The bain of our lives right! Naps…!
Here in this week’s blog I will explain to you the importance of naps, why the lunch time nap is best to be the longest and how to achieve appropriate nap lengths and what to do when a nap goes pear shaped!
So, who has a cat napper out there? 10-20 minutes at a time or perhaps your little papoose is napping for one sleep cycle of 30-40 minutes only or maybe you have a child that just won’t nap unless they are in the buggy, being held, fed to sleep or will only sleep in their cot restricting you not going out on a day trip because you know on the way home in the car your baby will fall asleep and boom…bedtime is a nightmare.
This is very normal and developmentally appropriate for very young babies under the age of 5-6 months or so. Some young babies at this age are still grabbing 4 short naps a day.
But, what if your baby is older than 5 months, perhaps 10 months or even 16 months? Let’s find out…
Some babies wake early from a nap and are super fine with this and if you can carry on your day with no effects or repercussions, then great! No need to change anything. It works for you!
But, if you are not that lucky and your child simply does not nap or wakes early from a nap, the lack of sleep will make them grumpy and intolerable and by dinner time a crazed animal, by bath time a scary crying monster and at bedtime they just crash out in a few minutes only to wake lots during the night or at 5 am in the morning ready for breakfast and acrobatics around the living room..!. I bet this sounds familiar to you?
Possible reasons for a short nap…
Your baby is over tired. The level of cortisol, which is like adrenaline, has built up in their body from the lack of sleep from short naps and night sleep is a little of track also. This cortisol takes over the melatonin, the sleep hormone. It inhibits falling asleep easily and staying asleep. And it wakes us up in the morning.
They do not know how to link sleep cycles together because they have not learnt the skill to fall asleep independently.
They rely on you in some way to help them fall asleep, like feeding, rocking or co - sleeping
Poor timing of naps and inappropriate nap length for their age and stage of development
Sleep space is not conducive for napping. Perhaps it is to light, to noisy, temperature change.
Not developmentally ready
The effects of poor naps…
A child who is not linking sleep cycles will not be able to consolidate their learning skills, they lose the ability to concentrate, take in information and learning new skills is very hard for them. Also the immune system is compromised, hence very sleep deprived children do get ill often and seem to catch any colds and bugs going around.
Also you have a grumpy overtired child who may fall asleep late in day and put bedtime off track.
(please note it is developmentally normally for babies up to 4-6 month to struggle with linking sleep cycles. It takes practice and also age appropriate timing needs to be taken into consideration)
Achieving the age appropriate nap time and nap lengths during the day will help with overtiredness.
Ideally we want our babies to start sleeping longer periods of time at naps and at night time for sure. The rule of thumb for naps is SHORT – LONG – SHORT.
And to do this they need to learn how to connect their sleep cycles together. This can be hard to teach but with a little love, consistency and perseverance it can and will happen. If you would like help and support in how to do this get in touch via email or phone and we can discuss the best way to do this for your family in a loving, responsive way.
So how do you do it?
How do we get babies to sleep longer periods and achieve optimum nap lengths for their age and stage that they need for healthy growth and development?
First, you have to set the stage for napping.
Make sure you have set up the perfect sleep environment for your baby with a pitch dark room, white noise, optimum temperature (18.c-20.c) and correct clothing for room temp. And do be aware of your baby’s awake windows. Put them down too soon and they won’t be tired and will resist the nap, too late and overtired baby will find it hard to settle and fall asleep unaided.
Very importantly, your baby needs to learn the art of self-settling.
If they rely on you to help them go to sleep or get back to sleep when they wake this skill will take longer. Your help may be you feeding them to sleep, doing the dummy/pacifier run, rocking, held, or pushed in a pram... A parent led sleep association. If you remove this sleep association your baby will soon learn to self-settle independently and connect their sleep cycles together easier.
Babies will be ready to learn this new skill of connecting sleep cycles together once they have come through the 4 month sleep regression but many of you know I call regressions “progressions”!
This milestone, the “4 month sleep progression” is when their brain has matured, not regressed, and ready to learn new skills and has matured in a way of more adult like sleep. This is usually around the 18-20 week mark. Some babies may be ready a little later
1. (Depending on age) Swaddle
This is a great positive sleep association that mimics the tight space they know from the womb and will also inhibit the “Moro-reflex” that can and will wake them.
2. Ensure their room is super dark. Use black out blinds where possible and make sure no natural or artificial light is entering the room. Even a little “dull” night light will inhibit sleep
3. Ensure you give your child a wind down period before nap and bedtime.
4. Use white or pink noise from as early as possible. Pre 12 weeks ideally and for as long as 1 year or more.
5. If you do find your child waking early from a nap practice resettling so they get used to sleeping longer and set their circadian rhythm.
What to do when baby wakes early from a nap…
You may wonder what to do, do you get them up, leave them a few minutes to see if they fall asleep again, feed them, just go in and check they don’t need a nappy change... there are a few possible options that may cross your mind!
1. If you are following a schedule say 7-7 and your baby has woken early doors at 5am, you can offer them a “rescue nap” This would be a short 10 minute nap around 7.30/8am. And it may need to be an assisted nap, in sling or a cuddle perhaps. This will help get on track for the rest of the days nap times. It works best with babies around 5 - 10 months.
Find a settling method you feel comfortable with that you can implement
Be consistent with that resettle method day and night
Ensure all members of the house are on board with your approach
If baby does not go back to sleep, adjust the rest of the days naps accordingly to the wake up time of this nap.
You may like to try nap again 30 minutes later
Bedtime will be earlier if nap was unsuccessful
Then when these naps start to be on track a little more, ideally you would look for your child to nap 2 hours or at least 1.5+ hours during the lunch time nap.
This again reduces the level of cortisol in the body, reduces that sleep debt and your child will be more rested for the afternoon after a longer nap than just a short 30-60 minute nap.
And when that happens - amazing things happen inside their little body….
Build-up of energy restores
Cortisol levels will be decreased
Immune systems will be strengthened
Their appetite will be regulated
Brain connections will be made
Growth hormones will be released aiding development
Emotions and skills will be processed
If you would like more help with nap times or information on how to resettle do get in touch with me and I can talk to you in more detail about this subject and what is most suitable and normal expectations for your child depending on their age and stage of development.
Don’t forget to share this blog with a friend you think may find it helpful!
Take care, and happy napping!
Your Paediatric Sleep Consultant