Have you ever thought or said something like this?:
“If I skip my baby’s nap, she’ll sleep better tonight.”
“Maybe I should just let him play until he falls asleep.”
“My baby must be ready to drop her naps because she fights daytime sleep.”
These all may sound plausible but they are really just nap myths - something we hear from others that doesn’t actually improve our child’s sleep - and can often work to its detriment.
Know Your Nap Facts
Knowing fact from fiction in the world of baby sleep will not only bust these nap myths, it will also bring your child a lot closer to a healthy nap routine during the day. Check out these four nap facts and help your baby get more of the daytime sleep he or she needs!
Nap Fact #1
Your baby’s sleep develops in this order - nighttime sleep first, then the morning nap, and then the afternoon nap. Day sleep doesn’t start to develop into a regular rhythm until around 3-4 months.
This means that during the first few months (0 to 4 months) you don’t want to be concerned about routine so much as getting those naps in anyway you can.
And don’t fret if he seems to be dependent on you to get to sleep during these first few months! It’s vital for his growing brain and developing body that he gets as much sleep as he needs. You can’t spoil a newborn!
Nap Fact #2
Naps should ideally be 45 minutes or longer.
The exception to this rule is for newborns. Newborns (0 to 4 months) will take shorter naps more frequently - sometimes 30 minutes to 45 minutes is enough if they’re happy and not cranky upon waking. But older babies (6 months and up) will need to sleep for longer periods of time.
Does your baby (6months or older) wake up cranky and tired after 45 minutes or less? I call that a disaster nap! The truth is that not all naps are created equal. A ‘disaster nap’ is my way of referring to any nap that is shorter than 45 minutes. Because these naps don’t encompass a full sleep cycle, babies often wake up cranky and still tired, rather than refreshed.
Disaster naps tend to occur when windows of wakefulness have been exceeded (see Fact#3) and children are overtired or on a different schedule than what they have at home (such as occurs at daycare).
Nap Fact #3
Your baby has a typical window of wakefulness that corresponds to his age.
Your baby’s window of wakefulness is a fancy way of saying ‘the length of time you can expect your baby to stay awake between sleep times without melting down or simply overtiring.’ When a child goes beyond his window of wakefulness his body begins to secrete arousing hormones, making it harder to go to sleep and stay asleep. This is why a child who naps poorly one day may also sleep poorly that night. The myth says, “Oh, he’ll be so tired he’ll go right to sleep tonight and sleep thru the night.” In fact, the opposite often happens. He may take longer to go to sleep, wake more frequently and wake earlier than usual for the day!
In addition to watching the clock for the window of wakefulness, you can also watch your child for his sleepy signs so you can move straight to bed when you see them. Look for one or more of these typical cues: quieting down, rubbing eyes and ears, losing interest in play, yawning, thumb-sucking, staring, and crankiness. Be aware that a child’s sleep cues will often change as he grows.
Nap Fact #4
A consistent, soothing, pre-nap routine is one of your strongest aids in helping your child develop healthy naps.
Your child thrives on routine from a young age.
Capitalise on this fact by developing a pre-nap routine and seeking to do the same things each day before your child naps. Singing the same song each time, for instance, will signal to your child that it is time to calm down and get ready to sleep. Below is a simple pre-nap routine that you can do with your child (over 4 months of age) in 10 to 15 minutes before naptime each day.
- Change his nappy or go potty.
- Read a short board book.
- Cuddle briefly and sing a song.
- Darken the room -- shade down.
- Kisses and into bed.
As a reminder, watch for his age-appropriate window of wakefulness and begin your pre-nap routine 30 minutes before the window can close. This will help avoid the dreaded meltdown!
Keeping to a consistent pre-nap routine becomes a comfort to your child and will eventually signal their body to slow down and get ready for a nap.
Time To Implement
As you begin to implement the practical steps I outlined, you will see your child’s naps improve and regulate. Getting into a good nap routine is always harder than nighttime sleep because there is more noise in the daytime and your child is less tired than they are at bedtime. At times you will likely experience resistance from your child and that is normal.
Just check out your nap facts again, watch for a change in his window of wakefulness or sleepy signs, and account for extenuating circumstances. Come see me at sleeplady.com if you need some more nap or sleep advice. It’s what I do and what I love!
KIM WEST is a mother of two wonderful daughters and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for 25 years. Known as The Sleep Lady® by her clients, over the past twenty years she has helped tens of thousands of tired parents all over the world get a good night’s sleep without letting their children cry it out alone.
Kim has appeared on the Dr. Phil, Today Show, NBC Nightly News, Good Morning America, TLC’s Bringing Home Baby and CNN, and has been written about in a number of publications including The Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, Baby Talk, Parenting, The Baltimore Sun, USA Today, The Telegraph, The Irish Independent and the Washington Post.
Kim is the author of three books: “GOOD NIGHT, SLEEP TIGHT: The Sleep Lady’s Gentle Guide to Helping Your Child Go to Sleep, Stay Asleep and Wake Up Happy”, the “Good Night, Sleep Tight Workbook” and “52 Sleep Secrets for Babies”.
Dedicated to providing tired parents with excellent sleep advice and coaching, she started training Gentle Sleep Coaches® all over the world in 2010.
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