Q&A with Elizabeth: Cat-naps, In-arms Napping, and Naptime Battles

Posted by in No-Cry Nap

My baby is a cat-napper! He only naps about 30 to 45 minutes, but soon afterward he seems tired and gets crabby. Is this because the nap is too short? ~ Annika, mother to 14-month-old Mordechai

Your suspicions are correct! A short nap takes the edge off, but doesn’t offer the same physical and mental nourishment that a longer nap provides.

It has been discovered that each stage of sleep brings a different benefit to the sleeper. The very first five to fifteen minutes reduce feelings of sleepiness and bring that whoosh of second-wind energy. But this dissipates quickly; resulting is fussiness, crying, crankiness, tantrums and whining.

It takes between 90 and 120 minutes for a child to move through one entire sleep cycle – which brings benefits such as: stabilizing mood, increasing alertness, improving motor skills, enhancing brain connections, sharpening visual and perceptual skills, repairing bones, tissue and muscles, boosting the immune system, regulating appetite and releasing bottled up tension and stress.

In order for your child to receive all of these wonderful gifts he must sleep long enough to pass at least once through each stage of sleep (90 to 120 minutes!). Longer naps will encompass additional sleep cycles and provide a continuous string of these benefits.

A long nap really is a Perfect Nap.

Ryan

Ryan

My baby will only nap in my arms. If I try to put Emily down she wakes right up. This was fine for a few months, but she’s five months old now. I’d really like to have her nap in her cradle so I can make productive use of her naptime! ~ Leanne, mom to 5-month-old Emily

Guess what? Over 65% of infants fall asleep this way, so Emily is clearly in the majority! It’s easy to see why: being in your arms – outside the womb – is the place that most clearly resembles being inside the womb: the cozy, secure place where your baby began life. In a perfect world we’d allow babies to always sleep in the comfort of our arms. But, as you said, arms get tired, and there are many tasks that need to be done with two of them.

Here are a few tips for switching from in-arms naps to in-bed naps:

  • Learn to identify your baby’s sleepy signals and put her for a nap the minute you identify her signs of fatigue; she’ll more likely welcome a nap
  • Let your baby fall asleep, and take her entire nap to the sounds of gentle lullabies, or white noise, such as a recording of ocean waves, rainfall, or the sound of a human heartbeat.
  • Keep your baby’s napping room dimly lit.
  • Try swaddling your infant for naptime.
  • Investigate the purchase of a baby hammock or swinging cradle.
  • Invest in a quality crib mattress or padded crib mattress cover to create a softer, yet safe, bed surface.
  • Use soft crib sheets, such as fleece, flannel, or jersey knit. These fabrics are soft and warmer to the touch than traditional crib sheets and less jarring when you first lay your baby down.
  • Let your baby have several quiet play sessions in her crib during waking hours. Stay with her and engage her interest so she becomes familiar with the setting. This way, when she is put in his crib for naptime it won’t be a foreign place, but a familiar place acceptable for naps.
Nathaniel

Nathaniel

Naptime has turned into a daily battle. My daughter fights me every day. Should I just give up naps? ~ Aikya, mother to 3 ½ year old Dinesha

Every child can benefit from a daily nap, but sometimes there is nothing you can do to get your child to actually sleep. (You know… you can lead a horse to water, and all that!) However, day after day, week after week – all that child-energy expanded, without a rest break – can result in a fussy child prone to tears, temper tantrums and whining.

Instead of fighting your daughter about taking a nap – try starting a “Hush Hour.” This is a rest-break that can provide a wonderful substitute for an actual nap.

The Hush Hour is a quiet, restful hour that encourages relaxation. Sleep is not required, but the setting often brings about a peaceful aftereffect, much as a nap would. Have your child lie comfortably on a sofa or bed. Let her listen to a child’s audio book or soft music, and turn down the lights.

The Hush Hour is most effective when used at the same time every day. Try to create a daily ritual that includes a Hush Hour in the afternoon, perhaps when your little one returns home from daycare or school.

Your child may or may not sleep but she will be refreshed after this break.

