The art of the nap
Daytime sleep is vitally important to a baby's development, sleep expert Lucy Wolfe explains
How much day sleep?
Daytime sleep for children can be hard to master but is completely necessary for young children. It's an area where parents may need to spend some time helping their child to develop the ability, to ensure that they are well-rested both at night and during the day, which is vitally important for development.
Why is day sleep so difficult? If we examine daytime sleep and how the body responds to being overtired, it can give us a very good insight into mastering the art of the nap.
Some Nap Basics:
Young children from birth to around three years of age have a biological daytime sleep need. Daytime sleep is required as well as night-time sleep, not instead of. Just because your child may not take a nap does not necessarily mean that they do not need to sleep during the day, and it is not wise to reduce daytime sleep in an effort to lengthen night-time sleep.
From infancy, young children have an optimum time to be awake during the day and an optimum time to be asleep. These periods may be referred to as wake and sleep windows; they are often short in duration and can be represented by mood and behavior.
The emergence of the child's natural sleep window may be represented by sleep signals: involuntary actions such as yawning, rubbing eyes and becoming quiet. These signals indicate that the child's body is getting ready for sleep. The hormones, body chemicals and temperature are in harmony for sleep. Given the skill set and the opportunity, sleep can come easily to the child. However, if the child becomes overtired, this may become obvious by observing the initial sleep signals accompanied by crying, whingeing or a burst of energy; in this zone the young child will typically 'fight' sleep, making it hard to both go asleep and stay asleep for an adequate length of time.
The amount of day sleep required for each child may vary in total, but I have detailed over some general averages. Children will differ in terms of how much they need and how much they get. Typically, formal nap rhythms will not emerge until four-six months. That your child appears well-rested and in good form, is a good indication that they are getting enough sleep in many instances. Children should ideally wake from their naps happy and stay in relatively good form until the next sleep period is due. Most certainly, nap duration should be at least 40-45 minutes. Anything less is not a complete sleep cycle and, by definition, not restorative. Ideally, naps would be a minimum of 40-45 minutes - again, mood is a great determinant as to whether your child is well-rested and whether this is enough.
So the amount of sleep is important, as is the timing of the sleep and where the sleep happens is also significant. Motion sleep - in the buggy, in the car - may not be as good quality sleep as that in a conventional sleep environment and as a result your child may be getting enough sleep, but it may not be the best kind of sleep. The best place for your child to sleep is in the cot/bed, in a suitable sleep environment, whenever possible. Again, they may need to learn this skill if they have become used to sleeping 'on the go'.
Learning Day Sleep
Developing the skill of day sleep may not emerge naturally and beyond four months and closer to six months-plus. It is a good idea to really concentrate on helping your little one perfect the ability.
One of the big reasons that young children struggle with day sleep is because they are not independent for night-time sleep and, as a result, wake frequently and are not well-rested at the start of each day. This has a negative knock-on effect to the daytime structure and can make it very hard for parents to master daytime sleep. Ensure that this element is in place first and then either simultaneously begin working on naps, or at least once the night-time appears more organised, then you can begin to establish positive day sleep, too.
Firstly, refer to the chart at the bottom of the page to find out how much sleep your child may typically need.
Begin to observe when they naturally appear tired
n Create an abbreviated bedtime routine: a predictable and expected sequence of events that help to signal to your child 'this is what happens at sleep time'.
n Make sure the routine happens in the bedroom.
n Avoid stimulating activity before sleep time.
n Ensure that the room is adequately dark.
n Block out external or sudden noises.
n Ensure that your child is well-fed
n Make sure they are getting outside exercise and fresh air.
n Consider putting them in a sleeping bag at nap time if you use one at bedtime.
n Regulate the room temperature, we don't sleep well if we are too hot or too cold.
Give them time to fall asleep
It can take the body 15-20 minutes to fall asleep and longer if they are doing it for the first time. Stay and support them if they require your help. Try not to create new sleep associations that you will not be able to sustain, or that will have them waking during their natural sleep phases.
Ensure that what happens as they are falling asleep is a constant when they are asleep, so avoid music that will turn off, or constant rubbing.
In the event that you are hoping to extend your child's sleep duration, it is worth investing some time trying to get them to go back to sleep, mid-nap, especially if they wake before 45 minutes and if they do not appear refreshed or seem refreshed to start off with, and then appear tired again.
As with any sleep-improvement exercise, it will likely take time and patience before you will feel like you are on the right track, but keep moving towards your sleep goals and you will soon have the art of the nap perfected.
Lucy Wolfe, CGSC, MAPSC, is a paediatric sleep consultant and mum of four young children. She runs a private sleep consulting practice where she provides knowledge, expertise and valuable support to families across the country. See www.sleepmatters.ie www.sleepmatters.ie>,
t: 087 2683584 or e: firstname.lastname@example.org
4-6 months3-4 hours (3-4 naps)
6-8 months 5-3.5 hours (3 naps)
8-12 months 2.5-3 hours (2 naps)
12-18 months 2-2.5 hours (1-2 naps)
18-30 months 1.5-2 .25 hours (1 nap)
2.5-3.5 Years 1-2 hours (1 nap)