Naps play a vital role in a child’s emotional and physical development. Children that miss naps are often fussy, irritable, and prone to tantrums, poor attention spans, and difficulty concentrating. However, convincing a baby or toddler that it is time to relax can be challenging and nerve-wrecking for you. So, how can you tackle naptime problems and lay the foundations for proper sleep habits? Below are some tips you might find handy.
Why are Naps so Important?
Naps Help the Baby Learn
The amount of cognitive development that takes place when the little ones nap is impressive. According to a recent study, infants that take a nice long nap right after they have been taught something new demonstrate higher levels of memory and learning 24 hours later the new information has been introduced to them. So, a napping baby is, actually, a learning baby.
Now, if you consider the lengths to which we, as parents, are willing to go to make sure our children are smarty-pants (i.e. playing classical music during pregnancy and practicing their ABCs with them over and over again), ensuring they get a few good naps throughout the day is definitely a handy way to nurture the development of their precious brains, isn’t it?
Naps Help The Baby Grow
In a nutshell, napping babies are 43% more likely to experience a growth spurt for every extra nap they take. Research has found that napping babies do not only get longer but also heavier. What is even more exciting is that growth spurts do not only occur during naps, they are also significantly influenced by them (naps). This means that depriving babies and toddlers of nap time can affect their physical and mental growth.
That aside, if you have a growth-spurting baby or toddler, then you know how unquenchable their hunger seems to be. This is because their body needs a lot of energy during rapid growth periods so it can complete its tasks of development. Nevertheless, it needs much more than that. It also requires extra sleep as a lot of growth is also happening while they are in dreamland.
Naps Promote Positive Emotional Responses
We all know that having a restless child around us means that we will be called to deal with fatigue-induced crankiness at some point, which involves a lot of whining, fussiness, and tantrum-throwing behaviours. This is also backed up by several studies that have examined the behaviour of toddlers who have missed their regular 90-minute nap. Their findings have shown that missing a nap or two results in a 34% decrease in positive emotional responses and a 31% increase in negative emotional responses when these kiddos were asked to complete puzzles of various levels of difficulty. According to lead author and investigator of one study, sleepy children are unable to handle the daily challenges in their worlds. On the contrary, rested children are far less irritable, more well-behaved, and significantly more content. Doesn’t this sound like music to your ears!
Daytime Naps Help the Baby Sleep Better at Night
Many parents prefer to skip the daytime snooze sessions as a means to facilitate better nighttime sleep. Sadly, this won’t bring you the desired results. Instead of helping your baby or toddler sleep better at night, chances are you will be called to find a way to calm down an overtired child that will have a hard time falling asleep. Oxymoron isn’t it? I mean, if someone is tired, we expect them to start snoring within seconds after putting the head on the pillow. Unfortunately, this is not the case at all, at least not for kids. Children that skip naps are acting stressed and wired, and turn bedtime into a struggle for both them and, of course, you, unless you take the baby for a nap in the late evening, when napping will interfere with nighttime sleep.
Ideal Number of Naps for Babies
Newborn up to 3 months - 4-5 naps
3-6 months - 3-4 naps
6-11 months - 2-3 naps
12+ months - 1 nap
Duration of each nap should be at least an hour.
Why do Babies Struggle to Nap?
There are quite a few things that may be going wrong. Here is a list of the most common reasons that keep a baby and toddler away from a sound nap, along with what you can do about them.
The Baby Cannot Adapt to the 24-hour Day
It usually takes 12 weeks for an infant to develop strong, hormonally-driven, circadian rhythms while some babies need much longer than that. This means that for the first 3 months, your baby will probably not be able to appreciate that nighttime is for sleeping. This doesn’t mean that you have no option other than waiting out. There are ways to help babies attune themselves faster and awaken at roughly the same times every morning.
- Expose the baby to daylight during the morning and afternoon.
- Include the baby in the family’s social life and your daily activities. All the hustle and bustle of the day will help tune the baby’s inner clock with the 24-hour day.
