Why are naps so challenging?

by | Jul 31, 2017 | Sleep Consultant

Why are naps so challenging?

Have you been asking yourself why your child won’t nap? Or maybe the naps are super short. Let me try and shed some light on the issue.

Firstly, don’t be fooled into thinking that if your child doesn’t nap they’ll sleep longer during the night. Naps are very important. Generally the better your child sleeps during the day, the better he or she will sleep over night (sleep begets sleep). Naps help your child manage overtiredness and make it easier for her to drift off at night. But sleep is complex.  And while night-time sleep issues can often be solved within a week (yep they can), naps typically take longer to fall into line. So I want to encourage you to hang in there and keep working on them as I explain why they can be more challenging than night time…

There’s no natural helper

When I say natural helper I’m talking about melatonin – a naturally occurring hormone that is produced in the dark. Melatonin helps us become relaxed and feel sleepy. Melatonin actually helps us fall asleep and stay asleep during the night, but it only kicks in during the evenings, and if there’s very little light around.  Blue light in particular inhibits the production of melatonin.

Making your child’s room nice and dark can help. But it needs to be really dark. By really dark I mean at least an 8 or 9 out of 10 for darkness; ideally you don’t want to see your hand in front of your face. Yes, this can be tricky, so get creative to block the light during the day. You could cover the windows with cardboard for example. And chances are you do need to tape the sides of the blackout blinds/curtains to the window frames to stop the light coming in around the edges. Some children are very sensitive to light.

Fear of missing out (FOMO)

Daytime is fun. That’s when children get to hang out with you, they’re learning and playing and going out and about. In fact lots of fun things are happening during the day and it’s difficult for children to change gears and be ready for nap time when days are just SO MUCH FUN. The protest around naps is often more intense during the day for this reason. If given the choice, a lot of children would prefer not to take a nap, as they think they’ll miss out on something.  But It does need to be a non negotiable. The nap has to occur whether they like it or not. Eventually they will get to a place where they go down happily, but it can be a hurdle to get to.

Are they lying comfortably?

Consider your child’s comfort level. Yes, it’s daytime, but do you nap well in your clothes? It’s much easier to feel comfortable in soft stretchy track pants than in jeans and a t-shirt. Changing into a napping outfit (or whatever you want to call it) can help your child lie comfortably and sleep for longer periods of time. That napping outfit can also help cue your child’s body and brain that nap time is coming, and it helps them change gears. It does need to be used consistently as part of the nap-time routine for every nap though. A sleep sack works in this same way – but do make sure your child is comfortable inside it.

Timing is everything

Is your child going down for their nap at the right time? Look at the timing of the naps, and check out the sleep needs and guidelines for recommended time awake for your child. Every child is different, so base the timings on recommendations, but make sure you’re familiar with your own child’s tired signs and their individual capability. Naps need to be spaced long enough apart so the body is fatigued enough to stay asleep for long enough, but not too far apart that your child gets too overtired so sleep is a struggle.

Most of the time, parents wait too long to put a baby down, so if you think your timing is off, try putting your child down for a nap 20 – 30 minutes earlier first. If however, an earlier nap hasn’t helped over a period of a week, you can extend the time awake out (by 15-20 minutes later than the original nap). Some children show tired signs a little prematurely, and they really can stay up a bit longer.

Trial and error

Please don’t try something once and give up if it doesn’t work – it takes time for your child’s body to change and respond, and sometimes it takes some trial and error.  Give everything you try at least 3-5 days of consistent effort before you look for any improvement. It will take your baby time to get use to the change. And then, if you see an improvement even for one day over that time, just keep going!

Typically, naps take at least 2-3 weeks to fall into line (and unfortunately sometimes 4-6 weeks). But if you keep persevering, you will get there. In the big scheme of things, a month is nothing, and it is so worth it to have a child that naps well, especially for Mum and Dad’s sanity!

And of course, if you’d like some one-on-one help with sleep please contact me.

Sleep well!