Sunday, December 23, 2012

Naps Overview

I've addressed sleep issues in a few posts, but I haven't talked much about naps. Naps and nighttime sleep are two different monsters, and I think naps deserve a post of their own.

Unfortunately, this post is not going to be full of wisdom and answer your every nap question. Three kids, and I still haven't figured out a few things. But here's what I know to be true:

Babies and toddlers need naps. 
Babies and toddlers who get the naps they need will sleep better at night and behave better during the day. 
Nap-time sleep and night-time sleep are different.

Let's look at a nap breakdown by age.

Newborns will nap periodically, not always predictably, and often not for longer than 45 minutes at a time. After the first week or two, most newborns will be awake for approximately two to three hours between waking from one nap and needing the next. Newborns can and should nap wherever and however works best for all of you, whether it's being held, being worn, put down in a swing, in a bassinet, etc. While it is not recommended for a newborn to sleep in his car seat (due to possible constriction of the airway), sometimes you don't have much of a choice. (So keep an eye on your baby if he's sleeping in the car seat.)

 The rule for newborn naps is succinct: Do What Works. If you can watch the clock and be ready to jump in after about 45 minutes of sleep to try to soothe your baby back to sleep, sometimes you can buy yourself a longer nap. It's worth a try. But don't be surprised to find that your newborn does not have a predictable nap pattern.

Infants Up to 6 or 7 Months:
Your infant will start to regulate his or her naps between three and six months. Many babies will start sleeping in longer stretches for their naps and consolidating to about three naps per day. I found that my kids would take a mid-morning nap, then an early afternoon nap, an evening nap, and then go down for the night a couple of hours after waking from the evening nap. Over time, a more predictable nap pattern emerged, and the three naps became two around...

7 to 10 months:
Between seven and 10 months, you should find that your baby only needs two naps, not three, and that the third nap instead merges with simply going down for the night, meaning an earlier bedtime, too. You can start looking for a 2-3-4 pattern for your baby's sleep at this point. I found that, by 10 months, my youngest's nap pattern was very predictable going by this pattern. What it means is simple: Your baby will go down for his first nap about two hours after waking up in the morning. He will hopefully sleep for about one to two hours. Then he will want to sleep again about three hours after waking from the first nap. This second nap should also last about one to two hours. He will then be ready to go to sleep for the night about four hours after waking up from the second nap. If your baby follows this pattern, he'll be getting about 14-15 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, which may seem like a lot, but remember, babies need sleep to grow and process what they're learning. Some babies won't need quite this much sleep, and you may find that they don't sleep as long at night if they're napping for three or four hours during the day. It's up to you if you want to try to shorten naps to try to lengthen nocturnal sleep. You can also modify this to a 3-3-4 or 3-4-4 pattern for babies who need less sleep.

Baby wakes for the day around 7:00am. He has breakfast, plays a bit, tags along while you take your older child to school, and by the time you get home around 9:00, he's yawning and wants to nurse. He goes down for a nap around 9:00, and hopefully he sleeps well and wakes between 10:30 and 11:00am, raring to go. Run your errands, eat lunch, take him somewhere to work out his energy and get tired again, and by about 2:00pm he'll be ready for his afternoon nap. If he sleeps from 2:00 to 3:30 or 4:00, you're set up for a perfect bedtime between 7:30 and 8:00. He gets an 11-hour night (though I'm not promising an absence of night-wakings, of course), wakes at 7:00 the next morning, and off you go again. See? 2-3-4.

Around 13 months, the convenient and predictable 2-3-4 pattern will start to fade. He'll be up for longer in the morning, and his morning nap and afternoon nap will merge. You'll find that you can put him down for just one, longer, mid-day nap. My youngest (15 months), right now, goes down about four to five hours after waking up in the morning, which puts his nap between 10:30 and 12:00, depending on how well he slept and when he woke up in the morning. (This can vary depending on whether his brothers "help" him wake up.) He usually sleeps for about 90 minutes to two hours. He then goes down for the night between 7:00 and 8:00.

Your toddler will continue to take one nap until about three years of age. Some kids will continue to need a nap even longer than that, and preschools usually enforce a nap or "rest" time until kids are five years old. Both of my older two simply refused to nap starting around the time they turned three. SB went through a period around two years of age where he refused to nap, and sometimes he was so tired I had to force him to fall asleep by driving around in the car until he dozed off. So that would be a normal thing, too. As they get older, the afternoon nap will shift a bit later. By about age two, NJ napped very reliably from 1:00 to 3:00 until he dropped his nap completely.

Yes, folks, this means that if you have an older infant and a toddler, there's a good chance that your toddler will need to nap just as your infant wakes from his morning nap, and that your infant will need his afternoon nap just as your toddler wakes from his nap. We went through this with our older boys. The good news is, it only lasts a few months until the younger one goes to just one nap and/or the older one drops the nap. The bad news is, it usually means the younger one's naps happen during errands or sometimes don't happen at all.

Another good rule for older infants and toddlers is no napping after 4:30pm. If you want them to go to bed at a decent hour, especially since many kids tend to wake at the same time in the morning regardless of when they went to sleep the night before, you don't want them sleeping past 4:00 or 4:30 in the afternoon. If your bedtime is more fluid, or your kid is really tired and he just has to sleep, then, by all means, let him sleep. A cranky, overtired kid is worse than a happy kid who's up until 10:00. At least in my opinion.

As for sleep routines, you'll find advice ranging from make naps completely different from bedtime to make naps as similar to bedtime as possible! I personally don't think it matters much. Naps are a good time to get a baby or toddler used to a new sleeping situation, such as a new crib, new bed, or new bedroom. If they feel safe for a nap, they'll be more likely to feel safe for their nighttime sleep. And it's less of a headache for you, as the parent, to work out the kinks in the middle of the day than in the middle of the night. We also found that it was helpful to have a nap time routine and to have a fairly consistent nap time.

Did/do your kids follow a similar napping pattern to mine? What tips or tricks for naps do you have to pass along to new parents?

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