If you have not already done so, please read Blog Posts 1 through 5 that describe how sleep is important and beneficial. I will post specific information for parents and children based on my book, “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.” Please do not be put off by my book’s length. This is a reference book. Read only the topic of interest to you.
Unhealthy sleep schedules usually evolve in infants and young children when parents keep them up too late at night. Parents do this because they enjoy playing with their baby or they cannot put the child to sleep and instead wait for their child to crash from total exhaustion, or both. Some parents leave work late, have a long commute to the daycare site to pick up their child, and then arrive home even later. This lifestyle is extremely difficult for the child if naps are not regular at the daycare center and she is put down to sleep too late at night. If it is impossible to have an early bedtime under these circumstances, do the best you can. A bedtime that is only a little late is not as harmful as a bedtime that is way too late. Don’t beat yourself up over this but do your best to protect naps and early bedtimes on weekends. Bedtimes are based on drowsy signs (Blog Post 9), not clock times, so please do not compare your child’s bedtime with that of another child. Also, realistically, circumstances may make it difficult for parents to synchronize soothing to sleep at night with the onset of drowsy signs. For some parents, the reality is that a bedtime that is too late is unavoidable. Even so, try to move the bedtime just a few minutes earlier. But an important point is that a little earlier bedtime, just a few minutes earlier, will benefit your child. A little bit of extra sleep goes a long way (Blog Post 7). Also, perhaps good quality naps might mitigate the adverse effects of a too late bedtime. Good quality naps are naps occurring before the child becomes overtired; good quality naps occur in synch with nap rhythms. However, some babies simply are brief nappers.
If parents can cause problems that interfere with good naps, why can’t parents make their babies nap longer? This question provides a good example of the asymmetry between sleep and wakefulness. Sleep is not the absence of wakefulness; rather, the brain automatically and actively turns on the sleep process and simultaneously turns off wakefulness. You and your child can force wakefulness upon sleep, but you cannot force sleep upon wakefulness. You and your child can motivate or force yourself and her into a more wakeful or alert state, but you cannot force anyone into a deeper sleep state. So sleep and wake states are different but not opposite. Nap duration between 6 and 18-24 months is a stable individual characteristic, some children are born to be short nappers and others will be long nappers.
Not napping means lost sleep. Over an extended period of time, children do not sleep longer at night when their naps are brief. Of course, once in a while—when relatives visit or when a painful ear infection keeps the child awake—a child will make up for lost daytime sleep with longer night sleep. But day in and day out, you should not expect to satisfy your child’s need to sleep by cutting corners on naps and then trying to compensate by putting your child to sleep for the night at an earlier hour. What you wind up with is a cranky or demanding child in the late afternoon or early evening. Your child pays a price for nap deprivation, and so do you.
Spending hours during the day holding your child in your arms or in a rocking chair while she is in a light, twilight sleep also is lost sleep because you have delayed the time when she will fall into a deep slumber. It is similar to having a bedtime that is too late. It’s a waste of your time as well. Brief catnaps during the day, motion sleep in cars or baby swings, light sleep in the stroller at the pool, and naps at the wrong time are all poor-quality sleep.
All previous Blog Posts relate mostly to night sleep. If your child sleeps well at night, she wakes up in the morning well rested, which permits better quality naps, which promote better quality night sleep. The reason night sleep and day sleep interact with each other is that your child remains at a lower level of neurological activation that produces a virtuous circle of healthy sleep. If either night sleep or day sleep is off, a vicious circle may occur causing your child to be at a higher level of neurological activation resulting in bedtime resistance, night wakings, short night sleep duration, and problematic naps. The reasons that previous posts focused more on night sleep then day sleep (naps) are:
Parents have more influence over night sleep than naps for three reasons:
Parents have less influence over naps than night sleep for three reasons:
(To be continued.)
My name is Marc Weissbluth and I’ve been a pediatrician since 1973. This baby sleep blog will help you create a healthy sleep schedule for your child. My baby sleep advice and sleep training will teach you how to get a baby to sleep through the night. To stay updated with my latest baby and child sleep blog posts, be sure to subscribe today.
dr weissbluth, we love your books! im curious what you say is an appropriate wake time for a 7-8 month old? (if well rested). i can get her morning nap by her sleepy cues but find it harder to hit her second nap. i know to watch my baby more than the clock, but is there a time that’s an average? thank you!
What is her usual 24-hour sleep pattern? Does she have self-soothing skills?
yes she self soothes and puts herself to sleep by herself often. of course, if i miss her sleepy cues and she’s reaching overtired (not often), it takes more soothing (as expected per your book and blog!). i usually wake her by 8 am and she’s down for her first nap between 9:30 and 10. this is usually a long nap. i aim for her next nap around 2 but sometimes she doesn’t seem as tired if she takes a longer nap. which is why i was wondering an estimated wake window so i can try to watch her more closely during that time! is it usually 2-3 hours? or more/less? she’s in bed by 7 or 7:30 for the night and sleeps well (sometimes has a quick feed and back down). any idea how long she should be able to stay awake after that first nap or even before bedtime? thank you!
