In the mommy and me group I’m leading right now, the babies are between two and four months old. As I keep telling the moms (so they don’t feel like they’re going crazy), it’s typically a really rough time for sleep. Lots of these little creatures are waking up after 20-30 minute naps during the day (and lots at night)—it’s maddening for moms, who then have to decide if they want to eat or shower, because there’s no time for both.
And I hear a lot of them comment that grandma or someone else from an older generation keeps saying that they don’t understand why “babies these days are having such trouble sleeping.” It may partly be about the amnesia of parenthood—we forget sometimes just how hard certain phases really are.
But I think grandma has a point. Newborns used to sleep heavier and longer when we put them to sleep on their bellies. We now do back-sleeping for safety reasons (and thank goodness, because the back-to-sleep campaign has drastically cut the incidence of SIDS). We have to do it, but the fact is, it makes for some really nasty months of short naps.
Why is that, and what can you do to help daytime sleepers get more zzz’s?Babies have more frequent, and shorter, sleep cycles than adults. Every 30 minutes or so, they come into a light phase of sleep, where they easily wake up from a noise or their own startle reflex. For the most part, a baby on her back startles easily, and before she learns how to roll and get into her own comfortable sleep spot, even a swaddle isn’t really enough to make her feel fully nestled. This means it’s harder to get back into another phase of deep sleep.
As I keep reassuring my moms, it gets better—usually naps take a big leap when babies are 6-8 months and can find their own comfy sleep position (for many, it’s on their tummies). In the meantime, here are some tips for helping little babies nap:
1. Watch the clock, not sleepiness cues. Every 90 minutes during the day a newborn is ready for slumber, so when she wakes in the morning, look at the clock, wait an hour and 15 minutes, and start your naptime routine. This wake-window gradually grows as the months go on. A six month old, for example, is usually sleepy after 2.5 hours. When you wait for eye rubbing and yawning, it usually means baby is overtired.
2. Optimize the room environment. Try putting garbage bags or a dark duvet cover over the windows, even during naptimes. The darker the better, because babies are incredibly attuned to the light. Consider using a fan as white noise (and fans help reduce SIDS risk).
3. Start your day earlier. With a newborn, we extend out the morning and get a later start, but by the time a baby reaches three months or so, start thinking about kicking off your day by 7:00am—this helps the baby start her daytime clock. Remember, that means she (and you) can go back to sleep again at 8:30am.
4. Tummy Time. The stronger your baby, the more she’s able to move and get comfortable on her own for better sleep, so practice tummy time as much as possible during the day.
5. Back up bedtime. As babies reach the three to four month mark, they’re ready for a more consistent and early bedtime (between 7-8 works well). Sometimes they actually sleep more when they go to bed earlier.
Do you have any nap tips that have helped you and your little one?