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How to Get a Baby to Day-Time Nap
How do you get a baby into a daytime napping routine?
Do you use the conventional “Feed – Play – Sleep” cycle?
Are behavioural interventions appropriate for newborns and infants?
Is there a “right” or “wrong” way to train your baby into a sleep routine? Do you even need to train your baby into a sleep routine, or is it better to follow the natural cues for feeding, sleeping, and play?
I would argue that there isn’t a “right” or “wrong” way and answering the question about whether training and routines are required really comes down to your individual circumstances and goals.
There are different approaches within the literature, that have all been tried and tested, plus some new emerging evidence that literally turns the well-known “Feed – Play – Sleep” cycle on its head.
I think the only “right” way to manage your baby’s sleep pattern is to follow the way that feel’s right for you and your baby.
I’m no expert on sleep, but I do take an interest in behaviour and like to know what all the options (that have some research behind them) have to say, in order to gain some insights behind what might, or might not work.
The million dollar question that doesn’t seem to have an answer.
There isn’t really a standard answer for this, but I do think it’s a good place to start.
Many sources indicate that infants sleep, on average, between 9.3 and 20 hours across a period of 24 hours.
How’s that for approximately a 10.5-hour gap between the babies who sleep the most and the babies who don’t sleep so much?
Of course, the sleep isn’t all that likely to happen in one chunk either. Some sleep for 6-7 hours at a time, while others only sleep for 3-4. Others might only nap for 20 – 30 minutes.
On that note too, the amount of sleep an infant gets might change every day too.
I’d like to think these numbers suggest that it’s different for everyone. Whatever is considered “normal” is probably whatever looks like “normal” for you and your baby.
Another one of those questions that just doesn’t seem to have an easy answer.
Some argue that a dark room with no noise or interruptions is best, while others swear by keeping the baby in the same room as the parent for daytime naps.
The benefits of the quiet, dark room include the potential for the baby to develop an association with a particular time and place for naps (i.e. the baby learns that a dark quiet room means it’s time to go to sleep) while the downfalls of this approach include that it may be difficult for the baby to naturally identify the difference between night/day sleeps and may experience greater periods of being unsettled and take longer to get to sleep both during the day and at night.
From the parents point of view, the dark, quiet room approach could be limiting in the sense of being active and out and about during the day (i.e. if babies are conditioned to nap in the same room as the parents during the day, in theory, at least, they should be able to nap wherever their parent or caregiver is present).
This is a fairly common practice and quite popular amongst modern families.
The proposed benefits of this approach include decreased risk of over-feeding and reduced association of feeding leading to sleep (i.e. baby learns to self-soothe and sleep without being fed or comforted prior).
The downsides of this approach are that some studies have found that because this approach is parent-led, rather than based on the babies’ cues for the need to be fed, play or sleep, it could lead to increased behaviour problems at 6 months of age and approximately 50% more crying when compared to approaches that are based on the cues or signals of the baby.
Co-sleeping basically means sleeping in the same room as your baby (not necessarily in the same bed). It is a fairly well-known practice and thought to be used across most cultures.
There are different trains of thought around the benefits and down-sides of co-sleeping, including the amount and quality of sleep achieved by the baby and parents when engaging in co-sleeping arrangements (i.e. it is thought that co-sleeping may result in more frequent waking on the part of the parents… but who’s to know if that is only due to the fact that the baby is closer to them and more likely to wake the parents while active or making noise, even though they are asleep when compared to being in a separate room?)
One recent study, however, did find a significant increase in the amount and quality of sleep achieved by mothers who chose to sleep in separate rooms, compared to those who chose to co-sleep. One interesting thing to note, however, is that mothers who experienced difficulties with the amount of quality of sleep during pregnancy were also more likely to co-sleep... which could affect the interpretation of these results.
Although these results were still found to remain significant when breastfeeding was controlled for, the findings did also indicate that breastfeeding was associated with reduced amount and quality of sleep, as well as a likely predictor of co-sleeping arrangements.
Sleeping arrangements didn’t appear to have an impact on the amount or quality of sleep for infants (so if you're wondering whether co-sleeping makes a difference to day-times naps, my best guess is... probably not).
Sleep quality for mothers was found to increase after their infants had reached 3 months of age, and day-time naps were also found to decrease around this time.
A relatively new approach, that has some research behind it. This is the one I mentioned, that I see as turning the “Feed – Play – Sleep” cycle on its head.
My understanding of this approach is that it looks more to the baby’s cues of tiredness and advocates for comforting and/or feeding as triggers or pre-cursers to sleep, and promotes the notion that babies sleep easier when in the same room as their mother.
From a research perspective, the results of a pilot study found that for infants who display persistent cry/fuss behaviour when being put to sleep at night, the time they spent fussing / crying was reduced by 1 hour on average. The study also found an improvement in the mothers’ reported symptoms of post-natal depression and anxiety when using this approach
Lastly, the question that initially interested me on this topic was whether behavioural interventions should be applied to newborns and infants. Based on the research I have read (as you can see sited below) I personally believe that appropriately responding to a babies’ natural cues makes the most sense, and is likely to elicit the most positive outcomes for both the baby and parent involved.
I do, however, acknowledge that not all parents are in a position where they have the choice to take a natural approach and may look to other options if they need to try to transition their babies into a routine to suit work or other commitments.
I also caution that if a baby is experiencing sleep difficulties, it is probably best investigated and responded to by a medical professional, as it is unlikely that the cause is behavioural at such a young age (which is interesting, since much of the literature suggests behavioural intervention as the solution to sleep difficulties and excessive cry/fuss behaviours)!
Regardless of the scenario, I do think it is ultimately up to each parent to decide what feels right and suits their baby and their situation best.
How did you get your baby to day-time nap? Share your experiences in the comments below!
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