I've received several emails in the last month about short nap cycles. The questions revolve around 3 things:
1. Is it normal for naps to be SO SHORT (for example, 30 – 45 min) at around 2-4 months?
2. Is it ok to help make naps longer by [enter whatever means the mother has finally found to put her child to sleep and keep him that way for more than 10 min]?
3. How do I lengthen naps?
For once, I thought I'd be a little more succinct. My answer to 1 and 2 is: YES! Babies before 6 months or so often wake up from naps very quickly, corresponding to their short sleep cycles. To answer #3: Oftentimes you can get them BACK to sleep, with some help from one contraption or another (swings, bouncy/buzzy chairs, slings, stroller, carseat — in or out of the car, breasts, bottles).
There are far too many books out there telling you NOT to use these "sleep crutches" because babies will get used to them and NEVER. EVER. EVER. SLEEP. ON. THEIR. OWN. I come from another perspective. Because most babies' nap cycles don't lengthen until about 6 months (and they often do so with no intervention on your part), trying to eek out a nice long nap from your infant warrants any arsenal out there. I went back through some very badly filmed clips of my many attempts at getting my boys to nap during this early stage, just to remember how crazy hard it was to put these little guys to sleep and keep them that way. As you can see, I used any strategy (and many more not filmed). Swings, bouncy chairs, slings and nursing… all for the elusive 1 – 2 hour nap. They never napped that long in one stretch until they were 5 months old or so. And after about 6.5 months, they were slowly weaned off all swings and such.
So, my bottom line based, in part, on my very unscientific sample of 2: In the first 3 months or so, I would use any means necessary to get your child to nap and stay that way for more than 15 min. I did… (Please excuse the quality of the film. Oh, and the CHEESY, high-pitched squeaking with which I spoke with the camera/babies. My only excuse was SEVERE sleep deprivation).
Download Nap strategies
I've received several emails and comments asking: Is there ANYTHING I can do during these rough developmental transitions, apart from just waiting it out. Not surprisingly, many of these pleas have come from parents with 18-month old children (really, anywhere between 18 and 22-months old). We've talked already about the MASSIVE cognitive and emotional changes that are going on at that age and we've also begun to think about the sleep implications. Although there might be a few tips I could give you, most of what I've got, as you have no doubt caught on, is lots of developmental research and theory that will make you understand your child's world a little better and very few concrete, step-by-step plans for getting your child to sleep during developmental transitions. I thought I'd share with you my graphic reminder of what child development generally looks like. Early development is indeed less like a linear increase in one thing or another and more like a pendulum that swings between periods of sensitivity/vulnerability and stability/resilience. As I head myself into the next transition period with my boys (they'll be 3 1/2 very, very soon… gah!), I like to keep this pendulum swing in mind. It helps me to remember that "this too shall pass" and, also, how far we've come.
So, without further ado, one round of the pendulum swing chez moi… in pictures:
Here are the boys at 18 months. It says it ALL to me. The chaos, the
testing of boundaries, the emotional edginess, the unpredictability.
And here we are two months ago, at 3 years old. Same chair, same boys, whole different world.
And soon the chaos will once again be upon us. Bring it on!
I've been getting a few emails about naps and the complete randomness that seems to characterize the first 6 months of nap times. A few of these emails have been a little funny, the gist of which can be summarized as: "You're so lucky you're a child psychologist. It must have been so much easier dealing with your babies and the sleep issues that come up." SO not true. At least not in the first 6 months. See… I like predictability. I like knowing what will happen, or not happen, and when. That's what I love about developmental psychology: There are principles that govern how children change from one stage to the next and the vast majority of kids DO change in predictable ways from one age to the next. I knew that sleeping through the night was not going to be in my future for a while with my twin boys. But I kept hearing these words of wisdom: "You can always nap when THEY nap. Make sure to ALWAYS sleep when they sleep." Hahahahahahahahaha! Yeah, not so much. In the first 6 months, neither of my boys slept for more than 30 – 45 min at a time. I'd nurse one to sleepiness, swaddle, rock, bounce, sing, shush, put him down. Lather, rinse, repeat with the second boy. By then the first was up again. CERTAIN sleep gurus <cough> Weissbluth <cough> seemed to insist that I was damaging my kids' brains by "letting" them wake up after such short naps. My kids didn't read the right books. (In all honesty, I think there are some valuable insights in that book, but I do have some problems with it as well.) Suffice it to say that I was relieved when I learned that many babies don't consolidate their regular, extended nap schedules until around the age of 6 months.
For the sake of keeping it real, I thought I'd share this picture because it pretty much says it all. I was such an avid Karp follower (I still think he's great). I checked off my 5 Ss and hoped to high heaven for my babies to be the sleepiest babies on the block…