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Well, the world is collapsing and so am I!!
Julie and I have been home for 3 weeks (due to COVID-19) and somehow her sleep is even worse and I desperately need a schedule.
She gets tired after only an hour and a half of wake time which is crazy because she’s about to turn 9 months. I try to stretch her awake time and I think she’s so overtired that she does gymnastics in her crib and then only naps for 20 minutes. It's like getting in the crib invigorates her! She will lay on her back for a bit kicking, then stands and mouths the crib, then lays down and pushes her arm through the slats, then puts her head on the mattress and waves her booty around. Sometimes she just sits up waving her paci around and holding a press conference. It's adorable but very odd! I’m just grateful she’s not crying so I don’t go in unless I think she needs me.
I’m supposed to be working from home and while I obviously can’t work while she’s awake, it’s impossible to get anything done in the day when she never sleeps! Lately she's been skipping her third nap of the day -- should I keep trying to put her down for it?
I’m also trying to feed her solids twice a day and struggling to get her to actually eat and I think it’s because she’s always so tired! She's also started waking up between 4 and 5 each morning so I am very tired too!
Erin, mom to Julie, 9 months
As soon as you get used to a routine with a baby, the routine changes.
Babies typically give up the third nap by about 9 months; some a bit sooner. I encourage parents to maintain that third nap as long as possible but at some point, it stops working.
This nap transition is often complicated by the fact that it is occurring at an exciting time, developmentally. This baby is sitting and pulling to stand and babbling, all things that she is excited to practice in her crib, even when she's exhausted. Her lack of interest in solid food right now likely reflects her total exhaustion. It's not a health concern at this age, when it's fine for her to get most of her calories from breastmilk or formula anyway, but it is naturally worrying to her mother.
In the case of this overtired baby, we decided to have her mother put her in the crib for 30-45 minutes each day at 3 or 3:30 so that this single mother has a brief opportunity to work and so that baby can have some quiet time. She hasn't been falling asleep but it's not a problem or a punishment to put a baby in her crib for some time to decompress. It's actually a great opportunity for the baby to practice all her exciting new skills in a safe environment. Luckily she doesn't protest this time out.
We also moved her naps earlier, to 8:30 am and 11:30 am, to try to get her to sleep before she is overtired. And we are striving for a 5 pm bedtime. Occasionally, when her short naps lead to early morning wakings, I have counseled her mother to attempt a third nap in the car.
Normally, I never recommend car naps because naps in motion are never of high quality for older babies and toddlers. But sometimes, when a child is overtired, a nap in motion can help prevent the sleep debt from becoming too great. A mid to late afternoon nap in motion, when she wouldn't be napping in the crib anyway, serves as a bridge to keep her from getting too overtired before her very early bedtime.
We are still working together and finetuning the plan each day, but Julie is gradually -- usually -- lengthening out her two naps a day. Her early morning wakings are improving.
The good news is that this transition, like all transitions with babies, is generally short-lived... even if it feels like it lasts forever. Julie will master the latest set of developmental skills and be more willing to sleep at bedtime again... so the early morning wakings should end. Her body will become more accustomed to only two naps a day and the naps should lengthen out, especially when she doesn't wake up so early in the morning.
It all sounds simple here but when you and your baby are both exhausted, it's hard to troubleshoot successfully. Let me help.
"Ask Me Anything" sessions are just $45 for a fifteen-minute call. During this season of COVID-19, I am offering a special one-week package of sleep support for only $279 (normally it's $379 for two weeks) and additional discounts are available for returning clients. Schedule a free consult today and get your tired family back on track.
I am conflicted about using blackout shades in my twins' room.
I'm reluctant to use them because whenever I nap in a dark room in the middle of the day, I wake up feeling cranky and miserable. I don't want that for my girls.
But right now, they never nap on the same schedule and I am going absolutely bonkers. I can never leave the house and I never know when I'll get a break.
Kate, single mom to 11-month-old twins
Kate is an amazingly devoted mom. I admire her tremendously.
