A Plan of Attack for Naps

Sleepy ToddlerNaps are an important piece of overall healthy sleep, and nailing down a consistent nap schedule is often half the battle during the sleep training process. The best way to get naps on the right track is establishing timing, so you are able to put your child to sleep according to their biological sleep wave (learn more about sleep waves in this previous post). When a child misses their sleep wave, they move into their overtired state, and as a result they will either put up a long battle before eventually going to sleep, or not fall asleep at all.

How do I catch my child’s sleep wave?
Once you figure out how much wake time your child can handle, you will have a good idea on when to put them down for their nap before they become overtired. This can take a few days of experimenting, so be patient.

After your baby has been awake for even just 30 minutes, I suggest taking out a piece of paper and writing down any “sleepy cues”, the hints that they are entering their sleep wave, and noting the time you see them. If you are not sure whether it is a cue or not, write it down anyway. Here are some examples of sleepy cues.

  • Becoming drowsy
  • Decreased activity
  • Slower motions
  • Less vocal
  • Sucking is weaker or slower
  • Calmer
  • Appears disinterested in surrounding
  • Eyes are less focused
  • Eyelids drooping
  • Yawning
  • A lull in energy

Sleepy cues and overtired signs can be hard to differentiate, so I suggest also writing any overtired signs down and noting the time as well, to help you better understand your child’s behavior patterns. Here are some examples of overtired signs:

  • Fussing
  • Rubbing eyes
  • Irritable
  • Cranky
  • Tantrum/Meltdown
  • Inability to entertain themselves

Understanding and following your child’s “sleepy cues” and “overtired signs” will give a good indicator on the time that your child is the sleepiest and the most ready for a nap. The goal is to begin a soothing routine promptly at the first sign of a sleepy cue, so that you catch the sleep wave on time.

What if my child doesn’t show sleepy cues?
Some children don’t show sleepy cues, and instead go right to exhibiting overtired signs. These are the children that need to be watched even more vigilantly. Although their cues might be there, if they are not obvious they are often easy to miss. In this case it is important to use the clock more to follow the child’s lead.

As discussed above, write down what overtired signs you observe and the time that they start. This will take a few days of diligent observing. Once you have a good idea of when you start to see overtired signs, you will know that prior to that time is when you need to begin a soothing routine.

What if my child doesn’t seem tired at all?
It is very important not to wait until it is obvious that your child is exhausted to begin attempting to put them down for a nap. Especially if they don’t show clear “sleepy cues.” Remember, the more tired the child is, the harder it is for them to fall asleep.

I can recall when I first went through the sleep training process with my son, I was reading him stories during our bedtime routine as he was crawling all over the room getting into everything he could. As soon as I picked him up and began the last step of the bedtime routine process, he would lay his head on my shoulder and be ready to go in his crib. There were times he was asleep before I reached for the door handle to leave his room.

Naps can take 2-6 weeks to solidify, and during this sleep training time there will be “good” nap days and “bad” nap days, just remember that this is normal and it will get better! It will take some time, but getting to know your child’s behavior patterns will help you find the perfect naptime for your child.