Alex

Alex


Need more tips? The No-Cry Nap Solution is filled with gentle ways to solve your naptime problems.


What is your question? Please ask it here – and watch for it to be answered in an upcoming column.

9 Comments

  1. My 2 year fights like crazy against naps. We are still co-sleeping. Would a hush-hour refresh him at this age? I feel that he should still nap as I don’t want him to be ober-wired late afternoon and then I would still have to keep a cranky baby till bedtime. I also don’t want to move bedtime down because if it is too early he might just nap and then be up till midnight.

    • 2-year-olds do need their naps! But they would not understand the concept of “hush hour” — but you can set up the environment to make it nap-friendly. Darken the room, play some soft music or white noise, do some rocking or massage. Stay quiet and peaceful yourself. If your little one is tired she will surely fall asleep. Good luck!

  2. My 5-month-old stays asleep in our arms, but often (not always) pops her eyes wide open when we lay her down in the crib to nap. We tend to take her back out and rock her to sleep again, but she usually ends up in our arms at that point, since she tends to nap for 45 minutes at a time and we don’t want to miss the window.

    Her room is nap-friendly, as you describe. Since she’s too young for a hush hour, what do we do when she opens her eyes? Also, how long do we try to get her to sleep before we skip the nap entirely and/or, when do we try for another nap?

    • Hi Carol, This is such a common problem that I wrote a whole section about this — and how to solve it! — in The No-Cry Nap Solution. This issue can also create a problem of short naps and more night wakings. It’s a long and more complex answer – so check out the book (perhaps at your local library.)

  3. I have a 2mo old that will only catnap during the day. It started at around 6w. At first, I contributed it to a growth spurt but has only gotten worse.

    He’s awake for 1 – 1.5hrs at a time including eating and winding down for the nap. Once I see him yawn and start to blankly stare off, I’ll start his nap routine: diaper change, light massage, swaddle, quick snuggle to calm him down, then in the crib while still awake.

    I already swaddle and use a 7hr loop of ocean sounds for white noise. He’s great at night. He’ll sleep from 830-3am. Until 5-530 if he’s actually napped that day which has only been when he’s held all day while sleeping.

    Everything I’ve read suggested to use a swing or carrier but I don’t want to because then I’ll have to eventually fight the battle of him not sleeping in those things anyway.

    I know he can fall asleep on his own. He does it when he’s first put down for naps and at night. What else can I do to help him sleep longer than 45mins?

  4. Hi Elizabeth

    I have 2 of your books (sleep and nap) and find them really useful. Thank you!! I have since been recommending them to all my friends!

    I have a few questions though re nap times on which I would love your thoughts.

    My son, Luca, is nearly 5 months old, he used to be a serial catnapper when in his bed but I managed to make him sleep longer thanks to your cycle blending tips.

    He now usually sleeps 1h25 min in his crib (or in his sling if we are out and about) twice a day; first at 9.30am and then at about 1pm; he also has another final (3rd) nap at about 4.30-5pm which varies (ie 30 min if he slept well earlier or up to 1h30 if one of his previous naps went wrong and was cut short). Thereby averaging about 3-3h30 per day.

    1. This average is a bit shorter than your recommended amounts (he seems ok with it) – is his sleep time sufficient for his age?

    2. He sometimes wakes up crying after 1h25 min but shushing/patting/cycle blending do not seem to work at that stage. Is he still tired? Should I then encourage him to sleep more? I am never sure so my attempts at resettling him at that time may be half hearted.

    3. Would one 2-2h30 nap + 2 shorter 30min naps be better for him than the current plan? If so does that mean that I should wake him up from his first nap rather than encourage him to continue?

    4. Should I try to avoid waking up my baby whenever possible? Sometimes (especially in his sling) he can fall asleep (3rd nap) at 5h30 and could sleep (if undisturbed) for over 1h30 making bedtime quite late…

    5. Finally if the last nap is only a catnap, is that ok? or should he be sleeping min 1h30 for all his naps?

    Sorry for all these questions but I am very keen for him to sleep well as it is so important to him being happy during the day and developing well.

    Many thanks in advance!!

    Best
    Laura

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