Sleep Regressions and Daycare: What to Know and Do


While I’ve been a stay-at-home mom, I’ve been asked a lot of questions about sleep regressions and daycare. And having recently started going to a gym with a fantastic short-term daycare, I decided to do some more in-depth research.

So what do parents need to know and do about sleep regressions when starting daycare? Starting daycare may trigger sleep regressions, as it’s a new and stressful change for everyone. Naps and nighttime sleep disturbances should resolve within several weeks as everyone adjusts to the new schedule.

That being said, let’s look at some of the other vital things to know, the best ways to help everyone adjust better, and ways to help your child nap better at daycare.

Why Starting Daycare May Cause Sleep Regressions

Whenever there’s a large life change or a significant amount of stress, sleep regressions are very likely to happen. Starting daycare often fits both of those criteria for both parents and children. In other words, it’s very common for families to see sleep regressions around the time they start daycare.

Some families even experience a pre-daycare sleep regression, due to the anxiety and anticipation of leaving their child with another care provider.

A pre-daycare sleep disturbance may (or may not) be associated with any other developmental leaps or regressions.

Oh, and there’s one more reason that your child may be experiencing sleep regressions due to daycare: illness. No matter how hard everyone tries to keep illnesses out of daycares, some germs always manage to be spread. Sick babies will want extra love, comfort, and support as they heal – and this can trigger sleep regressions.

So whether you’re just starting daycare or are already there, just be mentally prepared for the fact that sleep regressions will happen.

How Long Does It Take Babies to Adjust to Daycare?

After surveying 800+ parents and extensive research, I’ve found that most children need about 3-4 weeks to adjust to being at daycare. Some children are able to adjust within just a week or two, and others may need as long as 2 months to get into the swing of things at daycare.

That being said, being comfortable with the daycare is vital. So please make sure you communicate regularly with your daycare provider. And listen to your intuition if anything ever feels off.

If for any reason your current daycare situation isn’t what you’re looking for, you can look at alternatives:

  • a different daycare
  • work-sponsored daycare
  • a private nanny
  • nanny sharing
  • in-home daycare
  • childcare swapping

Just remember that changing to a new daycare will reset the clock. Count on another month or so for everyone to adjust.

How Does Nap Time Work at Daycare?

While every daycare handles nap time differently, smart daycare workers know that a rested baby is a happy baby. Daycare providers will try very hard to make sure children get adequate rest during nap time.

So make sure you talk to the daycare director and find out exactly what their policies are. Some daycares use rigid, timed nap schedules, while others let babies nap on demand.

The daycare directors I talked to let babies under 12 months of age nap on demand, while toddlers had an assigned nap time after lunch.

You should also ask the daycare director about policies regarding getting your baby to sleep, what the staff to child ratios are, where your baby will sleep, and any special requests you may have.

Example: Some daycares may not be able to accommodate holding a napping baby, depending on the staff to children ratio and specific daycare policies.

Finally, many daycares limit how many children under 1 they accept to prevent overwhelming both the staff and the children, especially for feeding and nap times.

How Can I Help My Baby to Nap at Daycare?

In order to help your baby best nap at daycare, talk to your daycare provider and even the director.

Let the daycare know what your usual routine is for naps – see if they’re able to accommodate it. If they’re not able to follow your exact routine, see what they are able to do.

Then, bring a special comfort item for your child to have. Having a special blankie or stuffed animal from home may make all of the difference in getting your child to be comfortable with napping at daycare.

Finally, remember that what happens at daycare isn’t controllable – even by the staff. Some kids are able to adjust just fine and will nap well at daycare. Others will only ever cat nap at daycare.

No matter how hard the staff tries to help, some children just cannot sleep well at daycare.

However, keep in mind that things could change. Some babies who do not nap well at daycare become champion nappers at daycare as toddlers.

How Long Do Kids Nap at Daycare?

How long your child will nap at daycare depends on your child, their usual daycare routine, and your daycare. Before you start daycare, it may help to ask your daycare director this exact question. They may not be able to tell you what your child’s exact reaction will be, but they can tell you what usually happens for most children.

Example: While some children will not nap well at daycare, some babies will nap longer and better at daycare than they do at home. This may be because they’re with caregivers who can’t be convinced as easily to hold them, unlike parents.

Then, once you’re in daycare, make sure you talk to your daycare director regularly to see how long and well your child naps at daycare. That way, you can make adjustments to your at-home schedule as needed.

What To Do When Your Baby is Exhausted After Daycare

Daycare can be a stimulating, amazing, and exhausting experience for children. After talking with countless other parents, it seems like many children come home looking exhausted, dazed, or completely overwhelmed.

So here is what to expect, as well as some ways to prevent the after-daycare exhaustion:

  • The first few days will be rough on everyone. Try to limit any other changes to your family’s regular routine during the first few weeks at daycare.
  • Daycare is physically and emotionally exhausting for the first few weeks – or sometimes longer. This will probably cause sleep disruptions (and sleep regressions) for several weeks.
  • Children may need earlier bedtimes for several weeks after starting daycare. Plan on moving bedtime up by 30 minutes for a few weeks.
  • Help your children recover from the emotional exhaustion by spending extra time playing and cuddling with them before and after daycare. Remember to tell them you love them.
  • Speak to your children about what to expect. Telling them what will happen at daycare will ease their anxiety and help them be prepared for the day.
  • Provide your children with snacks that are high in protein (and low in sugar). This will help them have enough energy throughout the day at daycare.

Some children, due to poor napping or whatever else, never get past this “daycare is exhausting!” phase. Parents of these children report a much better outcome if they stick to a routine that involves a 30-minute earlier bedtime on days their child attends daycare.

Now, not everyone can move bedtimes up by 30 minutes. After talking to other parents, I’ve found some more great suggestions:

  • After daycare, some parents put their child down for a short (30-60 minute nap) when they get home. That way, after the nap, the family can spend 60-90 minutes together for dinner, bath time, and playtime before a delayed bedtime.
  • Some parents encourage their children to nap in the car while driving to or from daycare. Parents report that then they may be able to transition their child into bed for a longer nap (so they can delay bedtime) or waiting in the car with their child while they finish their nap right there in the car.
  • Some parents adjust their weekend schedules to allow for longer naps – that way, the child has time to recover and nap well on weekends.

In any case, it is possible for your child to adjust to the daycare schedule – as long as you’re willing to try and make things work. And once you get past the first two months, your family will have found a routine that works for you – while making sure everyone is getting adequate sleep.

You can do this – best of luck!

Related Questions

Why Is My Baby Withdrawn After Daycare? Babies who are either exhausted or overstimulated after a day at daycare may appear withdrawn and need an early bedtime for several days to recover.

Why Does My Baby Nap at Daycare But Not at Home? Some babies nap better at daycare because it’s a different care provider than mom or dad – someone who can’t be as easily convinced to hold them during a nap.

How Do Daycares Get Babies to Sleep? Daycare providers use sleep training techniques and extensive experience (gained from watching so many children) to help them soothe babies to sleep.

Kimberly C. Starr, RN BSN

I’m a ginger-haired nurse (RN, BSN) who loves getting enough sleep to be a functional parent to my four wonderful kids - who are even more wonderful when they’ve gotten enough sleep, too. To read more about me, click here.

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