When my boys were younger, I always said my favorite time of the day was naptime. But it wasn’t unusual for me to get strange looks when I shared this with other moms! And I completely understand why! Naps can be frustrating. In fact, about 90% of the babies I work with struggle with naps. So if naptime is a struggle for your family, know that you’re not alone!
Maybe your little one is refusing to go down for a nap. Or they’ll only nap if they’re rocked to sleep or if you stay in the room.
Maybe they’ll wake at the drop of a hat, and you know they’re not getting the solid sleep they need at naptime.
Maybe your munchkin wakes up grouchy and they’re fussy until they go down for another nap.
No matter what struggle you’re dealing with, a bad nap means you end up having to soothe and settle them instead of attending to all of the other vital parenting tasks that you could have focused on if they had managed to get a full 2-3 hour daytime snooze.
So what’s going wrong? Why are naps so hard?
Well, naps can be tricky, even for the most seasoned, knowledgeable mom! But, the good news is there are four major things you can do to help your little one get better naps.
Limit Light Exposure
Our bodies are naturally tuned into a 24-hour rhythm, and there’s an actual physiological reason for that. Sunlight, or any “blue” or short wavelength light, like that from a phone or TV screen, stimulates cortisol production. Cortisol, being a stimulant, is a real detriment to getting settled and getting to sleep, so getting your baby away from any blue light sources at least an hour before naptime can help alleviate the problem.
That’s not always feasible, obviously. If your little one is under 6 weeks old, their ideal awake time is only 45 minutes to an hour. You can’t keep them indoors and away from screens all the time, but try to keep their daylight and screen exposure closer to the time after they wake up and keep it down as much as possible when they’re getting ready for their next nap.
And when it comes to your little one’s sleep space, investing in quality blackout blinds for their bedroom can be a game-changer. I can’t tell you how great of an investment good blackout blinds are. Keeping your baby’s bedroom dark is a huge help in ensuring long, high-quality naps.
Build Sleep Pressure
The yin to cortisol’s yang, melatonin is the hormone that helps our bodies wind down and get ready for sleep. Unfortunately, melatonin production doesn’t fully kick in until nighttime for most people, including babies. That means that the body’s natural “sleep pressure” isn’t nearly as strong during the day as it is at night, which can hinder your little one’s ability to fall asleep quickly at naptime, and to stay asleep for long stretches.
So we need to find some other ways of building up that sleep pressure. Getting your baby outdoors shortly after they wake up is a great way to do that. True, sunlight stimulates cortisol production, but it also pumps up melatonin production in the evening, which will help baby get a good night’s sleep, and the better your baby sleeps at night, the easier it will be for them to sleep during the day.
And whenever possible, physical activity is a great way to promote better naps. However, your little one likes to move around, get them moving as much as possible. Try to schedule physical activities in the earlier parts of awake time rather than just before naptime. If your toddler’s just finished tearing around the yard for half an hour and they try to go straight down for a nap, they’re likely still going to be too fired up to get right to sleep.
Don’t Forget to Wind Down
Nobody likes to stop doing something they love just so they can go to sleep, and babies are no different. If your child’s in the middle of a killer game of hide and seek, or riveted to the latest episode of their favorite show, being told it’s time for a nap is likely to trigger a protest. And just in case you haven’t noticed, when kids protest, they tend to do it with some… enthusiasm…
Again, timing is everything here, so try to keep the exciting activities to the earlier end of awake time. Once nap time starts approaching, stick to more soothing activities like singing, stories, cuddles, or whatever they enjoy doing that’s low-energy. 15 minutes of wind-down time before a nap can help immensely, but the crucial thing to avoid is sparking a tantrum by taking away something they’re super engaged in.
Block Out The Noise
This may come as a shock, but loud noises and sleep don’t go well together. Garbage trucks, sirens, birds, dogs, and the Amazon delivery driver who can’t read a “Do NOT Ring Doorbell!!!!” sign, can all disturb your baby’s nap. What’s worse, when they get woken up after a short nap, they’ve relieved some of that sleep pressure we worked so hard to build while they were awake, and that’s going to make it even harder for them to get back to sleep.
It may seem counterintuitive, but one of my favorite solutions to environmental noise is… well, more environmental noise. White noise machines, which I’m assuming every parent on earth is familiar with, aren’t actually soothing or sleep-inducing. But they do provide cover for sudden, unexpected noises, which are the ones that tend to wake your baby up.
Just remember to keep an eye on the volume level. White noise machines can get ridiculously loud and it’s not recommended that babies be exposed to noise over 60 dB for extended periods of time.
Hopefully, these tips can help your little one start getting better daytime naps, and you’ll be saying naptime is your favorite part of the day too! But, if naps are still a nightmare, no matter what you do, let’s talk! When it comes to naptime, I’ve seen anything and everything, so I can guarantee there is no sleep struggle too big for us to conquer together. Book a no-obligation Sleep Evaluation so we can talk about what’s going on with your child’s sleep and how sleep training could be the answer you’ve been looking for!