For many families with young (and older) babies, nap times can be a struggle. You spend a great deal of time preparing for the nap, watching for tired signs, getting them to sleep and then POOF! Within 20 to 40 minutes, your wee one is wide awake.
First, it’s important to note that the average sleep cycle for babies is between 30 and 40 minutes. This means that at the end of each of those cycles, your little ones come to the surface of sleep or are in a “lighter sleep” period. Here is what can happen in different scenarios:
Case #1: The Transfer
This baby has fallen asleep in someone’s arms, in the swing, in the car seat, etc. and then been moved into their bed or laid down elsewhere. What happens then, when they come to the end of that first sleep cycle, is that they wake fully because the environment is different from when they fell asleep. Imagine falling asleep in your bed, and waking up in the living room or car. Would you be alarmed and suddenly fully wide awake? Yep! BUT, if you woke briefly and found you were in your bed still, just as you had fallen asleep not long ago, you would likely just roll over and go back to sleep! Babies are no different. In order for them the slip into the next sleep cycle, the environment needs to be the same as it was when they went to sleep.
Case #2: The Sleep Prop/Crutch
This baby falls asleep being rocked, bounced, nursed, bottle fed, or is given a pacifier to fall asleep. Like in case #1, this baby too, will waken fully after a sleep cycle if anything has changed from when they had fallen asleep. If they have a strong suck-to-sleep association (nursing, bottle, paci) then they will wonder where that prop went and believe they can no longer sleep since it’s not in their mouth. If they were rocked or bounced to sleep, same thing…they will wake fully because this is no longer happening so in their minds it’s no longer time to sleep! Some babies can be put back to sleep for another cycle if they are given back their “prop” but more often than not, a 20 minute nap feels the same to them as a two-hour nap so they are probably up until the next nap time, even though you know that they need more rest.
Case #3: Skipping The Sleep Window
This baby has been awake for a little (or a lot) too long. This could be because of a few reasons. Some parents subscribe to the idea that the more tired a child is, the longer they will sleep (or more easily fall asleep). This is (in my experience and research) a complete myth. Over-tiredness manifests itself as energy, when really, its utter exhaustion we are witnessing. As a result, a super sleepy wee one will have a far more difficult time winding down, than a child who has been put to rest as soon as they are tired. The same goes for babies who don’t “appear” sleepy when we know they probably should. That little guy’s parents possibly subscribe to the idea that their child just “doesn’t need as much sleep” as others his or her age. Please trust me when I caution you that this will very likely show itself as a not-so-great idea, and that myth will be dispelled, at some point in the coming days or nights. A third possible reason for missing “the window” or ignoring it, is the idea that the more tired they are the longer they will sleep. This is quite possibly the biggest falsity of all. A well rested baby, will sleep more restfully, I promise. It really is very important to watch carefully for tired signs (some aren’t all that obvious) and put them down as soon as they are tired.
I could delve MUCH more deeply into how to create an age appropriate nap schedule and nap tips, but there just isn’t enough time in the day to cover all bases, ages, and different scenarios in one blog.
Therefore, if you have questions about your individual situation, and that are specific to your child, please do feel free to reach out via email or on our companion Facebook page here – I am always happy to help.
Note: Keep in mind that all babies and children are different and so while I do have a guideline of age appropriate awake time for each age group, it does depend on the child. I always suggest parents tweak awake times by 15 minutes in either direction (shorter or longer) when they notice difficulty falling asleep or sleeping restfully. This helps to find your little one’s “sweet spot” for the right awake time amount.