Naps can be glorious. Not only for our kids, but for us as adults! If you are a sleep deprived parent reading this, I’m guessing you would give anything for a nap right now.
As wonderful as naps are for us as adults. For our babies and toddlers, naps are not only beneficial, they are essential.
When I work with families in getting their children sleeping independently, we typically see a dramatic improvement in their night sleep within the first week. But I always warn parents before we start working together, naps are going to take longer to catch on. And this always holds true.
My conversations with parents move pretty quickly from resolving the night wakings to their child’s short naps, crying before naps, all things naps.
And, as I’m sure you’ve experienced, when a child doesn’t nap well, it makes EVERYTHING harder. They are cranky, much more needy, they have a harder time falling asleep at night, and you’ll even see more night wakings as a result of poor naps.
Why are naps so hard?
Sunlight, or any “blue” or short wavelength light (like that from a phone or TV screen), stimulates cortisol production. Cortisol, being a stimulant, is a real detriment to getting settled and getting to sleep. You can see why naptime becomes more difficult – sunlight and blue light is everywhere we turn!
TIP: If your child is really struggling to wind down for naps, you can try bringing them inside and turning off all screens in the 30-60 mins before naptime.
TIP: I highly suggest investing in some blackout blinds for their room. Keeping all sunlight out of the bedroom can do wonders for your child’s quality and length of nap! Here is my favorite type of blackout shade.
Lack of Melatonin
We just covered why cortisol makes sleep more difficult. Melatonin is like the opposite of cortisol. It is the hormone that helps our bodies wind down and get ready for sleep. It is a beautiful natural aid in falling asleep at night!
Unfortunately, melatonin production doesn’t begin until evening. Without this assistance, our bodies don’t as easily fall asleep during the day. Our body clocks are programed to sleep at night, not during the day.
Now this doesn’t mean your baby or toddler doesn’t need daytime sleep, it simply explains why sleep just doesn’t come quite as easily during the day.
TIP: Be aware that your child needs an appropriate amount of “sleep pressure” built up in order to take a good nap. This can be accomplished by following your child’s ideal awake window. (Download a FREE awake window guide here!)
TIP: Physical activity promotes better naps. Get your little one moving as much as possible! If possible, try to get that physical activity in earlier in their awake window. Your child will need some wind down time before going down for a nap.
BONUS TIP: Get your child outside. Yes, sunlight produces cortisol, but sunlight exposure during the day promotes melatonin production in the evening, which will, in turn, help your child fall asleep easily and get a good night’s sleep!
Fear of missing out. Nobody likes to stop doing something they love just so they can go to sleep, and babies are no different. Taking your child away from something very exciting and stimulating will likely result in a large protest.
TIP: Timing is everything. Try to end the real exciting activities 15 minutes before naptime and transition into something more calm and low-energy. This small shift in schedule can make a huge difference at naptime!
Garbage trucks, sirens, birds, dogs, the UPS driver knocking on the door. These can all disturb your baby’s nap. What’s worse, when they get woken up after a short nap, they’ve relieved some of that sleep pressure we worked so hard to build up. That’s going to make it even harder for them to get back to sleep.
My favorite way to combat this is with noise. White noise. The purpose here is to drown out environmental noises that you can’t control.
TIP: Make sure it is far enough away from your child’s bed and not too loud. Babies shouldn’t be exposed to noise over 60dB for an extended period of time. This is my favorite white noise machine.
Now let me be clear for a moment. These should all help your child’s nap struggle, but they all come secondary to independent sleep. If your child isn’t yet falling asleep 100% independently, work on that first. By independently, I mean you lay your child down in their bed wide awake (not drowsy but awake, fully awake) and they put themselves to sleep. Independent sleep is the foundation of good sleep.
Looking for a bit more practical nap help? Check out my newly published Nap Guide for ages 0-3 years. Complete with sample schedules, nap transition information and how to deal with short naps. This guide is a great resource to have as your child grows and their sleep needs change!
Last piece of advice. Be patient. Naps take time to come together. Sometimes 4-6 weeks after a child learns to sleep independently. So be consistent and be patient as your child’s body gets used to their nap schedule!