Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
56
Naps (4 of 4)
December 6, 2021

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Introduction

A Healthy Child Needs a Healthy Brain, A Healthy Brain Needs Healthy Sleep

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.

Blog 56Naps (4 of 4)

Naps

(Continued.)

Development of Naps

Immediately after your baby is born, you will see what people mean when they say “sleeping like a baby.” For a few days, babies sleep almost all the time. They barely suck and normally lose weight during this time. A few days later, babies begin to wake up more. This increased wakefulness reflects the normal maturation of your baby’s nervous system. The baby looks around more with wider eyes and is able to suck with more strength and for longer periods. Within days, the weight loss stops and a dramatic growth in weight, height, and head circumference begins. Also, slightly longer periods of wakefulness begin to appear after a few days. Although your baby is intently interested in you and is quickly able to recognize your face and voice, she is not yet curious about objects such as toys or mobiles. She does not appear to care about the general buzz or noises, colors, or other activities surrounding her, and therefore she falls asleep almost anywhere. All babies gradually seem to become more aware of action, motion, voices, noises, vibrations, lights, wind, and so forth as they become more curious. At that point they often do not “sleep like a baby.”

Brief intervals of wakefulness between naps prevents your baby from becoming overtired. Experiment with the first morning nap beginning after only one hour of wakefulness from night sleep. This will prevent a second wind. Brief intervals of wakefulness and brief nap durations will result in many naps each day. Parents have told me to emphasize the point that babies need many naps because it is not intuitively obvious. Babies need to return to sleep within one to two hours after waking from a nap.

Watch your baby closely for drowsy signs (Blog Post 9). If you soothe her during the beginning of drowsiness, most likely she will easily fall asleep. The exception is the colicky baby, who might not fall asleep easily; these babies need longer and more complex soothing efforts to help them fall asleep.

What happens if you miss this window of drowsiness? Your baby will become overtired if she cannot fall asleep because the duration of wakefulness preceding the attempted nap is too long or there is too much stimulation around her. When you or your baby becomes overtired, the body is stressed. Chemical changes then occur to fight the fatigue, and this interferes with the ability to easily fall asleep and stay asleep—that is, the baby gets a second wind. Babies vary in their ability to self-soothe and deal with this stress, and parents vary in their ability to soothe their babies. Not all babies go bonkers if they are kept up a little too long. But you will have a more peaceful and better-sleeping baby if you respect her need to sleep again within one to two hours after waking.

Some young babies will need dark and quiet environments to sleep well, and others will appear to be less sensitive to what is going on around them. Respect your baby’s individuality and do not try to force her to meet your lifestyle. I like the analogy with feeding: We do not withhold food when our baby is hungry. We try to anticipate when she will be hungry, so that we will be somewhere calm where we can feed her. We do not feed her on the run. The same applies for napping.  If your newborn does not fall asleep, continue trying to soothe. Do not let her cry or ignore her.

Nap rhythms begin to emerge around 3–4 months of age. As your baby becomes more aware of her environment, she is less likely to sleep well in brightly lit or noisy places in the stroller. A goal is to use her emerging nap rhythms as an aid to obtain long periods of deep day sleep. Now parents better have the opportunity to “catch the wave” of developing drowsiness and synchronize their soothing to a drowsy-but-awake state with the nap wave before it crashes into a second wind. The midmorning nap becomes more regular before the midday nap. Typically, the approximate times are around 9:00 A.M. and between 12:00 and 2:00 P.M. An additional nap or naps occur in the late afternoon or early evening. The midmorning and midday naps may be brief at first, but between 4 and 6 months of age they become more predictable and longer, so that eventually, each nap is 1 to 2 hours long. Often there is one late-afternoon nap,  but it may not occur every day and it is usually briefer than the midmorning and midday naps.

After 3–6 months of age, it is possible to inadvertently put your baby to sleep for a nap before or past the time of her biological drowsiness, with the unwanted consequence of accumulating a sleep deficit from no naps or poor-quality naps. Please remember that good-quality naps are those that occur during the biological rhythm of daytime drowsiness, and naps while you are outside and in motion might be less restorative than motionless naps at home or in a quiet park.

Regular sleep schedules in general help anchor healthy sleep. But don’t be a slave to a sleep schedule. Exceptions to your sleep plan, such as skipping naps or staying up late for holidays or special occasions, are fine once or twice a month, but not much more often. Well-rested children tolerate these events and recover quickly. Early bedtimes or naps at home are socially limiting. But it is liberating to be out with a well-rested child who never fusses, and it is liberating for a couple to have relaxed private time in the evening when their child easily falls asleep early at night.

As nap rhythms mature, the naps will become more predictable and longer if and only if they are in sync with biological nap cycles. Although they will not occur at exactly the same clock time every day, you will be able to watch the clock a little more. If you have good timing, you might not see drowsy signs, because you are perfectly catching the sleep wave. Because drowsy signs might be absent and because the naps are now getting longer, you want to move away from the notion of brief intervals of wakefulness and focus more on the clock-time window when your child takes her nap best.

By 6 months of age, 80% of children are taking 2 naps a day and 20% are taking 3 naps a day.  The range of total amount of daytime sleep time is wide and the average is 3.5 hours.

