Helping a baby sleep during the night is hard enough. But getting a child to nap soundly and consistently can be absolutely maddening. But much of the frustration has little to do with the child themselves and more to do with the wealth of misinformation parents are exposed to.
The harsh truth about naps is that they are different for every child. So what might have worked for one relative, blogger or expert might not work for others. It’s better to look at naptime as a holistic part of a daily sleep that works in concert with nighttime sleep. To think of naps as a separate entity to bedtime is a fallacy that can make everyone lose sleep.
Children’s Naps Are Necessary Until 4 Years Old
Naps, thanks to their duration and the fact that they happen during the daytime hours, often feel a bit more trivial than nighttime sleep. However, naps are just as crucial for development as sleep at night. In fact, naps and nighttime sleep are intricately linked. Kids who have consistent naps get to sleep easier at night and have fewer wake-ups. They also learn better during the day and get into fewer accidents.
On the other hand, kids who aren’t getting enough naps are likely sleep-deprived. That’s because the amount of sleep children need is calculated as the total amount of sleep in a 24 hour period. By preschool, the amount of sleep a child needs is still upwards of 13 hours. Failure to get 13 hours of sleep between nighttime sleep and naps can increase the risk of childhood obesity, harm emotional coping skills and increase the likelihood of hyperactive behaviors.
Skipping Naps Doesn’t Make it Easier to Sleep at Night
Parents who are struggling to help a child sleep at night may try to cut out a nap to make a child more tired. The logic makes sense from an adult perspective — the less sleep we have, the more tired we get. But the reality for children is that the more exhausted a kid gets, the harder it is for them to sleep at night.
In fact, an over-tired child is more likely to get cranky and hyperactive. They’ll fight sleep to stay awake, which is the exact opposite of what parents are looking for. The takeaway is that maintaining a nap schedule is incredibly important.
Every Baby Naps Differently
Any nap schedule suggestions a parent finds should be understood as recommended guidelines. There is no one-size-fits-all nap schedule that works for every child.
Some kids will take a bunch of short naps. Some kids will take a few long naps. Some kids might even split the difference. The important part is that they are getting their total daily sleep requirements met and that the way they are meeting those requirements isn’t impossible for the rest of the family. Comparing one child’s napping to another’s is a fool’s errand.
That said, consistency is key. Whatever the nap schedule happens to be, parents should stick to it as much as possible. Routine will help sleep in general.
Sometimes You Need to Wake a Napping Baby
While every baby will sleep differently, parents should set some limits on the amount of sleep a child gets during the day. A child who is sleeping in the afternoon for 3 hours at a time, for instance, might miss feedings and be too hungry and rested to sleep later that night.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s okay to wake a sleeping baby in order to establish or keep them on a set naptime routine. For naps, it’s not the quantity of sleep that is important, as it is the quality of the sleep. Naps ranging from 30 to 90 minutes long are just fine. If a nap is stretching into hours, a kid may just be thrown off track.
Babies Should Not Nap in Swings or Bouncers
Parents should always be putting babies to sleep following the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for protecting children from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Those guidelines stress a baby should be placed to sleep on their back, on top of a firm mattress with minimal bedding and no blankets or stuffed animals.
Letting babies nap in bouncers, swings or car seats is not recommended. That’s particularly true for infants who do not have the neck strength to keep their head from falling forward and restricting their airway.
Of course, some parents feel that their child sleeps best in a swing or bouncer. But it’s important to remember that these products are designed to mimic the kind of swaying and rocking that parents can perform with their own arms and bodies. I might be best parents to do the swinging and rocking themselves to get their baby drowsy, rather than leaving it up to a machine that could potentially be unsafe.
Nap Routines are as Important as Bedtime Routines
Putting a kid in a dark room and hoping that they’ll sleep isn’t the best way to go at nap time. It’s far better to prep them with a nap routine that offers cues it’s time to rest. Not only can this help a kid sleep, but it can also reinforce the nighttime routine as well. In fact, some parents simply mimic the nighttime routine for naptime, just without the teeth brushing and bath time.
Whatever routine parents choose before nap time, it’s important that a child is put down to nap when they are sleepy but not asleep. This will help them develop the skill they need to self-soothe.
Sleeping When the baby Naps is a Filthy Lie
Sleep deprived parents are often advised by friends and family to try and sleep while their kid is napping. For most parents, this will be an impossibility Not only is it hard for humans to sleep on cue, but there are also often important chores to take care of during nap time. And frankly, the quality of sleep that parents can get during a short and fitful nap is of dubious. Better to try and get the sleep at night by working with a partner to share nighttime tasks.