How is her mood and behavior between 1-2pm and between 6-7PM?
it kinda depends? if she naps till 11 or 12 she has a good demeanor by 1-2 (sometimes fussy around 2). and again depends on how her nap is for how she is around 5-6. lately she’s been more fussy at this time but between trying to get her “dinner” and her nighttime bottle she can’t go down too early or we can’t get that all in!
Your description of “around 5-6. lately she’s been more fussy at this time” suggests that cumulative sleepiness is developing from a bedtime that is sometimes too late and the interval of wakefulness between her two naps is sometimes too late. How would you describe her drowsy signs?
her drowsy signs are getting fussy, red around her eyes, staring into space, late signs are rubbing her eyes (usually don’t get to this point!). i do think she might be getting over tired! i’m trying to balance pushing her a bit (bc sometimes it seems she is tired after 1 hour of awake time!) and meeting an age appropriate age window, which is 2-3 hours? is that what you would say is an age appropriate wake window?
Read my Blog Post on Drowsy Signs to understand why you are confusing drowsiness with fatigue. I think my advice regarding shorter intervals of wakefulness between naps and before bedtime will help. Use Drowsy Signs as your guide. ‘Wake windows’ is a bogus notion.
ok i agree with you! she’s had a few rough nights and last night she was up off and on till 2 am 😳. i tried to wake her at 7 to start the day and she ate a little bit and literally cried until i rocked her to sleep. she’s still sleeping and it’s almost 11 am. clearly she is tired. any tips how to reverse this so she doesn’t wake again tonight? i’m thinking we will do 1 nap based on sleepy signs and then a super early bedtime? 5:30 or 6? what are your recommendations? thank you!
Use drowsy signs and expect two naps and a super early bedtime, if needed (again, based on drowsy signs)
will try that! she ended up not waking up till noon. yikes. so we did a nap from 2-3:30 and are putting her down at 5:30 pm. I’m guessing she will wake up in a few hours and think it was just a nap? We will try to rock her, maybe do a final feed (usually eats around 7 or 7:30 on a normal night) and hope for the best! she puts herself to sleep all the time so it’s so frustrating when she is awake from being over tired!
Hi Dr. Weissbluth, my daughter is 12 weeks today and I suspect she is perpetually overtired. She had serious blood sugar issues at birth and weight gain issues at first so our Dr made us wake her every 3 hours around the clock for a feeding for the first two months. It was awful and we were looking forward to a more baby controlled schedule after that. She is a decent night sleeper (giving us stretches regularly between 5.5 to 8 hours, we even had 9 hours one night) and most of the time when she has a shorter sleep window it is because she has peed through her diaper (she is prolific and goes through about 15-18 diapers a day). She will go down for a few short naps per day (about 25 minutes each) but then will not be soothed back to sleep. She will usually give us one longer nap during the day of about 1.5-3 hours but it is unpredictable when that nap will occur. I understand naps don’t become regular until later but the briefness of the naps seems concerning.
The biggest issue is, she fights us before sleep. Before every nap. Usually for an extended period before bedtime. She gets VERY worked up. I have tried to watch for drowsy signs but she seems to be one of those babies that goes from wide awake to overtired (or maybe she is just perpetually overtired and so I am never seeing drowsy signs since she is always drowsy?). She can self soothe a little bit (she has put herself to sleep to nap twice when my back needed a break from trying to soothe her and I usually put her down drowsy but awake after her night feeding regardless of what time it is and she does not fuss and goes to sleep).
Should we focus on just catching her up with sleep regardless of how much soothing it takes at this point and then work on self soothing, or would self soothing perhaps get her into better sleep that would then allow her to catch up on her sleep deficit? I don’t know where to start.
What is a common time that she actually falls asleep at night? Describe her mood and behavior when not directly being soothed by you during the 1-2 hours before that time?
We try to get her to sleep starting around 6/6:30 sometimes 7 and it will take until 8:30 or 9pm sometimes depending on when we start to actually get her to sleep. In the time before she is crying, sometimes screaming sometimes not, and will move her head from side to side looking at everything around her with her eyes wide open. She doesn’t rub her eyes but will yawn. Sometimes it feels like the soothing actually makes it worse and if I just sit and hold her she will just look around but stop crying. But she doesn’t get any closer to sleep if I hold her still or if I just put her in her crib (where she works her way up to crying).
Please read and have your husband look carefully at Blog Posts 9, 83, and 115X to fully appreciate why she should be falling asleep much earlier. Based on her age and her not napping well, start with an asleep time of 5:30pm. That means that you do everything you want to do for bedtime routine feeding, bathing, and soothing, and you are putting her down and leaving the room at 5;30pm. This also means that there is no nap that starts after 3:00pm. If she is sleepy between 3-4:30ish, amuse, entertain, and soothe her but do not let her fall asleep. Outdoor stimulation or loud music might help keep her calmer and awake.
We will do that. If she is in a nap at 3pm can we let it continue or do we wake her up at 3 so that she is ready for an asleep time of 5:30?
If a nap starts before 3pm and she is asleep at 3pm, do not wake her and still have the super early bedtime. But ” no nap that starts after 3:00pm” to protect the early bedtime.