It’s incomprehensible to any parent that a child should resist sleep, and yet they do. Sleep Expert Nicci Proome looks at why your baby might be refusing to nap.
We have all there as a mum, dad or caregiver: walking up and down the halls, bouncing on the exercise ball, ready to pull our hair out! We can clearly see our grumpy bubs is exhausted, but why won’t they just nap! We are exhausted for them. Could we be missing something?
Here are five main contributors to nap refusal.
- Your baby’s sleep environment might be over-stimulating
There is a high chance that even though you and your baby boutique designed your baby’s bedroom beautifully, there might be some tiny factors contributing to a more wakeful state during their wind-down and putting-to-sleep phase. What baby really needs is a calming environment with as few distractions as possible.
For example, the mobile hanging over their cot flashing lights and singing gently to them is a lovely little trinket, but to a baby or a toddler it’s a fantastic distraction that can keep them entertained for hours.
Our aim would be to create a sleep space for your baby. This would include a dark, cool room with some tranquil white noise in the background. That means little to no visual distractions with simple decor and a gentle wind-down before all naps and bedtime. This will give you a better chance of a nap happening and your own sleep not completely falling apart.
- You might have missed their sleep window
A sleep window is the amount of time in hours and minutes that a baby or toddler’s body is able to remain awake before they are naturally ready for sleep again. There’s a natural rise and fall of hormones within their circadian rhythm, which should be able to stay within normal range before secreting cortisol, which is a stress hormone.
Catching your baby or toddler within these windows is of utmost importance – if they become overtired, they can become wired and extremely difficult if not impossible at nap and bedtime.I have heard too many times that “My baby is not tired enough to go down for a nap!” In many cases it is not that they are not tired enough to go down for a nap, but that they are actually overtired and have missed their sleep window.
- During the day your baby has a physiological drive to sleep less
During the night your baby’s level of melatonin rises and their cortisol drops, which results in the perfect concoction for better sleep. Melatonin starts rising rapidly from around 6pm, as the sun sets. This is why we generally get much better sleep from our babies and toddlers overnight, because melatonin is at its highest and cortisol at its lowest.
After midnight, corstisol begins to rise and slowly wake us up for the day as the sun rises. Our melatonin also runs out and serotonin increases. Cortisol peaks at around 8am and stays relatively high throughout the day, which tends to make naps a lot harder, even though our babies are clearly tired. Falling asleep for naps during the day is a lot harder to achieve than going to sleep at night because of the rise and fall of cortisol and melatonin combined.
4. They’re ready to drop a nap
In the early days your newborn will be napping at least around five times per day. At around 18 months they will be dropping down all the way to one nap per day, and by three, they won’t nap at all. There are so many nap transitions throughout this time that it can be difficult to keep up. If you are struggling with naps perhaps your baby’s routine might be slightly off or you’re not matching their sleep needs to what is age-appropriate.
Let’s have a look at some classic signs that your routine might be slightly off or your baby is ready to drop a nap:
- consistently plays in their cot/bed for a really long time at every nap
- consistently has very short naps all day, yet still looks tired
- suddenly extremely upset at bedtime and nap times
- they’ve started waking up excessively, commonly before 10pm
- waking much earlier than before, any time prior to 6am
- they have become increasingly miserable between naps
- they started to fall asleep whenever you drive anywhere
- nap refusal has become excessively worse
- It is after 3pm
Naps after 3pm are close to impossible and require way more parental assistance. Do not beat yourself up if your baby will not fall asleep unassisted at this time – it’s 100% normal and it is advised that a quick nap at the end of the day after 3pm is actually taken in the arms. We all feel hideously tired and grumpy in the later afternoon, but it is not a time to expect great naps from a baby. Anything from 30 to 45 minutes is about the most we can reasonably expect at this time. I wouldn’t get too stressed about it, as the late-afternoon nap disappears around seven to eight months anyway. Fortunately, in the later afternoon it’s lovely to take your baby out for a walk in your baby carrier or pram, or to cuddle up together on the couch or rocking chair .
In conclusion, watch your bubs carefully. If they are not showing signs of tiredness, then watch the clock. Sometimes a bubs can go from hero to zero in a matter of minutes with very little warning.
When popping bubs to bed, ensure their sleep space is a sleep-enabling one, set for the onset of a baby’s sleep and not that of an adult. Remember to check your age-appropriate nap routines to ensure bubs is not getting too many or too few naps, and ‒ most importantly ‒not getting too much sleep at the end of the day, creating a bedtime battle.