Nap time is sacred around here, and if chat forums and Facebook status updates are any indication, they’re sacred in most other households too. Whether you are a stay-at-home mom who works outside of the home, or a single dad or a grandparent who helps out with weekly babysitting duties, we all want well-rested babies. Nap time allows the caregiver to get chores and work done, and it allows baby to replenish and get much needed rest so he can conquer the rest of the day, and all there is to learn and do with a happy spirit. Plus, there’s a common theory that good naps equal good nighttime sleep. Whether this is entirely true or not, I’m not so sure, but I am sure that I can always use all the help I can get when it comes to ensuring a good nap from my little one. Here are 10 tips and tricks I’ve learned to help ensure a good nap in infants and toddlers.
Different Ages, Different Stages
The biggest thing I’ve learned with all three of my kids is that their age affects their sleep patterns more than even their personality. Knowing the different stages of development helps with establishing a routine and nap schedule that will allow for restful lengths of sleep. For instance, a newborn usually needs 3-4 naps a day, while a 6-month-old only needs 2, and by the time a baby is 18 months, he will only be taking 1 nap a day. Any book on infant sleep will outline the typical infant stages and their corresponding sleep needs.
Reading Your Baby's Cues
Getting to know your baby and his unique cues are more important than watching the clock and sticking to a strict schedule. A clock can’t tell you if baby had a fitful night of sleep, therefore may be tired earlier than usual in the morning, for instance. Read your baby’s sleepy time cues, which usually involve eye rubbing, ear pulling, yawning, and of course, fussiness. Try to get baby down for a nap before true fussiness really sets in, because that means they’re usually overtired and may not sleep soundly.
Eliminate Questions of Hunger and Discomfort
In order to ensure baby is nice and comfortable for nap time, offer a bottle or cup of milk, or a nutritious snack. You don’t want to overfill baby, but just get his tummy feeling full, so he doesn’t wake up mid-nap because of hunger.
Consider a Nap Time Routine
While my first born was the only baby of mine to positively respond to a nap time routine of books, music and a little bit of milk, I know that many parents rely on a consistent pre-nap routine to calm and soothe baby before nap time. My other two just prefer to have me darken the room and lay them down in their crib, but some babies really love the predictable nature of a set routine before their nap.
Set the Scene
Many children respond positively to a darkened room for nap time, as it helps to block out the lovely sights of a colorful and fun nursery, and helps prevent over-stimulation when baby is trying to fall asleep. It also helps tremendously if two children are sleeping in the room together. Wooden blinds or dark-out shades are great for this and can be installed quite easily.
A Noise Machine Drowns Out Noise
We have loved using a noise machine from the time of birth all the way up to 2-3 years old with all of our children. In the beginning, it mimics the white noise they’re so used to hearing in the womb, and later on, it helps to drown out interfering noises from barking dogs, ringing doorbells, or playing kids. We have a machine that has an adjustable volume and can stay on constantly and it has worked wonderfully for us.
Know Your Baby's Sleep Cycles
All baby’s sleep cycles are pretty similar, in that they drift in and out of heavy sleep every 30-40 minutes. This is often why some babies have 40-minute naps that plague both mom and baby. By knowing the general time of your baby’s sleep cycles, you can determine if they’re ready to get up or may need assistance settling back down to sleep, as well as know when to avoid making noise outside baby’s room when they’re in a light sleep phase.
Help Soothe When Need Be
Helping baby learn to fall asleep by different methods is totally up to you the parent. But when baby wakes up early from a nap, usually at the 40-minute mark, during a sleep cycle, see if you can help baby go back to sleep by patting baby, or holding baby and soothing him back to sleep. This doesn’t always work, but it often is worth a try, and you can turn a short nap into a longer one, ensuring a more well-rested baby.
The second biggest piece of advice I ever received when it came to babies and sleep, is to be as consistent as possible with their routine and places they sleep. The occasional nap in the car seat and stroller is completely fine of course, but if you change where baby sleeps, or at what times on a daily basis, they never have the chance to establish a sound routine. Plus, the sleep they get while in a car seat or stroller isn’t usually as restful as the sleep they get in their own crib.
Don't Overbook Nap Time
This last piece of advice is for the caretakers of little babies. Don’t attempt to complete an unreasonably long to-do list, because it never fails that when I have to get the most done, baby usually takes a short nap, or doesn’t nap at all. Instead, try to have the attitude that you’ll do what you can with the time you get, that way you don’t feel defeated if baby doesn’t nap, and you don’t finish that to-do list.