Nap issues are common. Sometimes naps are negatively impacted from the usual ups and downs of life: reaching or working on developmental milestones, vacations, holidays, or major life changes that affect usual routines and schedules, oh and sickness! These are all very normal and expected reasons for naps or even night sleep to be impacted.
We expect our babies to experience minor and temporary sleep disruptions here and there - because they’re human, just like us!
However, if naps are regularly short, your baby tends to wake up cranky, or naps are often a total struggle to begin with, then it is absolutely appropriate to take a step back, look at the big picture, address everything that’s worthwhile and within your control, and support your baby in resetting their sleep. Naps are important!
Day sleep is extremely valuable and restorative for babies and children all the way through age 3 or even 5. Night sleep is certainly the most important - but naps are also highly valuable for your baby’s rapidly growing brain and body. If naps are regularly challenging, it’s worth the time and energy to help them sleep, and sleep well!
Here are the top THREE reasons naps tend to be crap... and then let's review exactly how to fix it.
Sleep environment could be better
Timing of sleep is less than ideal
Independent sleep skills are lacking
The truth is, if your baby’s sleep environment is not 100% blackout, there’s no surprise if they are struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep.
The natural drive to sleep during the day is significantly less than it is at night. Yes, they do still need and benefit from that day sleep very very much, but it’s normal for babies to need more external support to fall asleep. I don’t mean external support in the form of being held to sleep, but instead I’m referring to support in the form of a perfectly conducive sleep environment. That means there is absolutely zero light shining through those blackout curtains, and there are no bright lights shining from the baby monitor, and there is no hallway light shining through the bottom of the door.
A 100% blackout sleep environment is always going to help any baby lean into deeper and more restorative sleep with ease. This is the easiest and oh so powerful tool you have to help your baby lean into those naps.
Read my blog on your child’s ideal sleep environment, and how to create a dark sleep environment. It’s one of those areas we all know about, but very few truly have it mastered....and it makes a HUGE difference in any child's ability to sleep and sleep well.
After the age of 4 months, your baby has their own natural body clock, or circadian rhythm. This means there are certain times of the day based on the clock that your baby will be naturally primed for sleep.
If you are regularly placing your sweet baby down for sleep at a time when their natural body clock expects them to be alert and awake, it’s going to be extra hard for them to nap well.
We all know what it feels like to be very tired, but also just not able to lean into sleep. Or, we are able to get a nap in when exhausted, but we don’t feel great when we wake up and the whole day is negatively affected. That’s what happens when timing of sleep is off for your baby too.
Instead, I recommend aligning the times that you offer sleep to your baby with the times of the day their sweet little brains are naturally primed for sleep.
It’s common for a baby without independent sleep skills to struggle more with naps. The natural drive to sleep during the day is less, even though the sleep they get during the day is super valuable. When a baby falls asleep under one set of conditions, they are naturally going to expect and think they need those very same conditions every time they wake up - either from being startled awake or from waking between sleep cycles.
If the conditions they fall asleep under are not present when they wake up, they are going to have to fully bring themselves out of their sleep to try and restore those conditions. Or, they are simply going to be too distracted by certain conditions to be able to lean into sleep during the day, even if those conditions seem to be a comfort during the night. For example, a parent in the room - even when calming for night sleep, can be huge distraction and sleep limitation during the day.
To simplify, teaching your baby independent sleep skills is one of the top three most effective ways to improve their ability to lean into the deep restorative day sleep they so deserve.
Read more about what I consider gentle sleep training here, and learn about the various response method options, along with the most effective ways to support your child in learning a new skill and ultimately leaning into blissful sleep.
Nap struggles are tough on the whole family. Your baby needs that sleep in order to grow and thrive to their fullest potential, AND just to keep their cool throughout the day. Parents need periods of rest as well to sit and think for a moment before returning back full swing into parenting when nap time is over.
We all benefit from regular periods of rest throughout the day. When these periods are regularly short (less than one hour), are unpredictable, a battle to start, or end with a cranky babe, then let’s investigate what the issue is so we can solve it!
The most common three reasons for a baby’s naps to be crap include a room environment that is not screaming “sleep!”, timing that does not align with your baby’s natural body clock, and a lack of strong independent sleep skills. Luckily, ALL of these things are within your control. Please check out my earlier blogs that dive into detail about each of these areas and offer concrete tools for finally fixing sleep.
If you’re interested in improving your child’s sleep, and are feeling overwhelmed with all of the information and your continually growing “to-do” list, it helps to hire a professional to review it all for you as it relates directly to your family’s situation and unique child. It helps even more to have that professional provide support on a daily basis as you reach your goals. I am that professional, and I would LOVE to help.
I work with families one on one to support parents in teaching their children how to sleep well. I work with parents of children 4 months through 5 years. Check out my services here, and then book a free 15 minute discovery call to learn more about which package is best for your situation.
~ Happy Sleeping! ~