I work with many families who find it difficult to normalize naps with their babies. When nap time comes, the baby is crying and/or refusing to sleep. Or, they can’t seem to find the right time for naps. Is it too close to bedtime? Too far away from bedtime? Honestly, there seems to be far more crying and struggling than sleeping going on.
Are nap time troubles causing a problem at your house too?
Well, good news! Families are usually surprised to learn how some of my favourite nap recommendations can make fast and significant improvements in their baby’s sleep.
And a baby who naps is happier – so is the rest of the family.
Keep reading to learn some of my favourite pieces of nap advice. I usually reserve these for my consults. But, I love the thought of happy, napping babies so much, I decided to share them.
1. Start by considering your little one's entire day
Sleep is about the 24-hour "day in the life" of your baby. Sometimes, we get hyper-focused on one main issue – early wake-ups, frequent night wakings, or nap troubles. We get so focused on one area of struggle, that we miss the other aspects of our little one's life that could be impacting sleep. Keep reading to find out how things like routine, over-tiredness, and stimulation can impact a baby’s entire sleep routine.
Babies have very active brains, and naps are incredibly restorative for babies. Ok, let’s be honest, naps are restorative for kids and adults alike...I LOVE myself a good nap.
Resting the brain is a biological necessity. Children are so busy learning that they are not able to tolerate being awake for long periods of time1. It´s like running too many tabs on an old computer, soon the computer struggles with overload. So, you’ll need to close some windows or restart it. Baby’s little brains work just like that. They get overloaded and need time to reboot.
After a good nap, children are much happier, calmer, and ready to learn. Napping reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol2. This explains why a nap can be the cure for a cranky baby. So, with good rhythms of nap and playfulness, your baby will experience a better balance in cortisol for less overall crankiness and better windows of learning. And trust me, reduced cortisol levels will be your friend, when bedtime comes around….
Babies who don’t nap well also have a harder time falling asleep at night. This is because of the buildup of cortisol, over-stimulation, and over-tiredness. So, by improving your baby’s naps, you also help improve night-time sleep. Check out my blog to learn strategies for surviving when your infant isn’t sleeping at night.
Okay, so naps are good....we can all agree on that!
But what to do when your baby fights their nap???
The struggle is real!
Naps tend to be a big frustration among parents, but they don’t need to be. So here’s my second nugget of advice!
2. Every baby is unique, and naps uniquely
Remember, what works for one baby doesn’t necessarily work for the next.
Since every baby is different, their daytime sleep totals will also be different. This is why rigid sleep schedules often don't work. And, ultimately lead to more stress for you and baby. To respect their differences, you need to follow your baby’s lead, looking for their natural rhythm.
So how do we do this?
I want to introduce the concept of wake windows. Wake windows are slices of time, or intervals, when your baby is awake between naps. The key is figuring out when your baby’s wake window is ending so you can get them to sleep at the right time. .
With my first-born, I had no clue about sleep or wake windows. As a result, we had lots of ‘sleep issues’. Looking back on it, many of the sleep issues were probably because my baby was overtired. I was frustrated and trying to get him on a schedule as per the many books and internet searches.…
Plus! I had these crazy (and false) ideas that he should be napping for long periods of time (ie, 45-60+ minutes) and NOT be napping on me or on the go. Later, I learned how to provide naps in a variety of positions and locations, and that short naps were a-okay. Opening up possibilities for naps at his needed times either when we weren’t home, or when he just wouldn’t sleep any other way.
So, the whole idea of wake windows is to learn your baby’s natural rhythm and get an idea of when your baby will be ready to be put down… sounds logical right?
Okay, I know you´re thinking - "Kaili, how do I do that?” So here’s my third piece of advice:
3. Invest time into learning your baby’s unique routine
For one week, consider clearing your schedule as much as possible, or at least limit your outings (this should be pretty easy right now, since we are all social distancing :-P). This will allow yourself the time to observe your baby’s natural routines without the influence of other scheduling demands.
How does your little one behave when excited, tired or frustrated? These can be clues to look for to decide when to put them to nap.
How does the environment impact your baby’s sleep?
What time and how long does your baby choose to nap? And, how does that impact other sleep times?
You can check out some more practical suggestions for addressing each of these areas here.
By observing your baby, you will start recognizing signs before they get too overwhelmed, over-stimulated, and over-tired.The goal is to discontinue the activity at just the right time and then use his/her optimal wake windows to let him or her nap.This is your baby’s unique rhythm!
Some early signs of baby fatigue:
Looking a bit dazed, with glossy or sleepy eyes
Wanting to be held more
Looking away from activity
By the time your baby is yawning or rubbing their eyes they are likely getting to the point of being over-tired.
Now don´t think that with one week of observation you’ll have your baby all figured out…
Remember that the only thing consistent about babies is that they are inconsistent.
As they grow and change, so will their sleep schedules and preferences. So keep observing and adjusting routines as your baby encounters new challenges, environments, and milestones.
I will talk more about navigating nap transitions in a future blog. So check back to learn what to do when your baby does big stuff like going from three naps to two, or two naps to one.
For today, I will leave you with some final thoughts and strategies:
Babies' first language is body-language… so learn his/her unique signals.
Prepare to transition quickly to nap when you see those tired signs.
Love your baby’s uniqueness and accept it. Some easy going babies will sleep longer. Whereas others who are sensitive and/or with high-needs may take shorter naps.
A nice sleep environment is important, even for adults. So spend time creating an environment that nurtures your baby’s sleep.
Sleeping in the crib is not always necessary or a baby’s preference. Consider motion naps, co-sleeping naps, and baby-wearing naps to avoid nap time battles.
Build a strong nap time routine as a shortened version of the nighttime routine.
Use a variety of sleep associations to lovingly transition a baby to sleep. Great options include: nursing, rocking, routines, loveys, and white noise..
DO NOT FIGHT THE NAP!
What is your biggest nap trouble? Feel free to share with us your battles but also your victories in the comments below.
Looking for an affordable way to get sleep support? Join my Better Sleep For Babies Group Coaching program today.
Horváth, K., & Plunkett, K. (2018). Spotlight on daytime napping during early childhood. Nature and science of sleep, 10, 97–104. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5851571/
Scher, A., Hall, W. A., Zaidman-Zait, A., & Weinberg, J. (2010). Sleep quality, cortisol levels, and behavioral regulation in toddlers. Developmental psychobiology, 52(1), 44–53. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4833448/