The Need for Naps; A 3-Blog Series on Daytime Sleep – Valerie Birch with Amazing Little Sleeper – Omaha, NB

My baby doesn’t nap well…Maybe they don’t need much sleep?
All babies are built to sleep – day and night!

You’ve tried every trick in the book to help your child nap: rocking to sleep, holding them, a car ride, wearing them while bouncing on a yoga ball, but nothing seems to work. Like clock work, they either don’t sleep or they wake up at the 20 minute, 30 minute or if you’re lucky 40 minute mark. Wide awake and ready to roll. Sigh…you’re not ready to roll!

The good news is, there is hope!

In my 3 part series on naps I’m going to discuss the science behind napping and why appropriate lengths of naps are necessary (and not just a break for mom, but necessary for growth and night sleep too!). Short nappers vs. Long nappers and finally the hardest transition in the napping world: going from two daily naps to one nap (and a little personal insight as I’m living it right now.)

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Naps are good. Naps are needed. They are not a waste of time.

(Read and repeat)

In America’s society, we sometimes devalue the need for naps. Instead, we may believe naps are for the lazy and unmotivated. This thinking can be troublesome when dealing with our children. Healthy naps lead to optimal daytime alertness, living and learning…for you and your child!

Daytime and night sleep are similar, but different. We don’t treat naps the same as nighttime sleep – and not even every nap is created equal. No wonder this can be confusing! Just as your night sleep is composed of REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep, so does your child’s naps. But, particular naps contain more REM cycles and others more non-REM cycles. So your child’s daytime sleep should contain all needed naps to ensure he’s receiving the best daytime sleep. It’s like making a PB&J sandwich. It just isn’t the same sandwich without the peanut butter or jelly. They are best together!

How do you know if you’r child’s getting the PB&J naps for him? It depends on his age. Around three-four months of age, children’s naps have developed into 3-4 solid naps in a day. The first two naps of the day are the PB&J and you want to strive for a long, solid nap at these times. By 9 months of age your little one has paired down to two concrete naps a day – both are needed for that great sandwich! As your little one creeps into toddlerhood, they will challenge you as they transition from two naps to one nap. This jump to one nap can be so difficult I’m writing an entire blog on it (to come shortly!).

You’ve got it! Appropriate number of naps are important for your little one. Now what about the length? In my world, no nap is complete unless it is over 60 minutes in length. Anytime your child wakes under one hour of sleep, he has not completed two full sleep cycles and thus leaves him feeling sleep deprived. We want all naps over an hour. To ensure we are creating the best expectations and habits around naps, we have to treat them like night sleep regarding their location. After four months of age, do not expect your baby to nap well outside of his crib. Nap your child when they are drowsy, but awake and give them space. If you’re always attending to them when they wake after 20 minutes, then you are getting in the way of their sleep. Protect your baby’s nap schedule and location or you can produce nap deprivation.

Fun Fact!
As babies develop and their sleep takes shape, their morning nap evolves before their afternoon nap. As they transition into toddlers, then their morning nap disappears before their afternoon nap and they are left with one afternoon nap. That single afternoon nap that is present around 15-21 months of age is the same nap that resurfaces in adolescence or adulthood. Now as an adult when you feel drowsy around 1:00-3:00pm (when your melatonin levels are higher), this is the same nap that you experienced as the 2- year-old you!

Not convinced long naps are needed, let me leave you with this. When children do not nap well, they pay the price. Short naps lead to shorter attention spans, a non-adaptable, hyperactive child who will experience late afternoon/early evening fussiness. Despite their behavior changes, their learning takes a hit too. According to WebMD in Good, Sound Sleep for your Child, “small but constant deficits in sleep over time tend to have escalating and perhaps long-term effects on brain functions.” When a child naps poorly and is sleep-deprived the fatigue becomes noticeable as they are fitfully fussy or hyper alter (they do this in order to fight sleep) and therefore they cannot learn from their environment. Whether they are 4 months or 4 years old, naps are parallel.

References:

Breus, M.J., Good, Sound Sleep for your Child. http://www.webmd.com/children/features/good-sound-sleep-for-children#3 WebMD Feature on October 21, 2004, Medically updated October 21, 2004.

Dr. Weissbluth, Marc. Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. Ballantine Books, NY. 2015.