Yes, naps can suck. It’s true.
I hope that title didn’t scare you off. I don’t mean to say that naps inherently suck. Naps are fantastic! Even as adults, a nap can be absolutely therapeutic, both mentally and physically. Babies and toddlers of course need naps in order to keep themselves happy and thriving.
When you first start teaching your little one the glorious skill of falling asleep independently, you’re likely to notice that they manage to get the hang of night time sleep pretty quickly. When it comes time for daytime sleep though, things can get a whole lot more difficult.
Out of all the babies I’ve worked with, I’d say around 90% of them have had trouble with their naps during the day. They have a harder time actually getting to sleep or they tend to wake up after their first sleep cycle (usually around 40 minutes) and struggle to get back to sleep again afterwards.
As any parent knows, when your baby doesn’t get a good daytime nap, that sucks.
They wake up grouchy, they’re fussy until they go down for another nap, and 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 yeah, it’s not like the actual naps suck, but I’m sure you’ll agree that putting your baby down for a nap, tiptoeing out of the room, closing the door oh-so gently, and then getting two steps into the other room, then hearing them start to stir and cry, that right there, that really sucks.
So let’s look at some of the reasons why naps can suck
Firstly, daylight sucks
Sunlight can stimulate cortisol production, which is the very opposite to what you want happening when your little one is napping. Invest in some quality blackout blinds for their bedroom. I can’t tell you how great of an investment good blackout blinds are. If you are looking for some good blinds Sleepy Sundays are easily the best.
Keeping your baby’s bedroom dark is a huge help in ensuring long, high-quality naps.
Lack of melatonin sucks
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. It also pumps up melatonin production in the evening, which will help baby get a good night’s sleep. The better your baby sleeps at night, the easier it will be for them to sleep during the day.
Nobody likes to stop doing something they love just so they can go to sleep. 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 Bluey, being told it’s time for a nap is likely to trigger a protest. Just in case you haven’t noticed, when kids protest, they tend to do it with some… enthusiasm..
Once 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. The crucial thing to avoid is sparking a tantrum by taking away something they’re super engaged in.
TIP: I would keep this quiet time outside their sleep zone. Save the routine with books in their sleep zone for bedtime. It’s good to have some differentiation between nap and bedtime routines.
This may come as a shock, but loud noises and sleep don’t go well together. Garbage trucks, sirens, birds, dogs, the 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, it’s very hard for them to go back to sleep.
It may seem counterintuitive, but one of my favourite 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. They do provide cover from sudden, unexpected noises, which are the ones that tend to wake your baby up.
Make no mistake, all of these recommendations can help, but they’re nothing compared to the improvement you’ll see in your baby’s naps if they learn to fall asleep independently.
More than anything else, that’s the key to getting your baby sleeping through the night and taking long, restful naps during the day. If your little one’s still relying on things like feeding to sleep, rocking to sleep, or sleeping on top of you in order to take a daytime nap, that sucks more than anything, and it’s the single most important issue to tackle before you worry about anything else.