We parents should take all the help we can get. It's not cheating to help them nap. It won't make your young children wake up feeling cranky and miserable.
That's because their young bodies have totally different sleep and wake cycles than we do. Babies' bodies are designed to nap during the day. Unlike ours.
When we wake up cranky and miserable after a nap, it's because we have nap inertia. Basically, we are sleeping at a time that our bodies weren't designed to nap. Babies, on the other hand, absolutely need naps during the day.
If babies nap at the biologically ideal times, they won't have nap intertia. For twice-a-day nappers, those times are roughly 9 am and 1 pm. Once-a-day nappers should sleep at around 12 pm.
Just timing naps appropriately can make a huge difference. That's step one. And it's the furthest thing from cheating. It's taking advantage of biological sleep and wake cycles.
Step two is yes, using all the sleep crutches you can find that don't require your active, ongoing participation.
So blackout curtains? Heck, yes! White noise? Absolutely. Fan or air conditioner to keep the room cool and air circulating? Definitely. Swaddle (for newborns) or sleep sack? Sure! Pacifier that you have to reinsert 16 times during the nap? Nope.
Offer the pacifier once and that's it. Either she finds it and re-inserts it herself or she loses it and learns to sleep without it. There may be some tears in the short-term but otherwise, she will never learn to sleep independently (or at least, not until she gives up the pacifier).
The same goes for breastfeeding or bottle feeding to sleep. If your little one can fall asleep and stay asleep, feeding to sleep is fine. But if he needs another nursing session or an additional bottle to link his sleep cycles, you are doing him a disservice. You'll know this is happening if your baby (4 months or older) is waking for multiple feedings every night. By four months, your child should be able to go several hours without feeding, and that should gradually decrease from a maximum of three a night to two to one or less at nine months old. By a year old, most babies should not need any feedings at night.
My five-year-old recently started to give up her nap. The timing feels pretty terrible -- stuck at home for months at a time during a global pandemic -- but I hardly feel like I can complain. Five years of napping is a pretty good run.
But then we tacked up a heavy blanket over an internal window to her room that was letting in a good bit of natural light. Lo and behold, my preschooler is napping again. Gloriously long naps that leave her well-rested and cheerful, a delight to be around.
If this "cheating" means I can avoid the cranky miserable mess she was on the days she missed her naps... I'm a devoted cheater.
But I prefer to think of it as smart parenting. Helping my girl get all the sleep her body needs to be her best.
(Note the white noise on her table, the standing fan pointed at her, and of course, the heavy blanket tacked up over the internal window.)
If you'd like help getting your little one napping better, or need support tackling a different sleep challenge, schedule a free consult so we can get your child, and your entire family, the sleep you deserve.
My two-and-a-half-year-old has recently started resisting his nap. He has no interest in going in his bedroom at nap time and only wants to play. If I put him in his crib anyway, he cries and asks to be picked up. I think he still needs sleep but I can't get him to go down. I've tried putting him down later, around 2, but that doesn't help.
The thing is, bedtime is a dream on the days he doesn't nap! He conks out immediately... but then sometimes is up at 5 am the next day. Should I be keeping him up longer?
Also, sometimes he ends up falling asleep in the car at 4 pm and then bedtime is a nightmare -- he's still running around like a maniac at 9 pm. I need my evenings back but I don't want to start my days at 5 am, either.
Many children give up the nap too soon.
What typically happens is the afternoon nap creeps later -- I made this mistake with my oldest child -- and it thus becomes harder and harder for my little one to fall asleep. That's because I was missing the ideal nap window, between 12 and 1 pm. She seemed fine before the late nap, but it took a long time for her to fall asleep, and if she did, the nap would run late and she would wake up a cranky, miserable mess. I could expect inconsolable wailing for at least half an hour after the late nap. It was horrible.
It can also make bedtime Mission Impossible. Your little one is thus running around like an hyperactive maniac at 9 pm or later and you think, "gosh, on the days when he doesn't nap, he passes at at 7 pm. Sure, I'll miss the afternoon break, but anything is better than this madness, right?"
