Nap Problems, Solved!Jo-Ellen Truelove
Resistance to Napping
Although there’s nothing you’d like better than a nice nap, your baby begs to differ. He is fascinated by the world and can’t bear to think of what he’s missing while he’s asleep. Convince him there will be lots to do when he wakes up. Make sure that when he wakes he gets plenty of interaction, interesting activity, and at least 30 minutes of sunlight. No food or drink with caffeine, of course, and don’t let him watch television for more than an hour, if at all.
If your child still resists napping, consider other causes. They might include simple fixes (removing uncomfortable clothing, blocking out distractions with white noise) or medical issues (such as pain from earache or teething, allergies, infections, pinworms, acid reflux, colic, or separation anxiety) that will require help from your pediatrician.
If your baby isn’t taking predictable naps, she might be sleep-deprived—and you might be losing your mind. Obviously, neither is acceptable, and the key to solving this problem is a consistent nap schedule. (Learn what’s expected, age by age.) Starting at about six months of age, your child’s ideal napping schedule will mean two naps each day, a shorter one in the morning and a longer one in the afternoon. About three hours after she wakes in the morning, put your baby in her crib for a nap of an hour or so. Then, approximately an hour after lunch, put her down for another nap of two to three hours. The length of the nap will change as she grows, but she’ll need at least a nap a day until she’s four years old.
When you’re planning suitable naptimes, think about when your child usually looks tired (rubbing her eyes, for instance). Don’t put off the nap for too long, because kids will catch a second wind, and sleep-deprived kids become more, not less, active.
The biggest obstacles to keeping a schedule are keeping up with older siblings’ activities and spending time in the car, where babies tend to doze off. Do your best to schedule the older kids around baby’s naptime, and look into sharing pick-ups and drop-offs with a friend. When you hit the road for a longer car trip, try to leave at naptime. For shorter drives, attempt to keep baby awake by popping in a favorite CD or recruiting older siblings to play “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” or the like. If Baby does fall asleep in the car on the way home, try to transition her to her crib for the rest of her nap. Children, especially young babies, should not be left to sleep unmonitored in their car seats. And if your child falls asleep on the way to the store, let her sleep it out if it’s anywhere close to naptime. Look around: You won’t be the only mom in the Target parking lot watching a baby sleep.
Car Seat Napping
Again, babies will snooze in their car seats—there’s no avoiding it—but you don’t want to encourage it, either. Ideally, your baby will nap according to the schedule you’ve established, in the safe sleeping environment of her crib or bassinet. But when your child does fall asleep in the car, monitor her in a mirror if possible, and move her to her crib when you arrive at your destination. Sleeping in a car seat, especially one that isn’t fixed at its proper angle (sitting it on the floor, for example) can cause a child’s head to fall forward, constricting her airway. It’s a safety hazard and a particular danger for premature infants. If she must nap in her car seat, observe her to make sure her head doesn’t flop onto her chest.
Waking Too Soon
If you’ve established a good schedule and environment for napping, but your child continues to wake from naps early, a sleep onset association problem might be the culprit. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine identifies a sleep onset association as a connection that a child has made between an action or object and falling asleep. For example, if a child is always nursed to sleep, she will begin to associate nursing with sleeping. All of us, even babies, wake up a number of times during a normal sleep period, usually without even realizing it. When a child with a sleep association wakes, she doesn’t know how to go back to sleep without nursing (or rocking, or holding).
To solve this problem, you’re going to need to make some changes. This process will likely be tough, but it is necessary for the well being of your child. First, you must put your baby down to sleep when he is sleepy but still awake. That means you cannot let him fall asleep while you are nursing him, rocking him, or holding him. Next, provide him with a transitional object (a.k.a. “the lovey”). This is an object, such as a small blanket that you want him to associate with sleep. It will stay in his crib, and he will learn to use it to comfort himself. Finally, hang in there. Baby will not be happy with the changes, and he will cry. Wait five to 10 minutes (enough time to repeat “I am not a bad mother” about 1,000 times), then re-settle him matter-of-factly and reinforce the presence of the lovey. And repeat. Eventually, he will fall asleep. In a week or two, he’ll be a more independent sleeper and you’ll be a happier parent.
Napping Too Long
So you’ve got a schedule and you stick to it, but your baby’s napping too long? If your child has to be awakened from long naps, and if she is routinely cranky, irritable, aggressive, overly active, or overly emotional, she is probably sleep-deprived. Different people require different amounts of sleep in a 24-hour period. Establish a bedtime at night that ensures enough sleep for your child, factoring in a reasonable amount of sleep during the day. This might be earlier than her peers’ bedtimes, but don’t let that be a concern; some children go sleep before 7 PM every night. If that doesn’t work, consult your pediatrician; your child might have a medical condition (such as enlarged tonsils) that is preventing her from getting enough restful sleep.
Crankiness Upon Waking
Your child’s not sleep-deprived, you say, simply unpleasant? Well, just as people need different amounts of time to sleep, they need different amounts of time to transition to and from sleep. You can help your child learn to shake the grumpies by establishing a naptime routine in reverse: move gradually from relaxation to activity. Turn up the lights a little at a time, speak quietly, change his diaper, cuddle for bit, and read a few books. Move from soothing books to funny books and add in a little tickling when he’s ready. Some people need to eat right away upon waking due to low blood sugar, so that’s a solution well worth testing, too. With a little help, your child will feel like himself again soon, keeping you busy ’til bedtime.
For more support in establishing healthy sleep patterns, check out these resources: The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Baby Sleep Longer by Harvey Karp; The No-Cry Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night by Elizabeth Pantley; and the classic (and somewhat hardcore) Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Richard Ferber.