“Oh my baby is just a bad napper!”
Have you ever said that? I have!
With both of my older son’s, before I studied to get my Sleep Consultant Certification, I thought my children just were incapable of taking “good” naps. But now, looking back, it probably had more to do with when I was offering these naps, rather than their ability to “take good naps.”
First of all, let’s quickly touch on what exactly qualifies as a good nap!
Be at least an hour in length
Be continuous, without any breaks or crying between sleep cycle transitions
Have a wake up that is gradual and relaxed- not abrupt with tons of crying
Leave the little one refreshed and happy afterwards
Now let’s talk about when naps should happen…
Have you ever heard of your internal clock? Usually you’ll know about this biological clock when you are on a much deserved vacation and even though you don’t set an alarm, your body still wakes up “like clockwork” at that same time you would normally wake for work. Same for when you are trying to stay up late to enjoy a night out of the town but you can’t stop yawning because your normal bedtime was hours ago.
This internal clock starts to develop in babies as young as 3-4 months old. So even though they haven’t been waking up to an alarm at the same time for the past 20 years, a baby’s body still dictates when they should be sleeping. This is a range for each different baby, but science has taught us that, biologically, the morning nap should be happening around 9am and the afternoon nap should be happening somewhere around 1pm. Of course this range also depends on the baby’s age, morning wake up time, and bedtime, but for the most part, this is when the body wants to take naps.
Sleep happening outside these ‘biological-need’ times, are less likely to have the qualities of a good nap as listed above. Ninja parents, (or just very observant, informed parents) can catch the sweet spot for naps by watching the clock for these general biological times as well as watching their child for drowsy signs. Once these two line up, naps should be easily reached and should result in the most restorative, beneficial daytime sleep possible for your little one.
So sleep that happens during hours that the body is saying, “nah its not sleep time actually,” results in something referred to as “junk sleep.” This is similar to how junk food might solve some hunger issues, but will not be as beneficial as healthy food is for your body and hunger. The other reason why some sleep could be considered junk sleep, is if it is happening in motion. Motionless sleep is much more restorative than sleep that is on-the-go.
So back to my “bad nappers.” As a new mom I never knew about any of this.
With my first son I gave him naps when I needed him to nap based on my schedule. And because he was a pretty flexible, easy baby, he did usually fall asleep, but then he never stayed asleep for long.
With my second son, I always tried to get him to take naps at the same times his older brother was, again based on what I needed to work for my schedule. The difference I ran into was that this son was not as flexible, and was actually a very sensitive sleeper. I would spend hours trying to force him to go to sleep at these times, all along thinking to myself that he just “doesn’t like to nap” and that this was just the way it was always going to be.
Without knowing any better, I thought it was just a trait my son had, instead of thinking there were things that I could fix on my end to get him to sleep better. Plus, I thought all sleep was created equal. So I thought the sleep my boys were getting in strollers or in their car seats, was just as good as sleep that could have happened in their cribs.
I tell you this story, not to be voted bad mother of the year, because honestly I don’t feel like I was a bad mother, but rather, to prove the point that you don’t know what you don’t know. And now I want you to know! 💜🧸