Is there a worse feeling in the world?
Your baby has finally fallen asleep, and ten minutes into her nap, you hear those preliminary squeaks and moans as he starts waking up.
“No!” you think frantically. “You just went down! If you get up now, you’re going to be a tyrant for the rest of the day! Go back to sleep! Please, oh please, go back to…”
But you know that no amount of wishing and pleading is going to change what’s coming. He’s up, and he’s not going back to sleep.
And worse than that, he’s going to be cranky and irritable until he goes down for another nap, by which point he’ll be overtired and harder to get to sleep.
Don’t you just love that downward spiral?
I remember the crossed fingers and pleas to a higher power in the moments after I’d put my first born down for a nap. My hopefulness rivaled a man who’d just bet his life savings on a hand of blackjack. “Come on baby! Momma needs a few minutes to herself!”
But by the time I had my third, all of my kids were napping like finely tuned machines, and I’m happy to report that it had nothing to do with luck, karma, or the whims of the universe. Follow these three rules and I promise, you’ll see a significant increase in the length of your little one’s naps.
Children, like adults, sleep better (and for longer) when they’re adhering to a sleep schedule. Their bodies and minds are anticipating the wonderful snooze that they got the day before, and the day before that, and interruptions to that schedule can really throw things out of whack.
Your baby might get overtired if he has to wait too long for his nap, or he might not be ready for one if you try to put him down earlier than he’s used to.
Now, I’ve got three kids of my own, so I realize that there’s this inconvenient little inhibitor to your baby’s sleep schedule known to most parents as, “real life.” You can’t just sit next to your child’s crib waiting for naptime to roll around. I get that. But plan ahead as much as you can, and prioritize your naptime schedule the same as you would a doctor’s appointment or business meeting.
You can either make the time to get him into bed when his schedule calls for it, or you can make the time to sit up with him while he’s fussing and fighting because he’s been having lousy naps.
The first way is a lot more pleasant, and will leave you with a lot more time on your hands, I guarantee.
There’s a huge temptation when your baby falls asleep in his stroller or car seat to just leave him be. After all, he’s already asleep, so mission accomplished, right? Well, yes and no. I do agree that if you let your baby fall asleep outside of his crib, you’re better off just letting him finish his nap there.
However, whenever possible, get your baby into his crib before he falls asleep. The more he sleeps in his crib, the more he’ll associate the two, which means great things for you as a parent. Stronger crib/sleep association means easier transitions from roused to sleeping, and better skills for getting back to sleep on his own.
I’ve written about sleep props to the point where I’m sure my fingers are a quarter inch shorter than they should be. They’re one of the biggest inhibitors to a happily sleeping baby when they’re not used properly, and they’re the most common mistake I see parents making when I do consultations.
I’m okay with a favorite blanket or stuffie, but just one.
It never ceases to amaze when I see a child’s bedroom that looks more like an amusement park than a sleeping area. Mobiles spinning, music playing, color-changing lights, and a wall of stuffed animals surrounding the crib like some kind of infantine dance party… Who could sleep in those surroundings?
Also, make sure it’s something that your child can find again when he wakes up. We want him to be able to wake, locate his lovey, feel that comfort and security, and go back to sleep on his own. Boom! He’s back into another sleep cycle and you can look forward to 45 more minutes of napping.
I don’t mean to make it sound like any of this is terrifically easy to do. I completely understand that we all have lives that need living, and the powers that be don’t always respect our baby sleep schedules.
Situations arise, complications ensue, and adjustments need to be made. But be mindful of the fact that sleep props, unfamiliar surroundings and schedule deviations can all inhibit the development of proper sleep skills. Those skills are what carry him from one sleep cycle to the next without needing any outside help.
Which, in turn, means longer naps, happier babies, and the end of your desperate pseudo-prayer sessions every time you put him down for a nap.
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