Naps 2: The Sequel

In my first Note on Naps, and in our Kids Plus Sleep Handout, I’ve provided a pretty good overview on the subject. But Naps are a subject on which we still hear a lot of questions, and about which parents always want to know more. So here — call it Naps 2: The Sequel, or maybe Naps Note 2: The Empire Sleeps Back — I’ll try to provide even more insight on the subject…

In early infancy, naps are, for lack of a better term, all over the place. 30 minutes here, 10 minutes there, maybe even an hour or two thrown in there. In fact, they’re so all over the place, that it’s sometimes even hard to separate “Naps” from “Sleep.” Over time, sleep patterns become more organized.

As I outlined in my first Doctor’s Note on Naps, naps tend to consolidate over time: 3 naps per day from 2-4 months, 2 naps/day from 6 months to 12 months, and 1 nap/day from about 15 months until naps go away for good (typically between 2-4 years old).

The cool news about naps is that our bodies have a natural urge to get sleep in the day. That’s right — a real-deal, scientifically demonstrated, physiological desire for daytime sleep. (That makes you feel better, doesn’t it?!) Many sleep experts believe that Spanish/Hispanic cultures and concept of the daytime siesta have it absolutely right. (I know I love the idea! Ah… what I wouldn’t give to get a good nap now and then. They’re way too few and far between!)

So how do we help nurture that natural urge in children? Here are a few tips…

  • Try to keep them as consistent as possible, with respect not just to time and but also to location/setting.
  • If your child settles into a good pattern — if, say, your 7-month-old naps at 9am and 12 noon, try your best not to vary or disrupt it too much.
  • The best location to use for naps is their night-time sleeping place.
  • Consider room-darkening shades, since sunlight can be a strong disruptor of sleep.
  • Reduce, but do not eliminate, ambient noise in the house.

Naps can be aided, or even induced, with the “right” setting:

  • A long car ride
  • A stroller ride on a pleasant day
  • A walk or hike while strapped to Mom or Dad.

Naps like these may be unavoidable, and even preferable, at times. Which is fine. Just be mindful that your child doesn’t become reliant on such measures; they should be the exceptions, not the rules. (I really have seen parents who put 100,000 miles on their car for naps and night-time sleep that “required” a ride.)

Sometimes, of course, naps have to occur in different settings, even over the course of the same week. For example: 4 days at daycare, 1 day at grandma’s, and the weekend at home. Under these conditions, kids are highly adaptable and will accommodate these changes with consistent, predictable routines. (See the “Magic Cot” from example my first Note on Naps).

For some kids, nighttime sleep and napping are effortless, but for others they can provide a real challenge. For the first 6 months its best to follow your infant’s lead, while trying to ease him/her into a routine. After 6 months of age, depending on the child’s patterns and your parenting style, sleep routines can be shaped/influenced/conditioned. (This is the basis of the Sleep Training outlined in the Sleep Handout, and covered in depth in our Quiet Night Sleep Class.) Oddly enough, it usually takes a great night-time sleeper to be a great napper.  That’s exactly why I recommend that nighttime sleep routines be addressed first (again, see the Sleep Handout) before working on a naps.

If you have concern regarding naps or even nighttime sleep, just let us know any time. You can also heck out my first Note on Naps and our Kids Plus Sleep Handout. You can also learn a lot more about infant sleep by attending our next Quiet Night Sleep Class.

Dr. Todd Wolynn, the President and CEO of Kids Plus Pediatrics, is a clinically trained, nationally renowned pediatric sleep expert.