Comments

  1. I’ve been reading your book and it has helped me so much. My son turns 4 months this weekend and suddenly his naps and nighttime sleep have gone haywire. We were getting long stretches at night ( waking twice to nurse) and 2 long 3 hour naps. Do you have any advice about this sleep regression? Last night he woke every 2 hours.

    1. Please read Blog Posts 36 & 37 to understand why ‘sleep regression’ is a myth. Focus on early bedtimes (Blog Post 7) and drowsy signs (Blog Post 9) to help your child sleep better.
      Sweet Dreams,
      DrW

  2. I’ve been scouring your book (4th edition) and cannot find a direct answer to this question. I’ve been using extinction with my 7wk old for night time, but read that because naps are not organized at this age, I should not use extinction for naps. What am I supposed to do when she refuses to nap during the day (even when I’m watching for drowsy signs and putting her down before 1-2 hours after attempting to soothe)? How long do I let her cry to learn to self-soothe? What do I do if she misses a nap because of this? You say that I shouldn’t use extinction at night “if naps are not going well”, so how can I get napping to go better?

    1. What was her gestational age at birth?
      What is the most common bedtime at night? Describe how night sleep is going.
      How do you attempt to nap her: in arms, in swing, in crib, etc.? Describe a common attempt and outcome for naps.
      How does she behave and appear around 4-5pm?

      1. She was born 38+4 and is 7wks and 2 days today.

        Bedtime is around 6pm, but I haven’t been comfortable setting a time because naps by evening time are usually not happening at all.

        Night sleep had been going very well for a few days with a 6-7 hour period after falling asleep after extinction and then one or two more wake-ups with 2-3 hours between. Last night, though, she woke up at 11 after falling asleep at 8pm after crying for 45 minutes.

        I try to put her in her bassinet for naps after changing, swaddling, nursing, and soothing. I have a 2.5 year old though who can’t be left alone for the full 20 minutes 10x a day that it takes to get her to fall asleep (for only a short period, half hour if I’m lucky).

        4-5pm is tricky because I can’t tell if I should call it her bedtime because she’s overtired and thus use extinction then, or if I should just try one more nap and then put her to bed with extinction after she wakes up from that (if she falls asleep at all). Does that make sense?

        1. Please clarify: She falls asleep around 6pm, sleeps for 6-7 hours, then has 1-2 awakenings, and in general, how much crying occurs at sleep onset and when she awakens at night?
          Have you tried to maximize day sleep with swings or cloth carriers?
          Are week-end naps different from week-day naps?
          Your answers might mean that the following suggestion is inappropriate, but here it is:
          Do your best to maximize sleep during the day and minimize crying during the day but there will be no nap schedule or long naps until 3-4 months of age or even later.
          Try soothing her to sleep for the night, temporarily, around 5:00-5:30pm for 4-5 days and see if you get more night sleep. This might backfire because she might just get up much earlier in the morning. On the other hand, she might get more night sleep, wake up in the morning better rested, and thus, nap better. If so, as weeks or months go by, better naps will allow you to make the bedtime later.
          Please let me know how it goes.
          Sweet dreams, DrW

          1. Having started extinction fairly recently, the last several nights it’s been about 45 minutes. A couple times, she’s cried for 20 minutes, fallen asleep, and then woken back up 10 minutes later to cry for another half hour (I am confident she’s well fed). Tonight, her crying was delayed about 5 minutes but is starting up now.

            When she wakes up at night, she goes right back to sleep but she’s really refluxy so I keep her upright and burp her for at least 15 minutes, so she is essentially going down in a deep sleep.

            Does that change your suggestion? I can get her to sleep in the car or in a wrap, but I was under the impression that was inadvisable unless your baby was extremely colicky.

            I will see how it goes! Thank you!!

          2. Please read Blog Post 43 to determine if she fits the diagnostic criteria for colic. Let me know. If you think that she might have colic, then ignore my suggestion and we will take a different approach.

          3. I don’t believe she has colic as she is never inconsolable, but she does need to be held most of the time.

          4. First, your attempt to help your child sleep better has not, in any way, harmed your child. But you are an experienced mother and having a child that needs to be held most of the time to prevent fussing or crying suggests that your child has colic, or alternatively, she is going through her period of peak fussiness. My book, ‘Your Fussy Baby’ might help. Either way, I would do whatever works to maximize sleep and minimize crying during the day and night for 1-2 weeks to regroup. Because of her age, focus on a super-early bedtime. In 1-2 weeks, try extinction again for 3-4 nights only because if she has colic, 50% of children outgrow it by about 2 months of age. Let me know your thoughts and how this does or does not work.

  3. Olá tudo bem? Sou brasileira, e acompanho seu blogue sempre. Gostaria de saber como ajudar a minha filha a ter autonomia nos cochilos. No sono noturno apliquei choro controlado e já dorme bem. Durante o dia tem tido cochilos muito curtos, embalo bastante tempo, e quando vou colocar no berço ela acorda. Como seria a abordagem? Ela já tem 9 meses.

    1. I understand that you have a question about naps in your 9-month-old. Would it be possible to be more specific regarding your question and please describe a typical nap and night sleep schedule. TranslatING into English before posting your reply would be helpful..

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Drowsy Signs

The brains in babies and young children produce drowsy periods followed by sleep during the day and in the evening. Watch for drowsy signs before your child falls asleep. Drowsy signs are your signals to start soothing your child to sleep for a nap or for the night. Begin to soothe your baby to sleep as soon as your baby starts to become drowsy.
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