Day time naps is a topic that many parents worry about and there is so much conflicting information out there, that it’s hard to know what to belief and where to start. When I work with families, this is one of the most commonly discussed issues and one that often does not have a “one size fits all” magic solution. There are many factors at play when it comes to naps and by having a better understanding about how naps work & why our babies need them, you will have more success with supporting your baby to meet their biological optimal sleep needs.
So here are 8 game changing facts about naps & what you really need to know
Fact 1 – “but my baby just doesn’t want to nap”
Every baby’s napping needs will be different. This will be dependent on the baby’s age, stage of development & your baby’s own unique sleep needs. Sleep needs also evolve over time, requiring parents to adapt & adjust, to a previously well-honed napping rhythm. Getting the balance right between too much sleep in the day and not enough, can be imperative to reducing fragmented nights or multiple night waking’s and wakeful & stressful bedtimes in the evening.
The sole purpose of naps for a baby/child, is to minimise the stress response caused by rising Sleep Pressure. Sleep pressure is a normal biological function and is present from birth. A hormone called Adenosine is released and builds up over the awake period of the day and makes us feel sleepier as the day goes on.
As sleep pressure rises, we have the need to take sleep, usually for adults, that is in the evening but for babies sleep pressure rises much quicker and therefore there is a need for multiple naps in the day (age dependant), to lower the overall sleep pressure. Now this sleep pressure will be different for every baby/child and the only way really to navigate this for your baby, is to observe for nap rhythms in their day or said another way, be curious about behaviours that may indicate to you that your baby is ready to possibly take sleep i.e tired cues or could they even be just bored & need a change of scene (more about that later).
Tip: you might like to try to distract them if starting to show signs of tiredness i.e. change the scene or different play, to allow for optimal rise in their sleep pressure and therefore take an easier and better nap.
Fact 2 – “my baby needs to nap in complete darkness for the right amount of Melatonin to help them sleep better”
This is something I hear a lot when working with families especially with younger babies. They are told they need a completely blackened out room or a darkened room for their baby to be able to take the sleep they need. The word Melatonin gets thrown around a lot in the baby sleep space but the truth is that Melatonin levels in the bodies of babies & adult’s, is almost undetectable during the day. FACT. Therefore, it really doesn’t matter how dark the room is, it’s not promoting sleep, it might just be reducing sensory distraction for your baby.
Newborn babies are unable to make their own Melatonin until approx. 4-6wks of age and again that is variable. Melatonin is released by the Pineal gland; it peaks in the evening in response to dim lights/sun going down and it triggers feelings of sleepiness, but it does not make us fall asleep. Melatonin levels than begin to be at their lowest in the early hours of the morning, in preparation for the day ahead.
Fact 3 – “I follow the awake windows to know when my baby needs to nap”
In your journey so far, you have most likely seen a table that looks a little like the one below. It describes awake windows for sleep depending on the age of your baby. Although when I work with families, I prefer to use the phrase “napping rhythm” instead of awake windows, as I feel this gi