Babies and Napping

Naptime is a blessing for you and your baby. Here are some tips on how to make this important time as beneficial as possible for you both.

Why Should Babies Nap?

Naps are not just important for their restorative value, although that is their most obvious benefit. Children's sleep expert Elizabeth Pantley describes some of the other advantages to napping:

- Adequate sleep is important in brain development. Some research has shown that daytime napping may help move new information into a more permanent place in a child's memory.

- Napping can affect nighttime sleep. A child who needs a nap but does not get one can become overtired and have trouble falling asleep at night.

- Studies have shown that children who nap have longer attention spans and are less fussy than those who do not nap.

- A child's biology dictates that a nap is necessary after midday, when energy levels tend to drop. (Adults feel the same way, but sleep is not usually an option for them.)

- Sleep releases stress-fighting hormones.

- Napping can help a child catch up on sleep if their previous night's sleep was disrupted.

When Should Babies Nap?

The answer to this question varies according to the age of the baby. Newborns, easily overwhelmed by their new surroundings, tend to nap frequently. They often have catnaps throughout the day, with a couple of longer naps in the morning and afternoon. Between three and six months, babies settle into a routine of morning and afternoon naps. This age presents the ideal opportunity for you to establish a nap routine that works with your baby's biological signals for rest.

Young babies between the ages of three and six months generally have one morning nap of about an hour, and one afternoon nap of slightly longer duration, usually closer to two hours in length. Some babies are more comfortable with three shorter naps of about 45 minutes each. The number of naps is not as important as the total amount of sleep and the general disposition of your baby: if Baby is cranky, chances are she is not getting enough sleep.

Morning and afternoon naps continue throughout the first year. Between one and two years of age, most children can go without a morning nap, but still need an afternoon nap. The afternoon nap typically continues until about the age of four.

As for the exact time a baby should nap, that is mostly Baby's decision. Some sleep experts advise that when trying to establish a nap schedule, you plan to put Baby down about two hours after she wakes in the morning and again after a midday meal. Babies who require a third nap usually take it in the early evening.

Most babies indicate they are ready for a nap through a variety of signals, discussed later in this article. If you try to put a baby down when he is not tired, chances are pretty slim that he'll fall asleep. Heed Baby's signs and try to work with his natural sleep cycles and you'll find a good basis for a nap routine.

How Long Should Naps Be?

Sleep is a critical component of babies' mental and physical development so it is important that they get enough of it. Babies will usually become tired on their own and will sleep when they need to, but some parents like to create a schedule. Do what works best for you - let Baby dictate sleep time or set a schedule. The key is to make sure that your baby gets the sleep she needs.

The amount of naptime required decreases as a baby gets older. At four months, a baby needs about 4 to 6 hours of naptime. At six months, babies tend to nap a little less, needing about 3 to 4 hours. By his first birthday, Baby needs about 2 to 3 hours of naptime and he may get it from one nap or two. Once she is into her toddler years, your little one will need only one nap of about 1 to 2 hours.

Sleep Signs - Knowing When Baby is Ready for a Nap

Learning your baby's sleep signs is extremely important. If you do not recognize them or choose to ignore them, the "sleep window" will close and you'll end up with a cranky, overtired baby who cannot fall asleep.

Signs to look for include:

- rubbing eyes

- yawning

- slowing down and quieting down

- fussiness

- thumb sucking or reaching for a pacifier or sleep toy

- wanting to nurse or have a bottle

In an ideal world, when Baby is ready to sleep, you would be able to put her down and let her fall asleep. For some parents, this does actually happen. For the unlucky ones it does not. Depending on the sleep habits of your baby, you may want to establish a nap routine that resembles, but is not exactly the same as, your nighttime routine. You might read a short book, play some soft music, or rock the baby to sleep. If your baby seems ready to drop as soon as his head hits the mattress, skip the routine and just put him down. You might be pleasantly surprised by his ability to drift off by himself.

When Baby Won't Nap

There are a variety of reasons why a baby won't nap. If a baby is rested and getting up earlier than you prefer, there is little you can do. If you feel that your baby is not getting the rest she needs, you may need to change your routine.

Often, resistance to naps comes when babies are overtired. Make sure to heed your baby's sleep signs, as discussed above, and get her to bed when she is starting to act tired.

If your baby wakes early and is in need of more rest, try getting him to go back to sleep. Depending on your philosophy about babies and sleep, you can rock him or just gently pat him on the back and let him fall back to sleep on his own.

Make sure Baby's sleep environment is conducive to sleep. A dark and slightly cool room is best.

Older babies may be waking early simply because they do not need as many naps as you are giving them. Try dropping a nap and see if that helps.

David Beart is the owner of www.professorshouse.com.Our site covers such topics as children, family, cooking and other household issues.

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