If you’ve been a mom for longer than a month, you know that naps can really be tricky suck.
The first few days (sometimes weeks) of a baby’s life are often blissfully full of long naps. Then Baby wakes up and getting them to nap feels... impossible.
During the newborn days, there’s lots of grace in how to achieve naps.
For toddlers and babies older than 4 months old, this post is for you!
Here are three steps to make naps possible and predictable.
1. Create the ideal schedule based on your child’s age
Sleep pressure is the biological drive to sleep that builds up during our time awake. It’s at its lowest when we first wake from a restful sleep and gradually increases the longer we’re awake until we fall asleep again. Sleep pressure builds quite quickly in newborns and gradually slows down as they age. This is why the newest of newborns have such small wake windows of only 30-45.
Knowing your child’s sleep pressure capacity is known as their wake, or awake, windows.
This is the first step in being able to work with your child’s biological need for sleep. Though every child is different and their needs vary, they don’t often vary so much that the wake window ranges don’t include your specific child’s ideal wake window.
It’s good to note, too, that the ideal time for sleep isn’t when we’ve maxed out our sleep pressure and are about to crash. This is when we’ve reached over-tiredness and, though it may seem like this would make it easier to fall asleep, it does not. In this state, our body turns from helping us to sleep toward helping us stay awake (because apparently, that’s what we want to be doing) by releasing stimulating hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Not helpful for sleep.
Overtiredness in adults often looks like passiveness and withdrawal from stimulation. In children, especially children under the age of two, it’s the opposite. Hyperactivity and over-stimulation are often signs of overtiredness.
So, to prevent overtiredness and encourage great sleep by working with your child’s biological drive for sleep, these wake windows are so helpful.
For babies, 4 to roughly 6 months old, sticking to the wake windows daily will give you a soft schedule, but the timing may vary slightly each day because you’ll be laying them down for the next sleep based on the time they got up from their last. For older babies and toddlers, roughly 6 months old and up, you will create a clock-based schedule based on their ideal wake windows for their age.
Some example schedules:
To easily find out your child's nap schedule, take this short quiz!
2. Choose a sleep training technique that you’re comfortable with and suits your child
There is a wide variety of sleep training techniques, but each falls into one of four categories:
“No-Cry” gentle methods
Leave and Check
When it comes to sleep training at nap time, I recommend either a form of Leave and Check approach or Extinction.
Often the stimulation of parental involvement can make the process harder on both parent and child.
Naps are typically the toughest part of sleep training. Though your child needs to nap (if they’re under 3 years old), the drive to sleep, the sleep pressure, isn’t the same as it is at night. There’s enough sleep pressure that they definitely need to sleep, but with the sun shining and everyone else still awake, the desire is often lacking. This is a major reason why it’s crucial to have your child’s room set for optimal sleep!
Once you’ve chosen your method, use it in conjunction with either Crib60 or Crib90 outlined below.
3. Use Crib60 or Crib90
With nighttime sleep, it’s pretty obvious when the time to sleep is up. But, with naps, it can be a little less obvious, especially when naps aren’t happening. This is where the guidelines of Crib60 or Crib90 are helpful!
If your child is taking 2 or more naps, you will use the guidelines of Crib60. If your child is taking only 1 nap, use Crib90.
How to do the Crib60
You will use Crib60 for each nap taken in the crib. (For babies that are taking 3+ naps, I recommend attempting at least one nap, maybe two, in the crib. The other nap(s) can be done on the go.)
No matter which nap training technique you choose to use, your baby will be in their crib for at least 60 minutes. To determine when those 60 minutes start and end, use these guidelines:
If your baby doesn’t sleep or sleeps less than 10 minutes, get them up 60 minutes from the time you put them to bed.
If this happens for nap 1, adjust nap 2 earlier by 15-30 minutes.
If this happens at nap 2, adjust nap 3 by 15 minutes if nap 1 went well (60+ minutes of sleep) or 30 minutes if nap 1 did not go well (45 minutes or less of sleep).
If they fall asleep and stay asleep for longer than 10 minutes, the 60 minutes starts from the moment they fall asleep. So, if they fall asleep and sleep for 23 minutes, let them be (no checks, no matter which technique you’re using) for the remaining 37 minutes of the 60 minutes of the Crib60 in hopes that they fall back to sleep.
If they D O get back to sleep,
If they D O N ‘ T get back to sleep,
wake them when needed.
go in excited, happy, and proud of them once the 60 minutes is up. Remember, they’re working hard at this, too!
but wakes again in a short amount of time, get them up once the original time left of the 60 minutes is up. (do not reset the Crib60)
If they sleep 60 minutes+, yay! That’s a full nap! If it’s just at 60 minutes, still wait 10 minutes before getting them up to be sure they’re done sleeping and to help teach them to wait contentedly for you to come to get them. If after the 10 minutes they’re still awake, get them up.
How to do the Crib90
You will use Crib90 for your child’s one and only nap. No matter which nap training technique you choose to use, your child will be in their room for at least 90 minutes. Follow these guidelines:
If your child doesn’t sleep or sleeps less than 60 minutes, the 90 minutes of Crib90 starts the moment you put them to bed. So, if it takes them 23 minutes to fall asleep and they sleep for 41 minutes, let them be (no checks, no matter the technique you used to start out) for the remaining 26 minutes of the 90 minutes of the Crib90 in hopes that they fall back to sleep for a total of 90+ minutes of sleep.
If they D O get back to sleep,
If they D O N ‘ T get back to sleep,
get them up when they’ve reached 2 hours of sleep (not necessarily 2 hours in bed).
get them up and go in excited and proud of them once the 90 minutes is up. Remember, they’re working hard at this, too!
but wakes again in a short amount of time, get them up once the original time left of the 90 minutes is up. (do not reset the Crib90)
*If it was a rough nap/short nap, adjust bedtime sooner by 30-60 minutes.
If they sleep 60+ minutes, yay! That’s considered a full nap. For older napping children, 60 minutes may be all they need! Younger, one-nap nappers, typically need closer to 90-120 minutes of sleep. In that case, if they wake closer to 60 minutes you can either
Wait the remaining 90 minutes of Crib90 or,
Wait 10 minutes to see if they’ll go back to sleep.
If they wake on their own at the time they need to, wait a few minutes before going in to get them up so they fully wake on their own and learn to contentedly wait for you to come in.
By working with your child’s biological need for sleep, adding in a short nap time routine (bonus tip!), and staying consistent in your approach to their sleep, you can expect to see improvements in their naps within 2 weeks or so!
I recommend working on all sleep at the same time (so, nights and naps) for two reasons:
It creates total consistency. There’s no confusion about who’s responsible for getting your child to sleep. The answer is always, they are.
The whole sleep training process is finished sooner.
Naps are hard, but you can do hard things!
If you want to be supported throughout this hard thing, I’m here for you!