Throughout pregnancy and in the early years of your child’s life, there is no advice that is given more frequently than: “Nap when they nap.” For the soon-to-be mum and the tired mum, naps sound like heaven. You envision putting your little one down for a nap and enjoying a blissful “extra” two hours of sleep. Except – you need to make a quick stop. You check into the kitchen for a quick snack. You scan your phone. You use the bathroom. Half an hour goes by in a flash before you settle onto your own bed. Just as you close your eyes...
Bub is awake. The bliss is over. Yours and his! The worst part is you just spent over an hour putting him to sleep! All for a twenty-five minute nap.
He’s just not a sleeper, you say. He’ll grow out of it one day.
Then later, Oh, I didn’t want a daytime nap anyway!
Why Does it Happen?
There are a couple of reasons that bub won’t nap for longer than 20-30 minutes at a time. Oddly enough, he might be too tired. That’s right, he may be so overtired that he can’t settle into a deep enough sleep. Or he may be too dependent on settling techniques to settle himself if he wakes up.
How to Discourage Catnaps
Developing a consistent sleep schedule – for both nighttime and naptime – can help to solve catnapping problems. For almost all babies under two, aim for at least 12 hours of sleep at night. Then, make sure that you are consistently spacing the nap or naps during the daytime so your little one both expects them and knows how much awake time he will have. It’s also very normal for newborns to take frequent catnaps, so older babies may be holding on to this pattern. A consistent schedule can help ease babies out of their catnapping patterns.
Another way to help bub transition away from catnaps is to give him opportunities to settle himself. If he knows he can put himself to sleep, he will be more likely to try to do it if he wakes after 30 minutes. This doesn’t mean you have to let him cry if you are not comfortable doing that, but you don’t need to run into his room at the first sign of stirring. Let him call you when he is ready. Don’t worry! He will definitely let you know!
If you are confident in your bub’s sleep schedule or you need help developing one, you can try darkening their room at naptime. Then, he will associate the dark with sleep and may be encouraged to continue sleeping while he is in a darkened room. The same goes for white noise. Providing bub with some background noise while sleeping can be another cue that it is sleep time and can help your little one transition between sleep cycles on his own.
For younger babies, swaddling can lessen the Moro reflex which gives babies the sensation that they are falling if their arms are free. A swaddle will keep their arms close to their body, which will eliminate this sensation and keep bub from startling himself awake.
What if Nothing Works?
Some babies will continue to be catnappers until the day they drop their nap. Sorry mum! But, the important thing is that bub gets enough sleep every day. Some babies may be happier sleeping 14 hours at night and taking 2-3 catnaps during the day. While others may only sleep ten hours at night and take two two-hour naps during the day. Trust your instincts! If bub isn’t showing signs of being overtired and is near the recommended range of sleep for a baby their age, relax and go with it. At the very least, you’ll get really good at accomplishing at a lot in 30 minutes!
Picture this: Mum rocks swaddled baby enjoying the precious baby scent and peaceful little face. His little body relaxes in her arms and he drifts off to sleep. Nothing can take away the feeling of joy (and relief!) that comes from a sleeping baby. She gently places him down in his bed…. and his eyes snap open! She picks him up and rocks some more. When she tries to put him down, he wakes again. Mum wonders if she’ll ever get him to stay asleep! What’s going on? Read on to find out.
What is a Sleep Association?
A sleep association is anything that we associate with going to sleep. Yes, we have them as adults too. Think about your bedroom and your bed. Your pillow. Your side of the bed. If you had to go to sleep on a different pillow or the other side of the bed, would it be harder to sleep? Or what about the first night in a new room on holiday? It takes a bit to get settled when we’re not in our own beds.
If your bub goes to sleep in your arms or while feeding and they suddenly find themselves in their beds without these things, they will struggle to sleep. When they wake during the night they will look for that rocking or feeding too. Some babies will grow out of these associations on their own, but others may need a little help.
Are All Sleep Associations Bad?
