Monday, June 8, 2009

5 tips for helping your baby nap better.

"How often should a new baby nap?", "When and why do napping schedules change?" and "How can I get my baby to sleep better during the day?" Are all questions that most new parents will have at some point during their baby's development. Napping is such an inconsistent habit, always changing and developing along with your baby. It is hard to know if your baby's day-time sleep is normal for her age, and encouraging a healthy sleeping pattern isn't exactly something they teach you in pregnancy school. However, I do have a few tips that might prove helpful for parents who are struggling with keeping their double-snuggler on an appropriated napping schedule.

1. Keep in mind how often your baby "should" be napping at different ages.
Keeping this general schedule in mind will help you understand why your baby's naps are suddenly changing in frequency or why your baby suddenly refuses to nap at all at certain times.
Birth to 1 month: Napping should be on-demand, and very frequent during the day.
From 1 month to 6 months: Your baby will begin to gravitate toward four predictable naps a day, early morning, noon, afternoon, and evening.
6 months to 1 year: The evening nap will be dropped, or turn into the start of night-time sleep, but the other three naps will stay about the same. One of the naps, usually the noon nap, will be longer than the other two.
1year to 2 years: One more nap will be dropped, either the early morning one or the afternoon one. The bulk of day-sleep will probably take place during the noon nap.
From 2 years on: Only the noon nap is commonly kept after this point, and by 2.5 years or 3 years, your baby could drop their nap all together.
This schedule is just a basic framework, if your baby keeps an extra nap a bit longer, or drops a nap a bit earlier than I've described, don't worry, it is natural for babies to refuse to conform to blanket statements about what they should or should not be doing at any given time. Only if your baby is consistently getting a significantly smaller amount of sleep than described for longer than a week should you begin to be concerned. If you have any nagging worry about your baby's lack of naps, or if you think your baby is sleeping too much, ask your pediatrician for a more focused assessment.

2. Differentiate for your baby between night and day sleep.
It has been argued recently that it is important for really refreshing and restorative day sleep, that the circumstances be different than for night sleep. It is a theory that I have always encouraged simply because I have observed that babies tend to sleep better if they have naps in loud, bright areas of the house than if people try to tip toe around them in the middle of the day. At night after the third month, night sleep should be in a fairly dark environment, with white/or no noise, your baby should be swaddled and the smells in their room should be consistently associated with night sleep. For naps, there should be light, noises that are consistent but not too loud, usually no swaddle and the smells should reflect daytime activities like cooking and cleaning. This encourages your baby to block out light, sounds and smells during the day, and that makes it harder to accidentally wake him up. If your baby is used to this kind of day sleep it is a lot easier to be out and about with him because he will have the ability to nap in different environments more easily. If his day time sleep is full of light, smells and sounds, he is already conditioned to block out his surroundings during a nap. The earlier you start implementing this strategy the more effective it is. I recommend starting at the very beginning, and keeping the separation of sleep environments consistent. If you start later on, say at 8 or 9 months old, the adjustment will be very difficult and may never take hold all the way.

3. Use an appropriate progression of play and feeding.
When your baby begins to have consistent sleeping periods throughout the day you can encourage good sleep by engaging in intense, stimulating play with her one hour before her expected nap time. Then, about 30 minutes before you expect her to fall asleep, give her a nice big feeding, and make sure to get a burp up afterward. Change your baby's diaper and lay her down, chances are she will be asleep within moments. A major function of naps is to process the mental stimulation that your baby experiences through out the day. However some of the most common disruptions of day sleep can be wet or dirty diapers, and hunger. So if you give your baby a lot of stimulation, then address her other needs, she should sleep deep and long. Keeping up this routing for a few weeks will also encourage a healthy napping habit in your baby that should last even if you stop using the full progression routine.

4. Use a portable cot for your babies naps.
Using a portable cot will make traveling or going on holiday with your sweet little sun bear a lot easier. Even a play-date will be easier if your baby can go down for a nap in his portable cot. Imagine, if you don't have to rush home for nap time, you can stay and have some grown up mommy-time with your friend while the babies nap. As long as your boo has the familiarity of the same cot, it will be easier for him to adjust to sleeping in a new environment. For vacations where your baby will be using the cot for night sleep I would bring some elements from his night sleep area, like a familiar bed sheet and maybe a mobile to help with the continuity. However, even if the things you bring are all from your baby's day sleep routine, they will help to comfort your baby in a new environment and will smooth the transition to night sleep in a new place.

5. Utilizing the educational opportunity with sound and scent encourages deeper sleep.
There is no sense as powerfully tied to memory as the sense of smell, and there is no better time to stimulate your baby's early mental development than nap time. Day time sleep is when new neural pathways are being formed in your baby's brain that will constitute the framework of her cognitive processes later in life. As part of putting your baby down for a nap, try dabbing a small spot of scented lotion on your baby's earlobe, and then playing classical music or audio tapes of literary masterpieces. Your baby is way too young to understand or grasp any of the higher concepts of such works, but the brain development is still stimulated by the input. Also as your child gets older she can continue to use the olfactory assisted study method (which is basically applying a distinctive scent when studying, then applying that scent again just before a test). Try to choose a scent that your baby will not mind wearing when she is all grown up. Giving your little Einstein a heavy dose of mental stimulation while they are sleeping gives their subconscious mind something to do, and makes it that much easier for them to sleep deeply and serenely.

Your baby might still have napping issues from time to time. As babies develop they often will hit little "sleep hiccups" that throw off their whole routine. However, if you have some tricks up your sleeve you can get them back on track a lot faster(I share one of my very favorite tricks for better naps here). One common mistake many parents make is to try and limit the amount of day sleep their babies get in order to encourage night sleep. Though it may work in some cases, the sleep a sleep-deprived child gets will be less restful, and more easily startled out of. To help a baby sleep better at night one of the first things I recommend to parents is that they try to increase the quality, and the amount, of sleep that their baby is getting during the day. Not only does day sleep do wonders for your baby's mood, it can be just what the doctor ordered for a tired new parent.I hope you find these tips and tricks helpful, if you know any new or expecting parents please forward this information to them. Happy parenting!


  1. At 6 weeks, how many hours a day should they sleep minimum?
    Also my LO hates sleeping in a bright room, she'll fuss and cry, if not swaddled she'll cover her eyes. It makes it hard to implement a day nap as your recommend. What can i do?

    1. At six weeks your LO would be comfortable with between 8-10 hours of "night" sleep (From about 6 pm to around 8 am is considered night sleep) then another 5-7 hours of "Day" sleep. Napping should be moving toward 3 naps a day, but some babies sleep differently, or less. If the day nap in a lighted room is not working, then try slightly dimmer and dimmer lighting, until your baby finds it comfortable to sleep. There is no need to worry about your sweet little snuggy yet, unless her sleep drops to less than 10 hours combined day and night. And of course if you ever feel there is something wrong, trust your gut and check with your pediatrician.
      As for what to do, there are a couple of posts on here for better sleep during the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th months. I'd check those out, and keep looking for what works for you.