Parents are often anxious when baby or LO won’t nap. All the books say LO’s need to nap for their emotional, mental and physical well being. The books say that naps promote more consolidated night sleep – don’t they?
In our experience the answer can be “no”.
We’ve met LOs who appear quite happy on many different sleep schedules including those who just “will not nap”. For some LOs the absence of daytime naps mean they do have interrupted night sleep. However, we have met parents who tell us that if their LO naps it seems to promote night waking!
At Savvy Tot Sleep we always work on consolidating night sleep first (despite most of the books imploring parents it should be the other way around). We do this because parents are exhausted by the time they reach us and also because we have learned that consolidating night sleep does promote daytime naps. It’s all about giving LO’s the opportunity to nap and being consistent again and again.
It is true that nap sleep differs from night sleep. The morning nap is almost an extension of night sleep and provides a block of REM sleep. Elizabeth Pantley describes the benefits of REM sleep “Transfers short term memory to long term, secures new learning, enhances brain connections, sharpens visual and perceptual skills, processes emotions and relieves stress, inspires creativity and boosts energy, reduces homeostatic sleep pressure”. (BTW – homeostatic sleep pressure is a volcanic eruption of temper tantrum to you and me).
Conversely the afternoon nap provides more non REM deep sleep which provides physical and psychological restoration.
We do know that as babies grow they need less REM sleep. For example newborns make up 50% of their sleep in REM – whereas in adults REM sleep makes up 25% of their total sleep. Also we know that many babies naturally outgrow their need for a morning nap by 12 – 15 months. As this occurs in the majority of babies we can assume that nature knows baby needs less REM sleep.
Ok! So – what happens when baby won’t nap? And – does it really matter?
At Savvy Tot Sleep we always say that you cannot make a tot sleep – only encourage. And by encouragement we mean being consistent day after day after day. Many parents are put off by nap refusal in the very early months. In fact, this is the very time to establish a good nap schedule. We’re not talking about the first 8 – 10 weeks of life when babies are likely falling to sleep at the breast or after a feed. Although we have met some parents who have been able to establish routines from day 1.
In part, it all depends on the baby. Whether you have an easy placid little character or what Dr William Sears refers to as a “high maintenance baby”. High maintenance babies are the cranky, clingy and refusing to sleep anywhere but on you sort. These babies confuse their parents by seemingly being in control of their own sleeping destiny. When it is the very time for parents to take control.
Babies sleep needs can vary by as much as two hours in the first year of life and up to an hour in tot’s over one year old. So – it is no use comparing the amount of total sleep your baby has with anyone else’s baby. They are all different.
The key to knowing if your baby/LO is having enough sleep is their behaviour during the day. A baby who is cranky and a child who has a melt down in the supermarket is likely to need a nap. We know that REM sleep in particular stabilizes mood and reduces cortisol levels (the stress hormone). And if at all possible routine naps will prevent these difficult episodes.
One thing we have learned at Savvy Tot Sleep is that unless nap routines are established in the early months it is much more difficult to establish them later. You can imagine how it feels for LO to suddenly be made to nap when they have been used to a hyped up, over stimulated life style. Why should they miss out on all the fun?
However, we have also learned that there are some babies and LO’s who just will not nap! Despite parental perseverance and our encouragement these LO’s can seemingly manage on night sleep alone. But they are often the sort of LO’s who will fall asleep as soon as the car is in gear or they have settled in their buggy. The fact they will go to sleep quickly in motion is a sure sign of sleep deprivation.
We have also met LO’s who have extended night sleep for their age – which seems to stop their need for daytime napping. From experience this often happens around 18 – 20 months of age – although there is no research to back this up. These LO’s will happily sleep for 13 – 14 hours at night but refuse naps during the day. Slightly confusing for parents who read in every book LO should have a day time nap until 3 years or even 4 years of age.
Sometimes nap refusal is simply because LO’s have outgrown the need. Although this usually happens over a few weeks when LO’s are likely to need a nap every 2nd or 3rd day. So – keep watching for those tired signs.
In summary we would encourage you to work on scheduled naps from around 10 – 16 weeks of age. And persevere with them! All babies will have nap refusal at times such as during developmental spurts (crawling, walking, pulling to stand), illness, away days and holidays.
If your baby won’t nap – try napping with them. Sounds simple but it often works. As soon as you see those tired signs a snuggle up together will often help both of you. And what could be nicer?
Or a long stroll with the pram/buggy out in the fresh air – which is also good for both of you.
But – if your baby/LO refuses naps do not despair. It is likely to be having more of an adverse affect on parents than LO. As parents it’s our job to give LO’s the opportunity and encouragement to nap. You all know by now that babies and LO’s don’t do what we want them to do all of the time!