Recently, a reader asked “Do you have any tips for nap time? My baby is a very good sleeper at night, but needs a little help falling asleep for naps.”
Babies (and mothers) need naps! As a sleep-deprived mother myself, I would recommend napping with your baby, but, as a busy, working mom, I also realize it’s not always that simple.
Babies sleep 13-14 hours per day, but not all at one time! Older babies (9-12 months) generally need two naps per day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. During the 2nd year of life, 1 of the 2 naps is usually dropped leaving 1 afternoon nap. However, this transition period may last several months and your baby may still have the need for 2 naps on occasion.
Now as you know, what babies need (a nap) and what babies want (to play all day and never rest) can be 2 very different things, and while you never want to force your baby to sleep, there are a few things you can do to help nudge him in the direction of dreamland.
1. Follow a daily routine. Babies and toddlers like routines so that they can anticipate what is going to happen next. A routine does not have to be detailed or by the clock; simply plan meals, activities, errands, outdoor play, story time, or any other activities you do on a regular basis, to be at about the same time each day so that your baby can start to predict when nap time will be. Also, taking naps at the same time each day will help stabilize his circadian rhythms (sleep/wake cycles), making it easier for his body to wind down naturally when it’s time to sleep.
2. If you don’t have a regular naptime now, watch your baby’s cues for signs that he is tired or needs a break during the day. This will help you determine when a nap or break is needed. This will depend on the time that your baby wakes in the morning, his age (as he gets older he will be able to play and be alert for longer periods of time), and his bedtime as well.
3. Warn older babies that naptime is coming. If naptime is in 30 minutes, give your baby a reminder. For example: “After we read these 2 books and have a snack, then it will be naptime.” I do that with my daughter to this day, (she is now 2 ½) and it really helps her to transition smoothly from one activity to another. Depending on the age of your baby, you can use a timer as well. Set the timer for 10 minutes and say: “We’ve got 10 more minutes to play until the timer goes off; then it will be time for your nap.”
4. Respect your baby’s developmental stages. With each new motor drive, your baby may wake more often to practice his new skill. So keep in mind that your baby may have a hard time settling down as he works hard to master crawling, standing, walking, and so forth.
5. Be consistent with naptime. Your baby likely needs a nap, although he may not WANT a nap. If your baby won’t fall asleep, you can still give him some quiet time in his crib to rest during his regular “naptime.”
6. Set a relaxing sleep atmosphere. Make sure your baby’s sleep area is relatively dark and quiet. For awhile, you can even sit near him and rub his back, or play quiet music. Younger babies may need to be rocked to sleep. If you have a newborn, remember to wait until he is in quiet sleep before you try to put him down. As your baby grows, he will learn to fall asleep on his own, and will not need as much assistance from you.
Next time: Another Reader Question about Sleep