Nap Time - the Key to Success
A common reason for a baby fighting sleep at nap time and bedtime is overtiredness. You may notice this if your little one has one day out of her usual routine where her naps are disrupted and you need to help them go to sleep by intervening before she finally goes into a “dead” sleep. Your little one may then wake throughout the night at least a few times.
This is because she has become over stimulated through being awake for too long in the day, or due to poor quality naps (typically 30 minutes or less) when out and about.
If your baby regularly naps poorly in the day, sleeping as and when she gets the chance, she may be awake for too long a period for her age. As a result she may become chronically fatigued, find it harder to fall asleep, and sleep problems start to arise because you need to assist her to sleep.
Of course, some babies really do need less sleep than others and can tolerate longer periods of time awake. But if your baby is finding it hard to settle to sleep, doesn’t nap well in the day, and/or is waking regularly throughout the night, I suggest you look first at the amount of day sleep she is having and the length of time she is staying awake. This could be the answer to solving your baby sleep problems.
You will know how long your baby can stay awake while content and happy by watching her closely. As soon as she starts to fuss, become frustrated, rub her eyes, or show other signs of tiredness, it’s time for her to sleep. The length of time your baby is content while awake will vary but it’s probably a lot less time than you think. Some approximate ‘contented awake’ times are:
0 - 6 weeks (15 – 45 minutes)
6 – 12 weeks (45 – 90 minutes)
3 – 4 months (1.5 – 2 hours)
4 – 6 months (2 – 3 hours)
6 – 12 months (2 – 4 hours)
1 – 2 years (3 – 5 hours)
2 – 3 years (4.5 – 7 hours)
3 – 5 years (5 – 12 hours)
Interestingly, babies seem to have their shortest, ‘contented awake’ time in the morning and these then increase as the day goes along. So the longest period of ‘contented awake’ time is at the end of the day. For example a seven month old baby may need a nap 1 hour and 45 minutes after waking in the morning. She is likely to then have a further two naps in the day and may be contentedly awake for three hours before her final sleep.
If your baby is staying awake for a longer period of time than is right for her age, she is very likely fighting sleep due to overtiredness. Alternatively, she may fall asleep at the end of the day straight away due to exhaustion, but then wake regularly through the night because she was over stimulated before bedtime.
Another reason why your baby may fight sleep at nap time is because she isn’t being prepared for what is about to happen. Your seven month old may be playing happily. She’s been awake for about two hours and she starts to fuss. First she becomes frustrated with her toys, then she starts to rub her eyes with the back of her hand.
You know she’s tired so you pick her up and put her in her cot. She shouts, screams even. In and out you go, trying to settle her, until she is beyond tired. Eventually, you get her up, concluding that she wasn’t ready for a nap after all.
When you put your baby down for a nap, it’s really important you do it as soon as she’s tired because the window of opportunity here is quite small. Even just ten minutes to tidy the kitchen could mean she’s moved from tired and ready for a nap to too tired and over stimulated.
As soon as you see your baby is tired, take her to where she sleeps and then spend some time preparing her for her nap. The older your baby, the more time this will be. For example, an 18 month old may need a story and milk while he winds down, but a six month old baby may just need a cuddle, and/or a small feed. The aim is help your baby become drowsy and ready to sleep.
The preparation for bedtime will be longer, probably involving a bath and some music or soothing sleep sound so your baby knows it’s night time.
A tired (not over tired) baby, who has been prepared for sleep through a calming routine, will find it much easier to fall asleep without your help for naps. And a well rested baby, who has napped well in the day, will be able to settle herself to sleep at bedtime. Which is essential if you want your baby to sleep through the night without your help.
Free Baby Sleep Guide