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Nap Coaching...the challenge is worth it!

Photo by Sasha Suzi

Naps can be challenging for parents and for children. The drive to sleep is not as strong as it is at night, and it’s harder for babies to want to leave the excitement of the day to take a much-needed snooze. Nap coaching takes consistency + time + effort, but when it “clicks” it’s great for you and for your baby.

Tips for Success

•  Determine if your baby is ready for nap coaching. Most babies have the capacity to work on nap skills by 6 months. If you have a younger baby, then just work on filling his daytime sleep needs any way you can, you can come back to nap coaching when he is older.

•  Know how much daytime sleep your baby needs. A 6-month old baby is going to have different nap needs than a 3-year old.

•  Watch sleep cues (yawning, losing focus, a certain cry) and keep an eye on the clock, we want to catch him before he is overtired.

•  Set-up his sleep environment so it is dark; they need help blocking out the excitement of the world, so the darker the better. Using white noise can also help to block out outside distractions.

•  Move into naptime with a regular naptime routine – make it a shorter version of his normal bedtime routine. Make time for transitions, don’t go from running around outside to straight into bed, add some calming down time.

•  Use back-up nap strategies. Try for a couple of naps during the day in his regular sleep space. Monitor his sleep intake. If, by 3:00 p.m., he still hasn’t had enough daytime sleep, then go for an “emergency nap” or “back-up” nap. This is where a car ride, stroller ride, the swing/ carrier or even holding to sleep can help. Motion sleep is better than no sleep at all.

Nap coaching takes hard work!

Naps take longer to settle into place than nighttime coaching. With consistency, most babies can master daytime sleep within 3-4 weeks. Plan to keep your calendar clear of regular commitments for a couple of weeks while you are nap coaching. Remember that the more practice he gets, the quicker he will learn this new skill. You will probably feel like you are stuck in the house more during nap coaching, but in the long run, you will actually gain more flexibility and freedom. You’ll be able to predict when he needs to sleep so you’ll have more freedom to make plans around his naps- he’ll be a happier baby when he’s awake and his sleep at night will also improve.

How to nap coach: 

Most times, you can use the same sleep strategies during naps that you use at bedtime. However, you may find that an alert baby may be fine with the Shuffle at bedtime, but be more excited or irritated with a parent in the room for naps. If the Shuffle is not working for naps after 2 – 3 days, go ahead and try a different approach. Time checks can work well if you have another child at home and can only focus so much time and attention to nap training.

You can use a different coaching strategy for naps than the strategy you use at night. It’s most important to be consistent with how you will coach at night, and how you will coach for naps.

I usually recommend that parents start nap coaching after the nights have improved so that their baby does not become overtired. However, if time is an issue, it is possible to do night coaching and nap coaching at the same time.

Tips for Nap coaching: 

Naps take practice, which means that you need to give your child the time to master the skill. Here are the Gentle Sleep Coach napping guidelines:

•  Don’t start naps before 8:00 a.m., otherwise his whole day will shift earlier, and you may be faced with a long gap between afternoon nap and bedtime. After naps improve, you can begin to gradually push this nap later in 15-minute increments.

•  Coach for 45 – 60 minutes to get him to sleep for his nap. If he doesn’t go to sleep, then leave the room for a couple of minutes, and come back in with a dramatic wake-up-  throw open the curtains, turn on the light, sing a song. Give him the message, “I am getting you out of bed because Mommy/ Daddy says it’s time to get up – not because you have refused to nap for the past 30 minutes.” If he doesn’t sleep for his nap, then his next nap or bedtime will happen sooner. Watch forsleepy cues.

•  Aim for at least one sleep cycle of 45 minutes. For example, if he sleeps for 50 minutes he has the minimum amount of sleep he needs in his "sleep tank". Do a dramatic wake up. Get on with your day, and watch the sleepy cues for the timing of the next nap or bedtime.

•  If he sleeps less than 45 minutesit’s what’s called a “disaster nap, try to coach him back to sleep. Try for 30-60 minutes to get him back to sleep. If he doesn’t go back to sleep, just do a dramatic wake-up and get on with your day.   Watch for sleepy cues for the timing of the next nap/ bedtime. If he does go back to sleep, even for a few minutes, that’s success because he’s learning to transition to the next sleep cycle! Do your dramatic wake-up and watch for sleepy cues for the timing of the next nap/ bedtime.

•  Try for 2 naps in his crib before going to your backup nap strategy. One word of caution: make the back-up nap different from the habit you are trying to break. For example, if you are no longer holding the baby to sleep at bedtime, then use a different sleep support for the emergency nap to get your baby to sleep.

•  Don’t let naps go past 4:30 p.m., even if it means you wake your child. Stick with a regular bedtime as much as possible. If your baby sleeps late in the day, he will have a harder time going to sleep at bedtime.

•  If your child has had short naps and not much daytime sleep, get him into bed anytime after 6:00 p.m. You want him in bed before he is overtired.

Remember that nap coaching can be tough, and naps take longer to fall into place, but the predictability and freedom you gain will be worth it – and your baby will get the daytime sleep he needs!

Please contact me for more help or information!

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