Even with the best communication with and help from the daycare workers, naps can still be short and sleep can still be restless. (I mean, the daycare sleep environment is pretty opposite from the optimal sleep environment…) If that’s the case for your little one, here are three ways to help them make up for that lack of quality sleep:
1. A catnap on the ride home
Especially if your little one is adjusting to a new daycare or a new routine (or simply had a busy day and/or poor nap), catching a quick snooze on the way home can help tie them over until (an early) bedtime.
And by quick snooze, I mean ideally no longer than 30 minutes.
This is enough sleep to perk their energy (and hopefully their mood) until bedtime, but not so much that it should negatively affect bedtime.
How this can work practically:
If it takes you less than 45 minutes to get home from daycare, let your child fall asleep if they feel like it on the way home.
If it takes you more than 45 minutes to get home from daycare, do your best to keep them awake long enough that when they fall asleep, they won’t pass the 30-minute mark of sleep by the time you get home.
But no matter what time you make it home, wake them once you get there.
2. Early bedtime
Oh, the early bedtime… it’s the best way to overcome overtiredness! I know many parents have hesitation about putting their child to bed early for a few potential reasons, two major ones for working parents being: they don’t want to miss time with their child and they worry their child will consequently wake early the next morning.
To ease your anxiety about the last one, think of the early bedtime as the sleep your child missed during the day being tacked on to the beginning of their night sleep. You don’t necessarily need to put them to bed as early as the amount of sleep they missed, but if your child is lacking sleep, an early bedtime allows more time in the night for them to catch up a bit.
It’s like their nap just got pushed back really late (for a nap) and instead of waking from the nap, doing stuff, and going to bed for the night, they just stay asleep (or roll over and go back to sleep). Nap directly into nighttime sleep. (Sounds like a dream vacation to me.)
Ok, so you’re willing to do an early bedtime, but how early?? Here’s a little cheat sheet for you in regards to daycare days:
15-30 minutes early when your child had a short and/or restless nap(s) but caught a nap on the way home from daycare or they had a particularly stimulating day.
30-60 minutes early when your child completely missed their nap(s) but caught a nap on the way home.
Super early, 5:30 pm (or as early as you can manage) bedtime when your child has had little to no sleep all day.
What if they do wake up earlier the next morning?!
One cause of early morning wake-ups is over-tiredness. So, if your little one isn’t getting the solid sleep they need right now (and that’s ok - you’re doing your best to improve it!), this early morning wake-up may be a sign that they need an early bedtime tonight as well (and potentially for a few nights to come!).
For what to do in the moment, use a sleep training technique that you’re comfortable with until they fall back to sleep or until it’s time for them to get up for the day.
3. Extra sleep on weekends and days off
Lastly, to help catch up on missed sleep, allow for extra sleep on the weekends and on days off.
If your child takes one nap at daycare but would prefer two - offer two when they’re home.
If you have to get your child up earlier than they’d like on daycare days (or not) - allow them to sleep a little later. (For napping children I would wake them up no later than 8 am to preserve their naps and not push bedtime too late.)
If they need a bit more sleep than sleeping in and more sleep than naps can offer, again, an early bedtime is your BFF.
I know that sometimes it’s not possible to offer so much extra sleep on your days off from daycare, so add it in as much as possible. But keep in mind that your child’s most restful and restorative sleep happens in their bed in an optimal sleep environment.
Maybe it’s just my introverted self talking, but whenever possible, don’t shy away from the excuse of having to get the kids to bed!
...it doesn’t work?!
Give it a month! (I know it feels like a lifetime, right?!)
Remember how I said children are good at distinguishing between and compartmentalizing sleep environments? The same is often true with getting and staying asleep. (Not ideal, but that’s ok!)
Stay consistent with how you do things at home to continue to foster independent sleep and gradually work towards that independence at daycare, too.
And, as always, I’m here to help you, too, if you need/want it!
Daycare naps can be short and not sweet, leaving your little one tired by the time you pick them up. But by implementing the advice from Part 1 and Part 2 to improve those naps, and the advice from this post to help them catch up on their sleep, your short daycare napper will still get the sleep they need while improving the sleep they get while at daycare.