Question: Does nap time look like this in your house?
I’ll be honest – naps weren’t always this “easy” for me. I remember feeling as though I was locked in my home all day trying to get my son to sleep, unable to leave because he struggled so much with sleep.
And if you’re in the same boat, feeling tied down at home because your time is spent trying to get your child to sleep – or you fear your little one might miss a nap if you go out – I can relate to that 100 percent.
When you’re working on improving your child’s sleep, naps are always the last thing to fall into place. Sometimes, kids will get great naps in from the start and then weeks later, they’re back to square one. Other kids take such inconsistent naps that it’s hard to know what to expect.
All of that is normal.
Your child’s daytime sleep is just as important as their nighttime sleep. If you have an overtired child because they wouldn’t nap well all day, bedtime can end up being awful. And it may result in more overnight wakings.
At the same time, because naps can be so challenging when starting out, I don’t want you to feel stressed out about them. Instead, I want you to feel empowered. And in this post, I’ll be sharing my tips for making naptime something you can look forward to each day.
Time the Nap Right
The first thing to focus on when trying to improve your child’s naps is timing them appropriately. If your child is overtired, they will protest sleep and/or not sleep well. If they are undertired, you won’t be able to make them sleep, or they will fall asleep but not have the sleep pressure needed to sustain that nap.
A great tool to help prevent that is wake windows. Babies can only handle being awake for a specific amount of time in relation to their age, and if you keep your baby awake too long, they’ll become overtired and may cry uncontrollably, protest sleep, wake more often, or be more cranky during the day.
For a reference of age-appropriate wake windows, be sure to read Understanding Your Child’s Wake Windows.
As your child grows, you can begin moving toward a fixed schedule where you offer the nap at the same time every day as opposed to watching your child’s wake windows.
And while timing the nap right is important, tuning in to your child’s sleepy cues takes priority over wake windows, especially in the early months. If you notice your child is getting sleepy, follow their lead.
Perfect the Sleep Environment
Once you know when your child should sleep, you can focus on where your child sleeps. Aside from ensuring your child’s sleep space follows the A, B, Cs of sleep and is safe, you also want to check a few other elements.
Make sure the room is dark.
For naps, you want your child’s room to be super dark – as dark as possible. Light signals to our brain to suppress melatonin, and as a result, we feel more awake.
If there’s any light coming into your child’s room, it can communicate to them that it’s time to wake up, regardless of how long they've been sleeping.
Make sure the room has white noise.
When your child is a newborn baby, you’ll likely find that they can nap anywhere and everywhere. Conversations can be happening right beside your baby, and they won’t budge. But as they become older, they become more aware of their surroundings.
And that includes environmental noise.
Having white noise going while your child sleeps can help buffer any noise that could wake them up and helps to create a calming environment for them to snooze.
Make sure your child is comfortable.
Keep the temperature between 68-72 degrees to ensure a cool environment, and dress your baby in comfortable sleepwear, like a sleep sack.
When you have these foundational pieces in place, you’re setting up the nap to be the most successful.
But what happens when you’ve checked all the boxes and your little one wakes up after a not-so-long nap?
The Short Nap Struggle
First, let’s define a short nap. Even though you may want your child to sleep for 1.5 hours or longer each time they lay down, a short nap is anything less than 45 minutes, if it’s not a designated cat nap.
If your child wakes early from a nap, what should you do?
I recommend waiting before intervening. Sometimes, children will connect their sleep cycles and go back to sleep, so we want to give them that space to do so. Waiting at least 20 minutes before going in to end the nap is a good place to start.
Now, if your little one wakes up from their nap and is super quiet, you can practice “crib hour,” – leave them in their crib for one hour total from the start of their nap. This means if they woke up after 30 minutes, but they are content in their crib, give it another 30 minutes before going in to get them.
However, if your baby starts to cry after waking, and you’ve already given it about 20 minutes to see if they could go back to sleep, you can go in. If your child takes a pacifier, offer that to help save the nap. If that doesn’t work, just end the nap and try again for the next one.
And if your child doesn’t fall asleep at all for their nap? If it’s been about an hour from the time you laid your child in their crib, you can end the nap and try again in 30-45 minutes.
The biggest point I want to stress is not to harp on short naps too much. I know it’s discouraging when your child has a short nap, but it’s okay. It happens to all of us from time to time.
In fact, short naps in infant sleep are very age-appropriate and part of the process.
Some days, naps are going to be amazing. And some days, they won’t be. Instead of getting frustrated when those short naps sneak up on you, focus on the big picture. The naps are there to serve a purpose – to offer rest before bedtime.
Is it Time to Drop a Nap?
Part of the journey of figuring out your child’s naps is determining when it’s time to drop a nap. The chart below shows the average age for each nap transition, but keep in mind that every child is unique.
Here are a few signs to look for when determining whether your child is ready to drop a nap:
Your little one struggles to fall asleep for naps, or they take a long time to fall asleep at bedtime and lay in their bed/crib content
Your child naturally stays awake longer between naps, making it harder to squeeze another nap into the schedule without interfering with their bedtime
Your baby skips or protests the last nap of the day and they don’t seem to mind it - they aren’t cranky or sleepy
Your child wakes up multiple times during the night or wakes up early, even if you aren’t reinforcing those wakes
When it is time to drop a nap, it may be necessary to make bedtime earlier for a week or so to allow your child time to adjust to the new schedule. Once they have settled into that new schedule, you can slowly extend bedtime back to its normal time.
And when the time comes for your child to not take any naps during the day, it’s important not to rush the process. Every child is different and will be ready to drop the nap at different ages. My biggest advice is to keep the nap as long as possible. In general, if your child is able to make it to bedtime and still have a relatively happy disposition, it could be a sign they’re ready.
However, if your child doesn’t nap and it creates a rough bedtime, stay consistent in offering your little one naps. After several weeks of your child not napping, begin to offer quiet time. Your child may lay in their crib or bed and just relax. They can read a book (or flip through the pages looking at pictures).
In some cases, offering screen time during that quiet time can be a saving grace to allow stillness. Or if you’re trying to limit screen time, listening to music is a great option.
Naptime is a coveted time in many households, but if your child is struggling, it can be a dreaded event in your house.
If the thought of naptime makes you feel anxious or overwhelmed, I invite you to schedule a mini-sleep assessment call to discuss your child’s daytime schedule and talk about how I can help you navigate through the process to ensure good naps.
You can book your call here today!