Let’s face it, as adults wouldn’t it be nice to be able to build a nap into your daily schedule? Sure it would, and some lucky adults actually do it. But why do kids fight nap time so much? Sleep schedules and napping routines can vary widely from child to child and depending upon age, but here are some general guidelines to help your little one sleep (which in turn may possibly give you some downtime).
Very young babies have longer sleep periods than awake periods at first. As your baby grows and develops, he typically will get set into a napping routine with a little help from you. Depending on age, babies up to 12 months needs about 14-16 hours of sleep. Believe it or not, napping during the day can help with better sleep at night. So, how do you go about encouraging a nap?
- While in a car seat, swing and bouncy seat naps may happen occasionally, they should not be the norm. Begin by putting your baby down into his crib when he becomes drowsy so he can learn to fall asleep on his own. While it’s tempting to always rock your baby to sleep, doing this repeatedly makes him reliant on YOU to get him to sleep.
- Be certain your baby has a clean diaper before going down for a nap. Check if he is too hot or too cold because comfort is a key to staying asleep once he falls asleep.
- Most babies around 4 months old or so will be able to be awake and active for at least 3 hours or more at a time, and the longer they are up and engaged and active, the longer they will usually sleep once put down for a nap.
- If your baby wakes frequently at first while napping, resist the urge to give up and pick her up. Instead, try to soothe her simply by rubbing her back or playing some soft music until she drifts off again.
- Most babies do best falling asleep after their tummies are full after a feeding, so try not to put your baby down on an empty stomach if you are aiming for her to have a lengthy nap.
- Ease your baby into nap time. Allow your baby time to wind down, be soothed, cuddled and become drowsy. Don’t expect to disrupt your wide awake baby in play and place him in his crib and expect him to fall right to sleep!
- Allow time for your baby to establish his or her own naptime routine, and with your guidance, by the time your baby is 6 months old he should be on a pretty set schedule.
If you began establishing a naptime routine with your child in infancy, continuing it into toddlerhood may be less difficult than you think. Many parents assume when a child resists napping, she does not need a nap anymore. This is far from the truth and many children these days do not get adequate amounts of sleep. While it is often the case that around age 1 ½ children move from taking two naps per day down to one nap per day, naps are still extremely beneficial for your toddler’s overall healthy development. Remember, wanting to be in control, independent, and assert themselves is typical for toddlers, so it’s the adults that have to stick to their guns when a toddler challenges naptime. Here are some tips to keep your toddler’s naptime as part of her daily routine:
- As in infancy, toddlers should also have naptime in their cribs or beds. Again, you will always have an occasional car seat, stroller or couch nap, but their own bed is the best place to keep this routine intact, so do your best to have your child’s nap take place in the same location and same time each day.
- A rule of thumb with toddlers who fight or resist napping is to let them know that it is ok if they are not sleepy or do not fall asleep, but that naptime is a quiet time when he can take a book or stuffed toy with him and has to remain in his bed for at least an hour. Most toddlers do eventually do fall asleep when they are not pressured to do so. Don’t get into a power struggle over sleeping.
- Most toddlers do well with napping after lunch. Again, we’re following the full belly pattern from infancy, which increases comfort and drowsiness and the ability to stay asleep.
- Make a picture schedule for your toddler of their daily routine showing wake up, breakfast, playtime, lunch, naptime, playtime, dinner, bedtime, etc. This always helps you to use “First, Then” statements with your toddler, which come in handy when they try to get out of napping. “First we read a story together, then you go into your bed for your nap/quiet time”.
- Toddlers need wind down time. No one likes being interrupted in their work and told to nap then they aren’t ready, and play is hard work for toddlers! Make that transition easier by saying things like, “When you are done building the tower with 5 more blocks, it will be nap time”. Then ease into nap with some cuddles or a short story. You can also set an egg timer for 15 minutes and say, “When the bell goes off, it will be time to go up to your room for quiet time”.
- Remember, YOU are the boss, not your toddler (even though they think they are), so it is important that you assert the fact that naptime/quiet time in non-negotiable.
- If your toddler does climb out of his crib, try lowering the mattress. If that fails he may be ready to move to a toddler bed. Some parents place a mattress on the floor between this transition.
- Remember that developmental pediatricians recommend that toddlers get about 10-12 hours of nighttime sleep and then another 1-2 hour of naptime sleep during the day!
Preschool through Kindergarten
Kids as old as 4 and 5 years old can still benefit from short afternoon naps. It’s natural for children to rebel against napping from toddlerhood on, but that does not mean that you cannot keep your child on a nap/quiet time schedule through kindergarten. Some preschool and kindergarten programs still include ½ hour naps as part of their daily schedules. Again, if your child has been on a nap schedule since infancy, continuing this pattern should not be as difficult as you may think. Preschoolers still need about 10-12 hours of sleep and so keeping a 15-30 minute nap as part of their daily routine is beneficial for them and for you.
Here are ways to encourage a continued nap schedule through kindergarten or age 5:
- Do not say, “Do you want to take a nap?” Instead say, “We will go to the park, AFTER you take your nap/have quiet time.”
- Praise your child for days when he/she takes a nap or participates in quiet time willingly. For example, “I bet you feel better & ready to go play with Dad now that you took your nap!” or “You did such a great job napping today that we’re going to go have a playdate with Cory this evening!”
- If your child’s preschool or kindergarten program still has a nap or quiet time, reinforce this at home by saying “We have quiet/nap time at home just like in Mrs. Jones’s class at school.”
- Let your child bring a favorite quiet toy (NOT an iPAD or cell phone) such as a book, doll, stuffed toy or action figure to their room with them. Feel free to continue the naptime story routine if that’s something you’ve done since infancy.
- Reinforce that Mommy & Daddy need a break & quiet time too.
- Reinforce that they do not need to sleep (most will fall asleep anyway), but that they do need to have an hour of quiet time in their room.
- If your child has a playmate that still naps let them know that “Ryan still takes a nap each afternoon.”
- Talk about all the fun things you’ll do after nap/quiet time ends, such as a favorite snack or activity.
- Read books about napping. Amazon has plenty of titles.
The bottom line is that napping helps with night time sleep, as long as it’s not done too late in the day. Little kids these days are sometimes getting as sleep deprived as we adults are, but with children, sleep is imperative to their proper growth and development. So good luck and happy napping!