Don't give in to the temptation.
Overtired children are more prone to meltdowns and misery. They are also likely to wake up too early in the morning, or to have nighttime wakings. If your child has recently given up the nap and is waking up during the night or waking up too early in the morning, consider bringing back the nap. (If that's impossible, move bedtime earlier.)
Move the nap earlier. The ideal time to put him in his bed is between 12 and 1. Make sure you don't start too late. When children are overtired, their bodies produce stress hormone, cortisol, which makes it harder for them to fall asleep. They can seem hyperactive. This is a sign of overtiredness. It's better to start the nap too early, and have your child play a while in bed than to start too late.
If you are worried he won't be tired this early, make sure he gets plenty of exercise and exposure to natural light in the morning. These both cue his body when it is time to play and when it is time to rest. If he still resists naptime, you can be confident that he just doesn't want to separate from you and the fascinating world he lives in. This is totally normal. And is not a reason to delay or skip the nap.
Start lunch early, around 11:30, before she is too tired to eat well. Make sure she's hungry for lunch by avoiding unecessary snacking. I suggest breakfast at about 7 am and then a healthy snack at about 9:30 am. The exact timing isn't important; what matters is that there are set eating times and then breaks from eating. Your child does not eat to eat processed carbohydrates (crackers, pretzels, dry cereal, Goldfish) on the go between meals. These break down to sugar in the mouth, will dull her appetite, and make her more prone to getting cavities -- the teeth need a break from eating, too, to let bacteria-killing saliva wash over the teeth.
After lunch, start your nap time routine. A consistent nap routine cues his body that it is now time to sleep. A pre-nap routine of about 15 minutes is ideal. A typical nap routine includes: diaper change or visit to the potty, 1-2 books, a song, close the blackout shades, turn on the white noise, and go into the crib awake. You do not need to soothe your child to sleep. That is his job. If he is accustomed to your help falling asleep, we should work on helping him learn the vital skill of self-soothing.
You should leave your once-a-day napper in the crib or bed for at least 90 minutes, and up to two hours, before declaring the nap a failure. If she wakes after less than an hour, leave her, Let her try to go back to sleep. Don't let her sleep past 3:30, though. Once you have declared nap time over, expose your youngster to natural light and opportunities for play. It's ideal to take her outside for more exercise if you can. Avoid the car and stroller if she skipped the nap or only took a short one, and aim for an early bedtime, around 6 pm. It's better to run your errands the next morning instead. A too-late afternoon nap will wreak havoc on bedtime.
If you are worried he won't sleep at night after a nap, you can cap the nap. Try shortening it by 15 minutes every few days until you hit the sweet spot of getting enough rest to make it through the afternoon without meltdowns but falling asleep at a reasonable bedtime, around 7 pm.
Preschoolers may resist less if you call this time "quiet time" or "rest time" as opposed to nap time. Give them a short but positive message about this time, such as "Our bodies and brains need to rest now so they can grow." Don't engage in arguments, even if your miniature lawyer presents you with a long list of reasons why the nap is unecessary. A simple, "I love you. I'll see you later," is enough response. Engaging in a debate will only make things more difficult. Make sure you darken the room and turn on the white noise, even for older children. Likewise, it may be helpful to describe the steps of falling asleep to your child, such as "You need to lie down, stay very still, close your eyes, and take deep breaths."
Sleep guru Dr. Marc Weissbluth says that three-year-old children who still nap are more emotionally adaptable and able to learn. (He notes, though, that naps should not be used to compensate for a too-late bedtime as this will not make up for too-short nighttime sleep.) Giving up the nap too soon is also likely to lead to issues with nighttime sleep.
For this reason, don't give up on the afternoon nap unless it's been at least 6 weeks of consistently skipping the nap. Nap strikes are very common and can last quite a long time but are temporary. Even after nap time is over, preserve an hour of afternoon quiet time for as long as possible. Your child can look at books quietly in her room while you, dear parent, get a break too. You aren't depriving your child of attention by doing this; her brain needs down time just like yours does.