- Avoid exposing the little one to LED lights and other artificial lights before bedtime (and during their naps too). It has been evidenced that blue light blocks the production of the sleepy hormone (melatonin) and can delay sleepiness for more than an hour.
The Baby is Hungry
Newborns require frequent feeding. Although you cannot control when your baby will get hungry, you can certainly try to feed your precious one shortly before you go to bed. A study has shown that this can encourage your baby to sleep longer during the night, which will also give you more time to rest too. Of the infants that participated in the study, all of those that have been offered a big meal any time between 10 pm and midnight enjoyed a good night’s (uninterrupted) sleep until 5 am. However, do talk to your paediatrician about it before you follow this tactic. If s/he approves it, and provided that your baby gets enough food and fluids, you can certainly try methods like this.
The Baby Gets Too Much Excitement Before Bedtime
Perhaps the grandparents or family friends came over 2-3 hours leading up to the baby’s bedtime and started playing with the child in a way that boosted his/her sympathetic nervous system - it doesn’t take much for it to rev up anyway. Some animated verbal interactions or a few minutes of boisterous play are enough to keep the child alert. Try to make the last couple of hours before bedtime as calm and quiet as possible.
Note: Too much screen time before bedtime has the same effect as exciting interpersonal activities. Besides taking the baby longer to fall asleep at night, touch screens on smartphones and other similar devices are to blame for shorter night sleep times too. A recent study has shown that babies get 26 minutes less nocturnal sleep for every additional hour they use touch screens.
Best Environment for Naps
Some of the key factors that play a key role in ensuring a relaxing nap are:
The Temperature in the Baby’s Room
Cooler rooms usually contribute to better quality sleeps. Our internal temperature is usually at its highest in the early afternoon but cools off when we fall asleep, until 5am, when it is at its lowest. So, helping an infant’s body to lower its temperature will allow it to fall asleep faster and, at the same time, encourage deeper sleep. The point is to provide an environment that is neither too hot nor too cold, as both will require the body to waste energy trying to regulate its internal temperature. The optimal temperature is between 68-72°F (19-21°C). Having that said, another critical reason to control the temperature in the baby’s room is to avoid the risk of overheating, which elevates the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
The Darkness of the Baby’s Room
A dark, cool room enhances the quality of sleep. The absence of light sends signals to the baby’s brain that it is time to rest. That signal gradually prepares the infant’s body for sleep (muscles begin to relax, body temperature drops, and the baby starts feeling drowsy). This is the “melatonin effect”, which is activated only when it is dark and affects not only the onset of sleep but also its quality. Apart from that, though, light can create a stimulating environment for the child, which is great if we want the little one to learn and grow but bad news if it is bedtime. Luckily, a set of window covers or shades can keep the light out whenever you need your baby to take a nap. How dark the baby’s room needs to be? If you outstretch your hand in front of your face and cannot see your hand clearly, you have probably created a nap-perfect environment!
Sound is another factor that can overstimulate a baby. Even though it may be next to impossible to control every single sound in your home (i.e. you live on a busy street), you can try to mask or block out some of the noise inside of the baby’s room. Rely on white noise which blocks out disturbing sounds and promotes relaxation while allowing the baby to sleep better. Don’t worry; it is not habit-forming or addictive. In fact, your uterus was full of white noise when your baby was in your tummy! You may imagine how deafening silence can be for infants. The key to using white noise effectively and safely is to make sure it is not louder than 50dB. Place the source of white noise across from the baby’s crib and let it play non-stop, during naps and nightsleep alike.
Sleep should be a family priority as it is not only your baby that needs sleep; you and your partner must also enjoy 7-9 (undisturbed) hours of sleep to feel your best. So, try to establish a calming bedtime routine that includes low-level lighting, some white noise, and cool temperatures, and make sure the baby doesn’t get too much excitement right before his or her naps and you are off to a good start!