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Questions/Answers: Naps/Scheduling


Here are some questions and answers about napping/scheduling. You will see that sometimes problems with naps are due to too late bedtimes or the times of the naps are not coinciding with the child's natural sleep time clock.

Why Are Naps Needed?by Dr. Marc Weissbluth

Let me explain why I think that naps are needed for all young children. Here are some facts: As adults, we all have a lull in alertness around 3PM. This is true for all cultures and all countries. If you live in the siesta belt,you might nap, but if you live far from the equator you might take a break for tea or coffee. This time of drowsines is associated with a surge of melatonin from the brain which probably makes you a little drowsy. So naps seem to have a strong biological basis. In children, research studies have shown that napping reduces the level of cortisol, which is a stress hormone. This suggests that not napping is a stressful condition for children. Also in my research, long naps at 5 months of age were associated with the temperament trait of persistence or attention span and at 3 years, long naps were associated with the temperament trait of 'adaptability'. This means that children at age 3 who napped for long durations were more easily able to adjust to new circumstances. So, I think that naps are necessary for all children. A common cause for not napping is falling asleep too late.


Too Young for Good Naps/Scheduling A Young Baby?answer from Dr. Marc Weissbluth

Night sleep is *organized* at 6 weeks of age or 6 weeks after the due date for babies born prematurely. This means that the longest single sleep period is not very long and it is randomly distributed around clock time until 6 weeks. At 6 weeks, the single longest sleep period is 4-6 hours long and it regularly occurs in the evening or at night--the end of so-called day-night confusion. Day sleep is organized at 12-16 weeks of age or 12-16 weeks after the due date. First the morning nap becomes regular at about 9 AM and later the afternoon nap develops at about 1PM. Before these naps develop, you'll see a tendency for your child to get sleepy earlier and earlier. You do not force your child to go to sleep earlier. Just be sensitive to this changing bedtime, respect it, expect it and soothe your child to sleep earlier. Then, being better rested at night, the naps will develop by themselves.

Two Months of Age:

Unfortunately, it is still too early to start scheduling your child; the brain's sleep/wake rhythms have not yet matured. It is not until around 4 months or 4 months after the EED or even later for colicky infants 6-8 months when it might be possible to see a pattern with napping. However, you can start doing something to prepare your baby for a healthy foundation for sleep. You can start following a consistent soothing routine before he sleeps: #1 laying the child down when he looks tired and before he becomes overtired, #2 a consistent soothing method so he will become cued into this as a sign of sleeping, #3 lay him down somewhere where there is no movement, #4 start introducing an early bedtime even though he might get up in a couple of hours to nurse or bottle feed. If you get into the habit of creating a early bedtime routine and making an END to the day, so to speak, by turning the lights down low, bathing, massaging, singing etc, the child will find this consistency of a routine very soothing and will promote sleep. For some more detailed info about soothing methods, motionless sleep and timing click here.

What things can I try to get my daughter to nap?

She sleeps great at night, usually 8 pm to 6:30 or 7:00 am. She will usually take a brief morning nap about 9:00 am for 30 - 45 minutes and sometimes I can get about a half-hour cat nap around noon. Then she is up for the duration. The only way she will take any length of an afternoon nap is if I lay down with her & nurse her. She is 5 months old. She does sleep if I take her out in the car, but as soon as the car stops (at our destintion) she wakes up again. She is very alert & it appears she doesn't want to miss anything!

Continuation...answer by Dr. Marc Weissbluth: Brief or No Naps

My observation is that an earlier bedtime produces more regular and longer naps. Please try to move the bedtime earlier to see whether naps improve.

Scheduling Problems:

Hi Dr. Weissbluth. We've corresponded a couple of times regarding my 10 MO DS who is waking frequently at night. I'm not sure how much background you need, or if you remember us? Thank you for your responsiveness--this is a very helpful and convenient forum, and I sure appreciate having access to such a great resource in you! By the way, I've pre-ordered your 1999 revised book on Healthy Sleep Habits Healthy Child from Amazon.com. I can't wait to receive it! I read your message on Tuesday morning suggesting that we try to control naps to 9 AM and 1 PM. DS came down with a bad head cold on Monday night and we just found out today that he's got an ear infection. It's been few days and we've been able to get him to take his afternoon nap at 1 PM. However, we've been unsuccessful at breaking him of the 8 AM/10 AM morning naps. He's waking at least three times at night. And, he's waking so early in the morning: 5:00 - 5:30 AM. We've lost a little ground for bedtime too--he's held out until 8:00 a couple of nights. Tonight he went down at 7:00 PM. I'd like to keep trying and post back to you in a week or so. Meanwhile, if you have any suggestions for us, please let us know. Again, thank you very much for your responsiveness.

