When it comes to working on sleep, naps often take much longer to improve than nighttime. We always say, “babies are built to sleep” but when you start using the Sleep Wave method for naps, you may not believe us. At least not at first…
It’s normal for babies to have trouble falling asleep during the day, and they can take 3 weeks or more to start falling asleep smoothly using the Sleep Wave (even when nighttime sleep takes just a week). Here are the top 5 most common roadblocks we’ve seen in sleep consultations. Turn these around, and the Sleep Wave will work more effectively for your family.
- It Feels Like Daytime in Here!
The research on how activating light is to our brains is piling up yet we see a lot of bedrooms that are pretty darn light at naptime. Why not use this science to our advantage and stack the deck in favor of naptime sleep by making baby’s room feel like night? I imagine prehistoric babies napped in caves or wrapped up in a sling. This can mean a real quest for blackout shades that truly block out the rays of light. Remember to dim the lights during the naptime routine as well. Another environmental helper is to keep the temperature nice and cool, between 65 – 68 degrees is best.
- You Send Alert Signals to Your Baby
Your baby is exquisitely attuned to your internal state of regulation and mood. If you are hurried, distracted, anxious, frustrated, etc. your baby will “absorb” your emotional state and have a very hard time falling asleep. This is because babies have a ton of mirror neurons (we like Dan Siegel, MD’s name for them – sponge neurons), which makes them sensitive to us. Calm yourself before and during the naptime routine. Take a deep breath and lean into this time. Pick books and songs that you really like to read and sing and let baby know that you are also winding down. This is the signal from you that will help. You can even tell your baby that you are going to go lie down in your bed after you say nite nite to them. And do it, even just for 10 minutes!
- You Wait Too Long
Newborn babies can only stay awake for a 60-90 minute span before the pressure to sleep builds and they need a nap or to be put to bed. Over time, this pressure to sleep builds more slowly. This is called the homeostatic system (it works together with the circadian system to organize sleep) and we can learn about it to improve napping. One of the most common mistakes parents make is keeping their little ones up longer, thinking they’ll fall asleep more easily. The opposite is true. A great way to use this science is the “90 minute awake span” strategy when babies are 2-5 months old, to help parents know when it’s time for the next nap. Once babies are about 5-6 months and falling asleep independently they move to 3 “time of day” naps. At around 9 months, most babies move to 2 naps and then between 15 – 20 months, to only one nap. Following all this shifting and change is challenging for parents but it will help. We have a lot of info on nap schedules and when to shift from 3 to 2 to 1 nap in chapter 4 of The Happy Sleeper.
- Lack of Consistent, Age-Appropriate Routine
We often hear from parents that they abandon the nap routine. But the older your baby gets, the more he needs a predictable and interesting routine. He knows the whole family isn’t going to sleep and truly thinks you’re partying and doing super fun things while you expect him to nap. Little newborns who are catnapping throughout the day don’t need a long routine but by 3-4 months and older, what your baby needs is at least 15 – 20 minutes of wind-down time that’s enjoyable and interesting, while also being calming. This might look like putting on PJs, reading a few books, singing a few songs, hug and kiss and into the bed. If you have time, starting the routine with 15 minutes of child-led play in his bedroom can help him shift into self regulation mode, which is just what you need him to do, when it’s time to fall asleep.
- You Give Up Too Soon
The number one mistake parents make is giving up too soon.. After having success in a very short time with nighttime sleep, it can be hard to stay the course for naps. The Sleep Wave does work with naps, it just takes quite a bit longer. The more consistent you remain, the less time it will take. If you try a nap and are seeing no progress after 30-40 minutes, you can choose to end the attempt (casually) and try again in 45 minutes to an hour. Another way to maintain 100% consistency in your home, particularly during a rough day with little napping success, is to get out of the house and let your baby fall asleep in the car, carrier or stroller for a short catnap in the afternoon. This saves your sanity and improves baby’s mood, all while not resorting to the unhelpful sleep associations you’re so carefully avoiding, such as feeding, rocking or bouncing all the way to sleep in baby’s room. Hang in there, stay completely consistent and naps will improve.
Remember that short catnaps are common and normal when babies are between about 2-6 months. They will lengthen out naturally around 5-6 months, especially for babies who are falling asleep independently. It’s usually futile to try ask a baby to go back to sleep after a short nap, but do listen carefully; don’t go get baby if she’s content or babbling but do go get her if she’s crying. The idea is to build some space at the end of a short nap that your little one can grow into when she’s ready. — Julie Wright, MFT