Naps. The benefits for babies are widely known; they get the rest they need, reduce tantrums, help them sleep at night and revive them for their activities. Parents benefit too. We are devoted to our baby’s every waking need, that’s our job, our privilege. BUT the monotony of meal preparation, feeding, building towers and singing the wheels on the bus for the 60th time can really wear you out. Sent from heaven, we are rescued by one or two periods during the day when our baby sleeps. The house is silent, we can sit, we can eat, we can rest! In reality I’m sure most of us spin around like Tazmanian devils washing, tidying and doing anything but resting but at least we don’t have to do it all with a baby in tow.
But what happens if your baby doesn’t nap or only naps on you or naps for 20 minutes? You could spend the next year trapped under a hot, sleeping baby desperate for the toilet but unable to move for fear of waking them or you could do something about it.
Here’s our handy guide on how to help your baby settle to sleep and improve naps:
- Fighting sleep. Parents often describe their baby is ‘fighting sleep’; they are clearly tired but unable to settle to sleep. At every age, overtiredness is the number one cause of short naps and issues settling. A baby is capable of staying awake for short periods of time before they need their next nap however if they are awake too long it can cause issues. If a baby has long stretches of awake time during the day then cortisol (the stress hormone) will flood their nervous system. The cortisol will keep him going, keep him awake and prevent him from settling to sleep. This is overtiredness. Ensure that your baby is awake no longer than is appropriate for his age which will prevent overtiredness.
- Crying. A lot of parents are terrified of crying, they associate crying with pain, upset and sadness but for babies this isn’t always the case. Crying can be positive, informative and helpful. Lots of babies cry before they go to sleep; it is their way of blocking out the world, soothing themselves and settling to sleep. If you rush to pick up your baby as soon as he cries then it will prevent him from learning to settle alone. You don’t have to leave him to cry, you can be there listening, soothing and calming without picking him up.
- Keep it dark. Ideally the room your baby sleeps in should be dark. There is a school of thought that suggests that babies need to be able to distinguish between daytime sleep and nighttime sleep however I have found that it is more important to establish a difference between sleep time and play time. Light tends to stimulate rather than settle as your baby’s body releases the hormone cortisol which keeps her awake. Darkness helps the production of melatonin which aids sleep.
- Keep it simple, give them space. Toys, mobiles and cuddly teddies look great in their cot but they are actually stimulating your baby. Overstimulation is a barrier to settling so keep your baby’s sleep environment simple. Cuddles are wonderful but too much can actually cause your baby to become fractious, give your baby some time without being held – playing on their play mat, exploring the world.
- Wind it down. The world is an exciting place for a baby, there is so much to stimulate them! It is helpful to add a period of wind down prior to his nap which will help him make the transition from awake to sleep. A quiet cuddle, a massage or a lullaby in a dark and quiet room will help calm your baby and prepare them for sleep.
- Feeling secure. A newborn is used to being safely and warmly cocooned in your womb so the adjustment to a moses basket can leave her feeling a little lost. The answer does not need to be constantly cuddled (reserve those cuddles for when she is awake and able to enjoy it too), instead help her to feel secure by swaddling her. Swaddling helps relax a baby’s nervous system, which will help to calm her and to fall asleep. Whether you half swaddle or full swaddle it doesn’t matter but make sure that it is tucked in tightly and no higher than her shoulders.
- Wind. Newborn babies are prone to wind as they adjust to feeding outside of the womb. You may need to spend a little extra time winding and keeping her upright to aid digestion. If you suspect she has reflux then avoid patting or bouncing after feeds instead gently stroking her back while putting gentle pressure on her tummy. Aim to keep her upright 15-20 minutes after her feeds so that she has time to digest her milk before being laid flat.
- It’s all in the timing. Quite often issues settling to sleep or staying asleep can be down to the timings of milk feeds and naps. If they are not working together it often results in your baby being too sleepy to eat and too hungry to sleep. Setting up a feeding and napping schedule that work together will help ensure that she is getting what she needs, when she needs it and not confusing the two.
- Where baby sleeps. If you wait to transfer your baby to their cot after they have fallen asleep they are more likely to wake up when put down. You can help your baby into the ‘sleep zone’ (where they are drowsy but awake) and then transfer him to his cot. If you can ensure that where he falls asleep is where he wakes up it will avoid any settling issues and increase nap durations.
- Never wake a sleeping baby?? It’s an old school phrase uttered by grandmothers the world over but we completely disagree. Letting your baby sleep all day, while it might be what they want will only lead to one thing; being awake all night. Managing their daytime sleep so that they are getting the right amount of sleep at the optimum times will ensure that you avoid overtiredness and prevent them sleeping too much. So yes, we recommend waking your baby from naps so their daytime naps are evenly spaced throughout the day.
So there you have it; a guide to improve your baby’s naps. Now sit back, relax and enjoy holding that hot cuppa with two hands!
If you need any further help with naps or any aspect of your child’s sleep, get in touch now!
Gemma at Baby Tech Support
4th July 2016