continuation...answer by Dr. Marc Weissbluth:

Control the Wake-up time: is the phrase used to help set the biological rhythm in the morning. The idea is to synchronize waking up with the apporximate time of sunrise. Sounds easy but it is not always easy to execute. So even though it may sound harsh, here's what you do. When your child gets up too early, you go to your child at 6AM to start the day, but you do not go in before 6AM. If you go before 6AM your baby learns to fight the early morning light sleep to have the pleasure of your company. The result is a too early wake-up time which tends to make it difficult to get to the 9AM nap. The rest of the day and night then gets off kilter. If you do not go to your baby until after 6AM, then your child will learn to return to sleep unassisted at 5 or 5:30AM. Please don't be too rigid about 6AM; sometimes it might make sense to go in a few minutes before 6AM. But if you continue to go in a 5 or 5:30AM, soon it will become 4 or 4:30 because you are teaching your child to cry louder and longer. When you go in at 6AM, be dramatic, open the shades to greet the day. Oh, by the way, if you baby sleeps past 6AM, wake her at 7AM in order to get a good qualtiy nap at 9AM. As usual, I also would request that you experiment with a bedtime that is 20 minutes earlier (because sleep begets sleep) and not fear that this will cause your child to get up even earlier.

Why is day sleep so important?

Well, infants who sleep more during the day are better able to learn from their environment, because they have a better-developed ability to maintain focused or sustained attention. Liek a dry sponge in water, they soak up information about their surroundings. They learn simply from looking at the clouds and trees, touching, feeling, smelling, hearing, and watching their mother's and father's faces. Infants who sleep less in the daytime appear more fitful and socially demanding, and they are less able to entertain or amuse themselves. Toys and objects are less interesting to these more tired children.

By three years of age, the easier-to-manage children in my study who were mild, positive in mood, adaptable, and approaching toward unfamiliar people slept twelve and a half hours total. The difficult to manage children-those who were intense, more negative, less adaptable, and withdrawing, slept about one and a half hour less almost the equivalent of a daytime nap.

An important conclusion is that three-year-olds who nap are more adaptable than those who do not. But napping did not affect the length of sleep at night. Comparing nappers and nonnappers, night sleep duration was ten and a half hours in both groups. Those who napped, however, slept about two hours during the day, so their total sleep was twelve and a half hours. Therefore, it simply is not true that children who miss naps will tend to "make up" for it by sleeping more at night. In fact the sleep they miss is gone forever.

What Happens if My Child Misses a Nap?

Missing a nap here and there probably will cause no harm. But if this becomes a routine, you expect your child to sink further and further behind in his sleep and to become increasingly difficult to handle in this overfatigued state.

On those exceptional days, just put them down much earlier for the night, probably the amount of time lost from the missing nap. If this does become a routine, then in order to get it back on track, you will need an earlier bedtime, you might have to put him down earlier for naps if it is taking him too long to fall asleep for those naps. Remember, when the child becomes overtired from this lack of naps, he will be upset and irritable. It is only obvious that there will be some crying, just know that this crying is due to being overtired and nothing else.

Is night sleep different from day sleep?

Yes, it is. Naps are not little bits of night sleep randomly intruding upon our children's awake hours. Actually, night sleep, daytime sleep, and daytime wakefulness have rhythms that are partially independent of each other. During the first three to four months of life, these rhythms develop at different rates, so they may not be in synchrony. Only later do these sleep/wake rhythms become linked with fluctiations in body temperature and activity levels.

For example, most of us have experienced drowsiness in the afternoon. This sensation is partially related-but only partially-to how long you have been up and how long you slept the night before. Our mental state fluctuates during the day between alert and crowsy, just as fluctiations occur during the night between light and deep sleep stages. As adults, out afternoon nap is most refreshing when we take it at the time when we are biologically most drowsy. Here is how to figure out your best time. Take the midpoint between the time when you most easily fall asleep at night (example 10pm) and most comfortably awaken naturally in the morning (example: 8am). Then, twelve hours from that midpoint is your best naptime (example: 3pm).


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