Poor little Elian looks miserable because, well, he is.
He fell asleep in the car at 4 pm and woke up after 5.
No doubt he needed the sleep, but the problem is that the timing was all wrong.
You know how you adult feel terrible if you take a nap at 5 pm? Cranky and groggy and miserable?
That’s how Elian was feeling too. Because the timing was off.
Our bodies produce melatonin at predictable times. For a two-year-old like Elian, his body produces melatonin the middle of the night and again in the early evening.
When we sleep at those times, we generally fall asleep easily and wake up easily (assuming we don’t have other sleep issues, of course). So a toddler who naps in the middle of the day should wake up fairly cheerfully.
When we sleep at the wrong times, we feel terrible.
I didn’t know this when my daughter, Calliope, was a toddler. I loved having long mornings to do things so I would put her down around 2 pm for her nap. And I couldn’t understand why she was waking up absolutely hysterical a couple of hours later. There was nothing I could do to coax her out of it. It was at least 30-minutes of kicking and screaming from my otherwise super chill toddler. It was horrible.
So sticking to a strict naptime schedule may be inconvenient to us parents, but if the payoff is a cheerful, alert child, I think you’ll agree it’s usually worth it. Save your exceptions to the schedule for days you really need them.
If you have optimized your child’s schedule and sleep is still a mess, set up a free discovery call and let’s get your family the rest you deserve.
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.