Sleep, glorious sleep. Did you ever think you'd spend so much time as a new mom focused on sleep - both your baby's sleep and your own? We compare nap schedules with other moms. We wonder if our little one is getting enough sleep - or maybe too much. We try to plan healthy and beneficial sleep patterns as best we can, but who knew there would be endless conversation, confusion, and controversy over this basic need? If we grow while we sleep, and babies are designed to grow at an incredible rate, doesn't that put sleep at the top of the priority list for mastering?!
As we attempt to answer some frequent questions regarding nap scheduling, let's be honest and admit that no one has ever mastered, nor will ever master, the art of baby sleep! There are certainly helpful tips, encouragements, and patterns I will share here, but we must remember we are nurturing tiny humans with ever-changing needs. If we embark on the subject of nap routines with hopes of perfection, mastery, or control, we will certainly be left disappointed. However, if we approach sleep with flexibility, humility, and lots of grace for ourselves and our little one, we can enjoy the process of helping our baby get the most beneficial sleep - and hopefully keep our sanity at the same time!
Your Little One's Unique Sleep Needs
The first challenge with baby’s rap routine is the constant change our little ones have as they grow from an infant to a toddler. The simplest way to combat this challenge may be with a series of questions you can ask yourself every few months. The answers will help you learn the specific and timely needs of your little one to help facilitate nap times that meet those needs.
- How old is my little one?
- Is my little one able to fall asleep anywhere, or do we need a crib/set space?
- Can we get a full nap in a carrier, or do we need stillness during nap?
- How often is my little one nursing/eating? Nursing or milk only, or solids as well?
- Is my little one rested enough to eat a full meal before falling into a “milk coma” sleep?
- Are we on the go during the day or mostly at home?
- Do I want to rock, sing, or nurse my baby to sleep, or do I prefer laying my little one in bed awake to fall asleep?
- Is my little one generally happy while awake, signaling he/she is getting enough sleep?
- What are some avenues that help my baby drift to sleep: humming, singing, outdoor air, fan or background noise, darkness, patting or rubbing, rocking or movement, gentle bouncing, whispering, etc.?
- What aspects of our family life can be orchestrated around baby's naptimes, and where will we help baby yield to napping with our schedule?
Thinking about these questions will help you nail down some specific qualities of your baby's unique sleep needs today and as they grow.
Making Naps Part of Our Routines
While nighttime sleep is still questionable, it is easier to think of naps as a routine rather than a strict schedule. As baby grows, a schedule can be adopted that will help organize each day with more clear awake and asleep times to facilitate outings, play dates, and errands.
You may think your baby's sleep needs are totally different than your own, but we can understand their needs a little better by comparing them to our own healthy routines. Ideally, we get a sound night's sleep, rise to work or play throughout the day, stopping as we need to rest and eat hearty meals, ending with another sound night's sleep before beginning the process again. Our little ones are doing much the same thing, but they go through this cycle more quickly and therefore more often than we do, hence all the naps! A helpful pattern that can be established is a sound rest, followed by a hearty meal, followed by play, exploration, and new developments, finished with another sound rest. How many times our little ones move through this cycle will depend greatly on the answers to the questions above.
Here is a potential sample daytime routine for an infant:
6:00 am: wake to eat
6:30 am - 7:30 am: play, diaper change, interact, etc.
7:30 am - 9:00 am: sleep
Now restart the cycle! The routine is so much more important and helpful than the actual times.
Sleepy or Hungry?
We always want to feed our little ones when they are hungry, and in our plan to create routines, hunger takes priority over sleeping times. Some babies will eat quite routinely every 2 ½- 3 hours, while others may desire and require fewer or more frequent meals. You can adjust the length of your routine to your baby's hunger.
One benefit this routine provides is a guide to what our babes are experiencing at a given time. Some of us are tempted to nurse every time our little one fusses, afraid of accidentally withholding food when they're hungry. I definitely lean toward this side, so I understand!
However, learning our child’s actual need in any moment is more beneficial than assuming they are hungry. If you have a routine similar to the one above, you have a gauge of what your baby may be needing. Did baby just wake up and is crying? He or she is hungry! Is baby fussing after a meal? He or she may be having some gas, may need to burp or change positions, some fresh air, or may need a fresh diaper. The possibility of needing a little more food is still there, but you'll be more likely to attempt to discover and meet other needs before trying that option. Is baby getting restless and upset after play and interaction? Baby is likely ready for a rest, and may need some help settling down by rocking, bouncing, singing, humming, or snuggling.
Let's look at the remainder of the day with this routine in schedule-form.
9:00 am: wake to eat
9:30 am - 10:30 am: play, diaper change, interact, etc.
10:30 am - 12:00 pm: sleep
12:00 pm: wake to eat
12:30 pm - 1:30 pm: play, diaper change, interact, etc.
1:30 pm - 3:00 pm: sleep
3:00 pm: wake to eat
3:30 pm - 4:30 pm: play, diaper change, interact, etc.
4:30 am - 6:00 pm: sleep
6:00 pm: wake to eat
6:30 pm - 7:30 pm: play, diaper change, interact, etc.
7:30 pm: bed for the night
We all need to use our wisdom and insight when creating routines for our family, and naptimes are no different! Although it may feel complicated, we can remember that every detail we learn about our child helps foster intimate connections that are the foundation of our relationships for life!
Changing Routines over Time
Here is an example of a schedule with fewer naps as the child grows into a toddler:
6:00 am: wake and nurse/eat
7:00 am: play, explore, learn, etc.
8:30 am: snack
9:00 am: play, explore, learn, etc.
10:00 am-12:00 pm: nap
12:00 pm: nurse/eat
1:00 pm: play, explore, learn, etc.
2:30 pm: snack
3:00 pm: play, explore, learn, etc.
4:00 pm: nap
5:30 pm: nurse/dinner
6:00 pm: play, explore, learn, etc.
7:00 pm: bed for the night
While these schedules are oversimplified, they can give us an outline of nap structure for our days.
Healthy sleep is so important for our little ones, we all want to do everything we can to make sure they can get the right amount of shut eye. Using this technique of routines that repeat can help you make sense of your baby's needs. And, mom, we think it's great if you also take a nap or two on this schedule! We all need to rest during our active and busy days.
Sleep doesn't have to be stressful. With a little observation, we can enjoy getting to know our babes better as we learn their routine needs, and help nurture well-rested, hearty-eating, and active little ones!