The trickiest part of your child’s sleep…NAPS

As a parent, the most common question I get if my son’s sleep comes up is, “Does he sleep through the night?”  Sleeping through the night is such a common discussion point it has its own acronym on parenting sites – STTN.  This is the golden ring of pediatric sleep and I understand why, trust me.  Once your baby begins sleeping through the night this means you as a parent can too and dear god that is sweet when you’re exhausted and haven’t had a full night’s sleep in months (or, in some cases, years).

The thing is, as much as parents focus on the difficulties of getting their little ones sleeping through the night, when you have a baby or toddler who isn’t sleeping well the trickiest piece to get on track is napping.  It is worth the effort though because your child’s naps have a huge impact on their nights.

A well-rested day leads to much better sleep at night.  

There are some common misconceptions about naps:

Misconception # 1:  If a child misses their nap, they’ll have an easier time falling asleep at bedtime.  

When I’m really exhausted at the end of a day, there is nothing like getting into bed and falling into a deep sleep.  I know you know what I’m talking about.  It seems like the more tired I am, the sweeter it is to go to sleep.  It’s logical to assume it would be the same for our young children but we have to be careful.  There is a point where we can become too tired – or overtired – and children get to that point much more easily than we do.

Just like with adults, when children become overtired, hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol (the stress hormone) are released into their bodies.  This causes them to feel wired and fight going to sleep even though they are exhausted.

Have you ever stayed up all night studying for a test or writing a paper and been shocked at how weird but okay you felt the next day?  Then you slept that night and likely felt worse the day after that!  You felt more tired after one night of sleep than you did after an all-nighter.  This is because those hormone levels in your system had come down and you were actually feeling the tiredness in your mind and body.  It was there all along, you just didn’t feel it fully.

The same is true for children.  A child who has become overtired due to a lack of daytime sleep will have a harder time falling asleep at bedtime than one who has had a well-rested day.

Misconception # 2:  If a child wakes up frequently during the night, they should nap less during the day.  

I know this sounds counterintuitive but one of the golden rules of sleep consultancy is this:  Sleep begets sleep.  This means that the more healthy sleep a child has during the day, the more easily they will sleep at night.  As a matter of fact, the two most common causes of frequent night wakings in children who are old enough to be sleeping through the night are: (a) a bedtime that is too late, and (b) insufficient daytime sleep.

Misconception # 3:  Some kids just don’t need to nap.  

This just simply isn’t true.  Every child needs to nap until they are typically between the ages of three and four years old.  Daytime sleep serves a very important purpose.  Just like nighttime sleep, naps are restorative.  For example, babies who still nap twice a day are receiving different benefits in the morning versus the afternoon.  Morning naps are mentally restorative whereas afternoon naps are physically restorative.

A child who is at an age where they need 14 to 16 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period will not be well-rested even if they are somehow able to sleep 15 hours a night.  This is because there are two critical factors to consider when thinking of daytime sleep.  The first is how much sleep a child needs and the second is how long a period of wakefulness they can tolerate before becoming overtired.

The younger a baby or toddler is, the shorter the periods of wakefulness they can tolerate.  

This is why it’s important to make sure that naps are long enough and also are occurring at the right times of day, based on a child’s age.

I know that some parents don’t like the idea of having their children on a napping schedule because they worry that this will limit their days.  They want to be able to come and go as needed.  I promise you that I understand this.  As a parent, you want to be able to suddenly decide to go and run an errand or take advantage of the weather improving and get out of the house.  The thing is, my personal experience ended up being the same as what so many parents have expressed to me.

Having your child nap consistently at a particular time, and for a predictable length of time, is actually liberating.  

Knowing when my son will need to nap, and for how long, allows me to schedule play dates or errands easily without having to stress about him suddenly becoming exhausted and needing to sleep.  Plus, regularly occurring naps don’t mean that you can never deviate from your schedule.  A well-rested child can tolerate occasional disruptions to their routine much more easily than a little one who is overtired or on the brink of over-tiredness.

There are so many questions related to naps:  How many hours of daytime sleep does a child need?  How many hours of wakefulness can they tolerate?  What times of day do they need to nap?  When should they transition to one nap a day?  How do nap transitions happen?  How do you teach a child to lengthen their naps?  Unfortunately I can’t answer those questions here because that information is dependent on your child’s age, their wake time, bedtime, and unique needs, among other factors.

What I can tell you is that, if you are struggling with getting your child’s naps on track, a sleep consultant can certainly help you to do that.  Not only will this give some peace and order to your days and allow your child to be better rested and happier, but you have a much better chance of being one of those parents who can give that coveted answer to that oh-so-common question.  When you’re asked if your child sleeps through the night, you’ll be able to smile and say “Oh yes, they sure do.  And they nap like a champ too.”

#sleeptraining #naps #STTN #fastasleep

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Rachel Ross

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