No! Remember we called your pillow a sleep association? Some associations are comforting and when they are manageable by the sleeper, they aren’t negative and in fact are a good thing. So, if your pillow falls off the bed, you are able to pick it up and go back to sleep.
What about baby? If she has a blankie or dummy and can find it on her own, it’s not a negative sleep association. If she needs a bottle of milk and can’t make it to the refrigerator to refill it, that’s a little more disruptive! The key is to help your baby associate sleep with items she can manage on her own.
Positive Sleep Associations
Every baby will have something they like to do to help them drift off to sleep. Some positive sleep associations are baby sleeping bags, a lovey/comforter, white noise or sleep music (that stays on all night/nap time). Each of these will still be there or within easy reach for your baby when they go to sleep or stir during the night. Dummies can also be OK if bub can find them and put them back in herself. This is where having multiple dummies in the cot or a comforter that has the dummy attached to it can be handy.
If your baby has some unhelpful sleep associations, you can begin to transition away from them while introducing a positive association. Very simply put, this is what sleep training is all about. Gradually bub learns to go to sleep without the previous association and feels comfortable going to sleep on their own.
So sleep associations can be a good thing and one of the keys toward a happy, sleeping baby. Which means a happy sleeping mummy!
If your vision of tucking your baby into bed, kissing his head and walking out the door is something you dream of, you’re not alone. One of the biggest surprises in early parenting is that your little one doesn’t happily drift off to sleep.
From birth, we rock them, bounce them and feed them to sleep. At some point, most parents find they’d like their baby to be a bit more independent in going to sleep. One of the keys to this is establishing a bedtime routine.
What is a Bedtime Routine?
A bedtime routine can be anything your family needs it to be. Basically, it’s the series of events that you use to help your child wind down and understand that it is time for sleep. The key to a successful routine is to make it something both you and your child are comfortable with. It may take a few tweaks to figure out what is the most efficient and effective way to get your child to sleep. Eventually though, you’ll have it down and both you and your baby will find bedtime a whole lot easier.
Why is a Routine Helpful?
Your bedtime routine with your child will eventually become a set of cues. Your child will understand that when events X, Y, and Z happen (or A, B, C, D, E, F, G), it is time for bed. Children are creatures of routine, and routine brings comfort. Your baby or child will eventually realize that once all of the steps are complete, they will be expected to sleep. So, consistency is key!
A routine can also help to deal with your child’s “tricky” behaviours around bedtime. If you have a clingy child, a bedtime routine will give him advance warning that you will depart. An anxious child will anticipate bedtime for a longer period of time with a drawn out routine so a short and simple one will be better suited. On the other hand, if you have a child who is very active, you may need a longer routine to help her settle down. If you expect her to go from full speed to asleep in 20 minutes, you will likely have a battle on your hands.The key is to develop a routine that is tailored to your child’s needs and personality, keeping in mind to avoid any activities that are known to trigger tears and tantrums.
When Should a Bedtime Routine Begin?
It’s never too early or too late to start a bedtime routine! You will have plenty of other things to focus on with a newborn but once your baby is a little older you can start with something simple. For example, singing the same song each time your baby goes into bed. This simple step will help your baby begin to understand when it’s time to go to sleep.
Around four months, your baby will go through his first sleep regression where his pattern of sleep cycles will transition to be more like adult sleep. This is a great time to introduce a more consistent bedtime routine. It doesn’t need to be complicated, but make sure you follow the same steps every night. You can also have a briefer version of the routine before each nap.
Examples of Bedtime Routines
Here are a couple of examples of some bedtime routines:
For babies, you might try: Dinner, Bath, Milk feed, Song in a dim room, Rocking, into Bed.
For a toddler you might try: Dinner, Quiet play time (or more active if it helps an energetic toddler get rid of their last energy for the day), Bath, Quiet Story Time/Song Time, Brushing Teeth, into Bed
Remember that consistency is key. Although it can feel mundane to do the same thing every night, the benefit of peaceful bedtime for everyone is worth it!