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All Naps are Created Equal: or are they?

Short naps, long naps, morning naps, afternoon naps, moving naps, wearing naps, cribs naps, contact naps….


Naps with a newborn? Now these are different… newborns tend to sleep anywhere and everywhere and are able to sleep deeply, so if you have a newborn- enjoy those naps however you get them!

However, once daytime sleep starts to organize, around 3-4 months, we start to see naps morph and change… they get longer, they get more dependable, and they can also get more frustrating.

The reason naps become frustrating is because the older your child gets, the more we have to lead them to the nap. They won’t just sleep if they are tired. We need to offer them sleep when they need it, even if it seems like they could still hang- more than likely they can’t. And we start to see what happens when naps don’t line up… the day is harder, we have more meltdowns, and sometimes we aren’t sure what to do.

I have a friend who just had a baby a few months, and her little one started taking amazing naps recently. And the first thing she noticed? He is just SO much happier and content during his awake time. It’s so nice to see! And that’s our evidence and motivation for getting those naps on point as much as possible.

So here are a couple of questions that quantify a ‘good nap.’

First question, is the nap restorative?

You will know if the nap is restorative if it is longer than 60 minutes, which means your child has successfully connected their sleep cycles and was able to sleep as much as they wanted at that given nap period.

30-45 minute naps? Super common. This just means your child needs some guidance on how to lengthen those naps.

Younger than 4 months? Consider leaving them for 5-10 minutes to see if they go back down themselves. This is our first work on self soothing. If they are not going back down, consider going in and helping them get back down, or ‘save’ the nap, with some soothing… this could be replacing a pacifier, rubbing their back, rocking them, whatever they need to lengthen that nap and get the rest they need.

Older than 4 months? Consider using a Crib Hour. This means that your child is laid down in their crib for 60 minutes at nap time with no intervention from you. This gives them the space they may need to go back down. It’s amazing how if we give our child some space after a short nap, they may just go back down and sleep for another hour or more!

Second question, is the nap aligning with your child’s biological rhythms?

Okay, I know biological rhythms sounds super nerdy (and it is), but basically, our children (and us for that matter) fall into a rhythm for sleep- this rhythm is based on the circadian rhythms of the sun. So we want to be sure we are basing our child’s naps on their natural, circadian-based rhythms.

Before 4 months, daytime circadian rhythms aren’t set up, so we are doing more watching of babe and following sleepy cues to inform nap times (see Newborn Sleep: The Basics blog for more).

However, after 4 months, we want to get our child on a schedule based on their biological rhythms. And this begins with the 3 nap schedule.

3 Nap Schedule:

Morning wake, 6-7am

Nap 1, 8:30/9am

Nap 2, 12/12:30

Nap 3, 3:30/4

Bedtime around 90 minutes after the end of nap 3.

Now when we start working on this schedule, we have to nudge our child in that direction. When we remain consistent with this schedule, then we hit that rhythm and naps fall into place.

So why does this schedule make for ‘good’ naps? This schedule supports your child’s biological rhythms, giving them the best chance they can to have nice, long. restorative naps. Nap 3 is an exception to this… let’s discuss below.

Third question, which naps matter most?

Let’s continue with the 3 nap schedule, as it is the best example to explain this….

In the 3 nap schedule, we are looking for Naps 1 & 2 to be long, restorative naps. They are the most important, and the ones we want to be the most successful.

What about nap 3? You can think about Nap 3 as the pinch hitter. It’s a shorter nap that is used as a bridge to bedtime. This nap is not restorative. This is a great nap to have a motion nap, so if you want some snuggles, need to go on a car ride to run errands, or want to take an afternoon walk- this is a great time to do this. Nap 3 is also the nap we drop when we transition to the 2 nap schedule, so it makes sense that it’s not as crucial.

So which nap is most important in the 2 nap schedule?

Great question! Once we have dropped the third nap, around 6-9 months of age, we are left with our 2 long, restorative naps. Wonderful!

But is there one that is still more important?

Yes. While we still want both naps to be long and restorative, the afternoon nap is the one we want to covet and support the most.

Why is that? Because the afternoon nap is the nap we are left with when we transition to one nap. So if you MUST go in the car or have a change of scenery for one of the two naps, I would recommend the morning nap, try to keep that afternoon nap solid as much as you can.

Fourth and final question, does motion matter?

Contact naps, car naps, stroller naps, rocking naps, wearing naps…

These naps happen. They happen sometimes out of convenience, sometimes out of necessity, and someones out of desperation.

So are motion naps as good as motionless naps?

With newborns? Sure! Motion naps are just fine. With older babes? Not as much. Motion naps can keep babe from getting into that truly deep, developmentally nourishing sleep they need. They may appear to be sleeping deeply, but the constant motion is keeping them out of that non-REM sleep they really need to get that restorative nap.

This is why that 3rd nap of the 3 nap schedule is perfect for a motion nap, because it is not restorative, so motion won’t do any harm!

WHEW! That was A LOT of nap information…

If you’re in the middle of nap issues, transitions, battles, just know you are not alone. Keep at it. Be consistent. And soon nap time will be your favorite time of day- I mean besides every second you spend with your sweet child ;)



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