Napping seems like such an ordinary thing, but to parents of young children it is a constant concern and often a source of anxiety. We know that getting the maximum amount of sleep possible is good for a child, yet the child is obviously not aware of this, and many seem to naturally resist being put down for naps. Some babies fuss, wake up frequently, and are unpredictable in when and how they like to nap. These are all simple facts of being a parent. And while you cannot stop nap troubles entirely, what you can do is minimize the difficulties.
1. Babies cannot nap too much. Many parents, especially those on their first child, worry that their babies are napping too much, and they make an effort not to overdo it. But there are a few points to keep in mind here. First, it is perfectly acceptable for babies to sleep anywhere from 14 to 20 hours a day, and it is normal for them to get tired one to two hours after waking up, even if the previous nap was a good one. And do not worry about daytime naps ruining nighttime sleep. It does not work that way with babies. In fact, good napping during the day often leads to less fussiness at night, which makes a good night’s sleep easier.
Also keep in mind that, again, the more sleep your baby gets, the better. Crucial development happens during those naps. So do not feel bad about encouraging your baby to sleep as much as possible. It does not mean you are selfish or that you do not enjoy your baby’s company. It is just good parenting. And yes, there is nothing wrong with enjoying the break while your baby sleeps.
2. Monitor your baby’s sleep. Babies’ sleep patterns can fluctuate wildly from day to day, but if you keep track of how often and how long your baby naps, you may begin to notice a pattern emerging. For instance, one common pattern for babies aged three to six months is to nap for an hour or two, eat, play for an hour and go back to sleep. In this pattern, the day is roughly divided into three-hour chunks. If you keep track of these patterns, then you will get a better sense of when your baby will be getting sleepy, which helps you be prepared.
3. Control the conditions. Whether your baby naps in a separate room or simply on a sofa or other piece of furniture wherever you are, control the conditions to optimize the quality of sleep and the length of the nap. Make the room bright whenever the baby is awake and feeding or playing, and dim the lights when she shows signs of being ready to nap. In the dimmer light, she will be put down to sleep more easily.
4. Keep noise soft. Parents of newborns typically get used to their babies being able to sleep through practically anything, but after a month or two the pendulum swings the other way. By around three months of age, many babies are liable to wake up at the slightest sound. Obviously, the household should be quiet during nap time. But if you want to be able to go about your business without worrying that every squeak of the floor will wake your child, run some white noise in the background. This will help make other sounds less jarring.
5. Take preemptive action. When a baby moves past sleep and gets into a state of fussy irritability, initiating sleep becomes most difficult. Try to learn to recognize the signs your baby will be ready for a nap, and begin going through the motions before the irritability kicks in. Of course, some babies do not respond well to having a nap time routine (even at so young an age they resist sleep), so you may have to change things up regularly.
6. Be flexible. During the first couple years of your child’s life, you can expect things to change continuously, and the pace of change is extra fast during the early months. So be aware that any nap time strategies that work well today may not work in a couple of days. This can be frustrating for parents, but the key is to experiment with different things as much as possible. You cannot force your baby to sleep, but you can always find ways to make it happen more easily.
7. Take wake-ups in stride. Babies tend to wake up before their naps are over. Sometimes they do it multiple times. For a parent, it is best to have a sense of how much sleep the baby needs, and if she obviously has not finished her full nap, try to help her finish her sleep. Older babies can sometimes get themselves back to sleep, but younger ones often need to be held, rocked, snuggled, or whatever works for your child.