I am full of sympathy for those of you who are enduring this difficult transition. My own child seems to be finally giving up her nap at newly five-years-old. I'm very grateful that she has napped as long as she has but still, the transition is no fun. She is napping approximately every other day and is a whiny mess in the late afternoons when she doesn't sleep. She's often still cranky the next morning, despite 12 hours of sleep at night. Ugh! It's not easy to stay patient with the frequent meltdowns. We are doing our best to get through this time with grace and patience, and I know you will too!
If you would like support or troubleshooting through this difficult transition, set up a free chat so we can get your child, and your whole family, the rest you deserve.
My fifteen-month-old naps from approx 10am to 12p. He has been rejecting his second nap (typically around 2:30/3p.) He nurses to sleep for nap time and also wakes to nurse or to be rocked 2-6 times during the night. I'm wondering if I need to drop or adjust morning nap?
S, mom to 15-month-old twins H & B
Many toddlers transition from two naps a day to one too early.
This transition often takes place in daycares at around 12 months, while most toddlers aren't actually ready to drop a nap until 15-18 months, although it can range from as early as 12 months to as late as 21 months.
There are typically two patterns we see when children are ready to transition from one nap a day to two. The first, and more common, is that they take a long morning nap and then can't seem to fall asleep for the second nap, resulting in late afternoon overtiredness and misery. This can also lead to nighttime or early morning wakings as a result of the overtiredness.
The other pattern we see is children that skip the first nap in favor of playing in the crib. These children generally have an easier time transitioning to one nap a day as they essentially make the switch themselves.
If your toddler is struggling to keep two naps a day, preserve that second nap as long as possible. Here are some sugestions as to how this can be done:
This can be a tough transition to make so plan for a couple of low-key weeks, if possible. There's no magic trick to make it easy. I recommend moving the morning nap time back by 10-20 minutes per day. You can expect that it will take him a bit longer than usual to fall asleep because he will be a little bit overtired. I suggest you allow a minimum of 90 minutes in the crib. If your child sleeps less than an hour, leave him! He may well fall back to sleep if given enough time.
While you are making the transition, you may temporarily need to offer a very early bedtime, as early as 5 pm. You'll know you need to do this if your child is cranky or alternatively, acting wound up and bouncing off the walls in the late afternoon. If this is happening, you can expect that your child may not eat much dinner. Don't worry about it -- she is unlikely to wake from hunger (really!). It's much more likely that she will wake up from being overtired. So just get her to bed as early as you can.
As you are able to move the nap later, your child will gradually be able to lengthen out the nap with the single nap ideally being around two hours, though this will vary for each child. Your child will likely need an earlier bedtime now than when he was taking two naps a day, though likely later than 5 pm.
Some children do well with having an occasional day with two naps a day as they transition to one nap a day. If your child is just miserably tired by 9 am on some days, this may be a good option for your family. Rest assured, as she gets older and as the transition to one nap a day stabilizes, it will get easier!
In the case of the family with 15-month-old twins, we tried many things. We eliminated the sleep crutch of nursing and rocking to sleep -- took only two nights! -- and capped the morning nap at 1 hour. We moved bedtime earlier. They weren't able to move the morning nap earlier than 9:15 am due to some medical issues, unfortunately, and after a week, the afternoon nap was still erratic. Ultimately we decided to move the morning nap later again, making it 15 minutes a day later. The toddlers are currently working on making it to 11:30 am for a two hour+ nap.
The transition from two naps a day to one is a tough one but it's a beautiful opportunity for a family to get a little further from home. In daycares, the transition often means that all toddlers sleep on the same schedule, which means it's easier for children to sleep.
If you would like help transitioning your toddler from two naps a day to one, or if you need support with any other sleep challenge, schedule a free chat with me. Let's get your family the sleep you all deserve so you can better enjoy your time together!
Abby Wolfson is a pediatric nurse practitioner, certified child sleep consultant and former NICU nurse. She divides her time between Brooklyn, NY and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.