Nap time can be a lifesaver. Naps are a necessity for babies. Plus, these short pockets of time can provide new parents with a small break to rest or, let’s face it, to get things done.
Despite the fact that infants take naps, the process doesn’t always come without tears. You might find yourself in a situation where your baby cries and doesn’t seem to be able to get to sleep without your help.
Here are a few approaches you can take to work through this situation:
- stay with your baby until they fall asleep
- let them cry it out
- skip nap time, which isn’t recommended
For years, pediatricians have recommended various sleep training methods, including cry it out (CIO). However, other healthcare providers have serious concerns about this method.
The CIO method is a philosophy that children who cry when put to bed will eventually learn to get themselves to sleep without your intervention through holding, rocking, or feeding them until they fall asleep.
For new parents, this can be especially stressful. Keep in mind, though, that crying is extremely common at nap time, especially for babies. Their crying often continues for a few minutes.
The original CIO method first emerged because of hygiene concerns. Parents were encouraged to let their babies cry it out as early as the 1880s as a means of germ prevention.
The idea was that if you touched your baby as little as possible, they’d be less likely to get sick. This method has since evolved into a method of sleep training for babies older than 4 to 6 months. You essentially teach your baby early on how to get themselves to sleep.
For those who agree with using sleep training, the process doesn’t mean that you let your child cry for hours on end.
For nighttime sleep training, the go-to recommendation is to check on your child if the crying lasts more than a few minutes and offer reassurance. You may be able to use the same methods for daytime naps.
If you follow the CIO method, it’s not recommended that you pick up your baby, as this will only confuse them once you put them down again for their nap.
Those who agree with this method also say that if you constantly interfere with nap time, it will take longer for your child to learn how to take naps on their own. This may become problematic, as naps play an important role in early childhood development.
It’s important to also factor in your emotional and mental well-being when using the CIO method.
For many families that have only one or two adults in the household, successful naps are considered a necessity. They allow you to have time to take care of yourself and get things done.
Despite the benefits behind letting your child cry it out during naps, there’s some debate about the potential for serious long-term effects.
Some psychology experts express unease over the possibility of psychological damage resulting from using the CIO method. There’s even more concern if it’s done incorrectly or without taking a child’s age or developmental stage into account.
Some concerns include:
- increased levels of cortisol, the stress hormone
- damage of the vagus nerve, which could lead to digestive issues
- feelings of insecurity
- inability to trust others
- relationship problems later in life
Still, other research refutes these potentially negative effects. A 2016 study involving 43 infants found that two versions of the CIO method had no negative long-term complications, including behavioral or emotional issues.
Knowing how long your child needs to nap is another key to nap-time success.
According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), newborns typically take naps two to four times a day for up to 2 hours at a time. As babies grow during the first year, the number of naps usually decreases to two times per day.
There are arguments on both sides of the conversation. If you support the CIO method, you likely want to create consistency and help teach your children to develop healthy sleep patterns on their own.
If you don’t use this method, you’re probably concerned that its potential negative effects outweigh any benefits of independence for the child, or emotional and mental well-being for the parents.
If you’re worried about the CIO method, there are ways you can help your baby get to sleep for their much-needed naps.
The Mayo Clinic, for instance, recommends setting the mood and being consistent with the time you put your baby down for a nap. Also, the NSF recommends putting your baby to bed when they’re drowsy, not waiting until they’re fully asleep.
Ultimately, as with many other parenting questions, the decision is yours to make. Some babies adapt well to the CIO method, while others don’t.
This is based on several factors, including age, sleep patterns, temperament, lifestyle, and overall health. Your doctor can recommend the most appropriate nap techniques for your child and offer advice if you’re having trouble.
As your infant reaches their first year of life, their nap time needs will change. Thus, the CIO method also needs a fresh look for toddlers.
At this stage of life, your toddler may need an adjustment to their sleep schedule if you find they simply aren’t tired at their nap time. This could involve going to bed earlier or later at night, depending on their needs.
The timing also depends on when your child goes to bed at night and when they wake up in the morning.
It’s not reasonable to expect a child to willingly take a nap if they’re not tired yet. At the same time, you’ll also want to make sure you get your child to take a nap before they become too tired.
Once you establish a sleep routine, it’s easier to stick with it. If you decide not to use the CIO method when your child is an infant, it will be more difficult to start it when they reach toddlerhood.
Keep a consistent bedtime and nap time that works well for your family. However, don’t worry too much if your routine is interrupted sometimes due to a special event.
Children ages 1 to 5 will likely take an afternoon nap. The Mayo Clinic says the length of that nap is usually between two and three hours. You might need to adjust your child’s bedtime to make sure their naps don’t interfere with sleeping at night.
One of the most important keys to nap-time success is being able to determine your child’s sleep patterns.
Some children take better naps in the late morning, while others have more success sleeping in the afternoon. Consistency is more important than the actual time of day. Your child will likely be more cooperative during nap time if you put them to bed at the same time every day.
The prospect of letting your child cry it out is just half the process when it comes to nap times.
As your child gets older — especially around preschool age — they can be stubborn and refuse to take naps. Having one or two books they enjoy or quiet activities they can do by themselves can help them fall asleep.
Most children need naps until the age of 5. Before you assume that your child is too old for naps, consider adjusting their routine.
You may also want to engage them in some playful activities shortly before nap time to get them tired and ready for a nap.
For some children, though, this makes them too wound-up to relax and take a nap. If that’s the case, plan a quiet activity, such as reading with them, just before their nap.
If you notice them acting sleepy, get them to bed before they become overtired.
At the same time, there are things you also want to avoid.
Allowing your child to use a pacifier is OK. However, putting your little one to bed with a bottle or cup for comfort isn’t recommended. This can lead to tooth decay.
According to the NSF, once your child feels comfortable with nap time, they’ll ultimately be able to get themselves to sleep without worry. They’ll also be able to get themselves back to sleep if they wake up.
In the early stages of your child’s life, successful nap times can seem impossible, especially if you aren’t getting any sleep, either. Take comfort in knowing that your child will eventually reach this milestone.