Naps ... your daytime sleep essentials

Author: Heidi Holvoet, PhD

Beautiful mom and toddler

Make the most of nap time ... your baby needs every single second of it. Naps help her through the day in a good mood, allow for optimal development and health and - yes it is indeed true - improve sleeping through the night.

To get fast and lasting results, opt to use my 3-step No-Tears Naps program.

Let's quickly review why precisely daytime sleep is so important and then let's see how to get the most of it.

The importance of naps

Naps are important for more reasons than we usually think of. Please keep each of them in mind because they will help with understanding and therefore improving naps.

One or more daily sleeps are necessary to:

  • keep baby content all day long: a young baby needs daytime sleep, because otherwise she becomes utterly tired, i.e. cranky, fussy, unpleasantly over-active, ...).
  • improve self soothing: in order to wind down peacefully and be ready to settle independently, a baby must not be over-tired, not even very tired. Just readily tired, otherwise we cannot reasonably expect much self soothing ...
  • improve sleeping through the night: it may seem a little contradictory but to have a good quality night (i.e. optimal sleep with the right amount of light and deep sleep phases and the least unnecessary awakenings) a baby has to be well-rested. Only regular daytime naps can ensure that.
  • ensure optimal brain development: just like at night, the brain does crucial work while asleep. Recent research[1] again confirmed this, showing that even for preschool children naps still have a unique functions (for example in memory enhancement). And loss of daytime sleep is not recovered at night ...
  • establish a healthy sleep pattern: this is only possible with a sleep schedule that is precisely adapted to baby's needs at any particular time. Imposing a mid-morning nap (because that's recommended as typical right now) if baby really needs an early-morning and a noon one.only brings problems. Also your little one may need a simple Eat-Play-Sleep pattern with no fixed times, or on the contrary fare best on a fixed-time schedule. See below for how to get the nap time schedule right.
  • give mom and dad a break: not in the least, it's important to take some time for yourself. And please, don't use this quiet time to get chores done, allow yourself some relaxing time! (Trust me, only good will come of it!).

Baby sleeping with arms up

Best practices for best naps

To most newborns and in the first weeks, naps come naturally. Most babies sleep all the time when they are not feeding. But then with increased awake time comes needing to settle down for a nap and that's often when the trouble starts.

Or even after napping happily for several months, it often suddenly becomes a fight ...

Always start with these must-do's to solve existing nap issues and avoid future ones:

  1. A daytime bedtime routine: upcoming naps must always be recognizable for your baby so make sure you have a simple and pleasant routine (fixed actions and words you always do and say) in place for that. It can be the same as for nights, or slightly different, up to you. This getting-in-the-mood is just crucial as for nights so don't leave it out on account of being "just a nap".
  2. Create peace and quiet: use blinding curtains, urge siblings to be quiet, avoid buzzing activity in & around the house - if needed a white noise machine can work wonders at nap time! You don't need absolute silence but a sufficiently relaxed and peaceful atmosphere for your baby to be able to quiet down for a rest.
  3. Ensure a perfect-fit daytime schedule: to be able to settle and actually sleep during the day, and get all the benefits from daytime sleep, you need your baby to go down at times that she needs them most - not too early not too late.

    Observing is key to find out what your ideal nap schedule is, whether that is an Eat-Play-Sleep or fixed-time one. Use my Sleepy Signs Journal (free printable download) to do that and optionally follow the 3-steps in my Nap in a Snap guide to get it right. Doing the 3-step program helps you find out not only when to nap, but also how often and when to skip a nap, how to settle, etc.
  4. Practice self soothing flexibly: being able to settle independently is always important so if you are both up to practicing it at nap time that is great. But if it's not working well yet, don't demand too much. If you are mainly working on getting the schedule right (after which everything will become easier!) prefer any sleep at all, and at well-chosen regular times, before demanding independent settling too.
  5. Facilitate everywhere-napping: Yes napping in the stroller or baby carrier counts, as said above getting any sleep at all is important, and sleeping on the move at regular times is a great help while establishing the regular schedule.

  6. Nap guide cover

    More about Heidi's award-winning 3-step program for improving naps

    [1] l Laura Kurdziel, Kasey Duclos, and Rebecca M. C. Spencer, Proceedings of the National Academy of the United States of America (PNAS).