naps in general. This all came together to help with her early morning waking, too!
If you are struggling to adjust your baby’s sleep schedule, anchor naps may be the solution you are looking for. Give them a try and see how they work for your family.