Moore’s plan is this:
Note the time when the baby wakes up.
Add ninety minutes.
Play, feed or do other things.
Soothe baby back to sleep when ninety minutes are up.
Her book details her program, offers tips on perennial problems like early morning waking and provides readers with a handy-dandy sleep journal where you can chart your baby’s sleep. Babble talked to her about how she came up with her plan, why parents get so testy about their baby’s sleep patterns and how much sleep she gets at night. – Jennifer V. Hughes
Every parent I’ve ever known was totally freaked out about their baby’s sleep – how often the baby wakes up at night, how hard it is to get the kid to sleep. Why do you think new parents are so consumed by sleep?
My guess is it’s for selfish reasons, because their own sleep is so affected by it. I don’t mean to say that people are selfish. It’s just that it’s the one area of our lives that has the biggest impact. I think the other thing is the unpredictability. They have no idea when the baby is going to wake up and that leads to stress.
How did you come up with the N.A.P.S. system?
I came up with it quite by accident. I made a bunch of mistakes with my daughter, but what it came down to was not recognizing her signs of sleepiness. I had an “aha” moment when she was about four months old. I had gotten into the habit of rocking her to sleep and I had to take her into this large closet that was dark. One time I noticed that she started to look sleepy and I realized she had just gotten up ninety minutes ago. All the training I had as a sleep researcher and the ninety-minute clock came rushing back at me. Once I started following the clock, she started to nap longer and her nighttime sleep got better in two or three days.
So, you tried it out on your daughter (Maddie, now ten). Did you use it on your son (Max, now eight)?
When my son was born, I thought “I’m going to pay attention to this from the day he’s born,” and it was apparent to me while I was still in the hospital.
I have to say, one of my biggest problem with your system is that it says that you feed the baby after the nap. I nursed my daughter and it was always such a wonderful, gentle and effective way to lull her to sleep. Why mess with that rhythm?
I wouldn’t say to never do that, but what I’m suggesting is for parents to figure out their baby’s signs of sleepiness. The easiest way to separate a sleepy cry from a hungry cry is to feed early in the alert cycle . . . nursing is a natural way for the baby to focus, to tune out the noise of the world. That’s a great thing, but the reason why I caution about that is that if your baby can only fall asleep while nursing you are going to have a hard time if you want to teach some self-soothing.
I’m also a little curious as to the part about being home to put the baby down for a nap every ninety minutes. That makes it pretty hard to go to the park with an older child, do preschool pick-up, run errands – anything. Is that really realistic, especially for a second or third child?
That ninety-minute increment of time quickly expands into three hours within a few months. I remember that was hard because my kids were just eighteen months apart and it was hard to be home for naps for my son because my daughter would have loved to be out a lot more. It happened that my kids could only get full two-hour naps in the crib, but I’ve talked to a lot of parents who tell me their kids sleep in their strollers really well. Again, the idea is not to lecture you, to tell you that you have to be home, but to think of that time as important, to protect their sleep time because it’s so easy if you don’t prioritize it to lose it.
“We have an epidemic of our young people not getting enough sleep.” I realized as I was reading your book that I wound up getting really defensive. Can you tell my kid was a terrible sleeper? I think how our babies sleep really hits a nerve!
It is! That’s why I get some emails from my website where people are kind of hostile. [Laughs.] I’m trying to help you – you can use this information whatever parenting style you have. I have this bias that babies need a lot of sleep. When I look at the data on the effects of not getting enough sleep and the long-term consequences, that’s why I push to pay attention to babies’ sleep.
What are the long-term consequences of not getting enough sleep?
I really think we have an epidemic of our young people not getting enough sleep. There are a lot of associations between inadequate or irregular sleep and a bunch of problems – attention problems, for one. I think there is a strong association between short sleep and obesity. We know from adult studies that you will get mood changes, attention changes, you can even get some consequences of klutziness. There are studies of children and inadequate sleep and higher rates of injury.
How much sleep do you get?
I wish I got more. I am someone who does have some stress-related insomnia. I get about seven or eight hours. We’re long sleepers in my family.
You address several sleep myths in your book, such as that skipping naps makes a baby more ready for nighttime sleep or that solid food helps babies sleep longer. Why do so many myths persist about baby sleep?
It’s because we want them to be true. If parents are looking for some way to take control, to help their baby sleep through the night, the key is more sleep during the day.