Naps: Friend or foe

napping baby 2I find that parents often have a love/hate relationship with their child’s naps.  Naps are great because your child will feel refreshed and restored after a good nap.  When your baby or toddler is getting the right amount of day sleep, she is happier, she is able to stay awake for longer periods of time before becoming overtired, she will have a better ability to adapt to changes in her environment, as well as many other positives that are the result of being well rested.  Not to mention, parents also feel better when they have had a little down time while their little one sleeps.  However, when naps aren’t going well, meaning that your child refuses to nap or her naps are too short, nap-time can feel miserable for everyone.

New parents are often frustrated that their baby doesn’t nap well or naps are inconsistent.  This is very common and normal.  Some children are better nappers from birth then others.  Children who aren’t such great nappers often have to learn how to nap.  In general, naps typically don’t fall into place until night sleep has improved.  Most children will learn to consolidate their night sleep before their day sleep.  Also, when children don’t have the skill to put themselves to sleep at night and sleep well at night (when it is actually easier to put yourself to sleep), it is even more difficult for them to accomplish this task during the day, a time when it is harder to sleep.  Many babies don’t begin to take better naps until they are closer to 6 months old.  Better day sleep comes with brain maturation, and the ability to stay asleep through sleep cycles, for many children, comes with age.   For babies under 6 months old who are struggling with naps, I tell parents to do whatever they have to do to help their child get day sleep even if that means sleeping in a carrier or with motion, especially as it gets closer to the end of the day and your baby is more overtired.  When your baby is 6 months and able to put herself to sleep more easily, you can work your way out of any sleep crutches you have been using.  If your child is over 6 months old and is not napping well, it is often because you are using a sleep crutch to help your child go to sleep (such as rocking, bouncing, or feeding to sleep).  These tools may help you get your child to sleep at the beginning of the nap but when she moves through a sleep cycle (partial arousal), often occurring at 30 or 45 minutes, she will not be able to get herself back to sleep without once again needing your help.

So how much sleep does your child need during the day?  Below is a chart to help you determine if your child is getting enough day sleep.  Please keep in mind that these are averages meaning that some children need more day sleep and some need less.

Age

Hours of day sleep (# of naps)

0-4 weeks 6-7 hours (4 naps)
5-8 weeks 6-7 hours (3-4 naps)
9-12 weeks 4.5-5 hours (3-4 naps)
4-6 months 3.5-4 hours (3 naps)
6-9 monthsMost children move to 2 naps during this time period 3-3.5 hours (2-3 naps)
9-12 months 3 hours (2 naps)
12-18 monthsMost children transition to 1 nap between 15 and 18 months old 2-3 hours (1-2 naps)
18 months-2.5 years 2.25 hours (1 nap), 2 hours for children closer to 2.5
3/4/5 years 1-1.5 hours for younger children, encourage quiet time for children closer to 5

If your child is not napping well, it may be that she needs to learn how to do this.  Nap coaching takes time, consistency and lots of persistence on your part..  If you would like help with improving your child’s naps, contact me.  Naps don’t have to be a daily struggle in your home.

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