Question: My baby won't nap! She fights sleep but gets fussier and fussier as the day progresses. It also seems that on days when she doesn't nap, she doesn't sleep well at night either. It's a huge struggle, and I am at my wit's end. How can I get her to nap? Please help!
Elizabeth Pantley responds:
There is a definite association between daytime naps and night-time sleep. Equally, night-time sleep affects naps, so it can be a vicious circle. Improving your baby's nap routine can help her feel happier, grow better and sleep better at night -- not to mention that having a little time for yourself can also help you to be less cranky.
Here are a few tips for encouraging your baby to nap:
Watch for signs of tiredness Tired babies fall asleep easily, and your baby will give you signals that she is ready for a nap. If you miss her signals, she can easily become overtired and will then be unable to fall asleep. Watch her carefully! In addition to the obvious signs like yawning, rubbing her eyes or snuggling a lovey, she might lose interest in playtime, become still and quiet, look glazed or unfocused or slump in her seat. When you see these signals, get your baby to bed!
Watch your timing The timing of your baby's naps is important, since a nap that occurs too late in the day will prevent your baby from being tired when bedtime approaches. After watching your baby's daily sleepy cues, try to create a routine nap schedule. All babies are different, but generally the best nap times are as follows:
• If your baby takes three naps: midmorning, early afternoon and early evening
• If your baby takes two naps: midmorning and early afternoon
• If your baby takes one nap: early afternoon
Create a nap routine Once you have created a nap schedule that works with your baby's daily periods of tiredness, follow a simple but specific nap routine. Your baby will be comfortable if there is a predictable pattern to her day, and she may come to predict when her naptime approaches. For example, she may begin to recognize that after lunch and story time comes naptime. Include relaxing activities in your nap routine, such as massage, rocking, white noise or soft music to help to prepare your baby for sleep.
Use sound cues Try using consistent white noise or soft music during naps. You can use a bubbling fish tank, a white noise sound clock or a recording of nature sounds or lullabies. This creates a very strong sleep cue and blocks out household noises (like older siblings, dogs, kitchen-clinking and traffic) that may wake your baby.
Create a womb-like environment If your baby is younger than five months old, try swaddling her for sleep or letting her sleep in a moving cradle, a sling or a swing. This approach mimics your baby's pre-delivery home and may soothe her to sleep.
For those very stubborn non-nappers If nothing else works, this often does: Bring your stroller inside the house and walk your baby around until she falls asleep. Even simply rolling the stroller back and forth over a lump like a doorway jamb can work. If your baby sleeps only a short time and starts to wake, you can often walk or bounce her back to sleep. Once she gets used to taking a longer nap, you can make the transition to her bed.
When to give up If you've tried for 15 or 20 minutes to get your baby to nap and she is still wide awake, then she's not tired enough to sleep. Let her get up and play for an hour or so. Tire her out with activity, and then try again when she shows signs of being tired.
Parenting educator Elizabeth Pantley is the author of numerous parenting books, including the widely cited The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night. Buy her books at Powells.com. She is a regular radio show guest and is quoted frequently on the web and in national family and women’s publications. Elizabeth lives in Washington state with her husband, their four children and her mother. Visit her at www.pantley.com/elizabeth.