Nap Time Battles

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I am desperate to teach my 5 1/2 month old son to nap during the day. He sleeps fairly well through the night (usually sleeping about six hours, waking up for a feed, then sleeping another four or five hours), but during the day he will NOT nap. He can be exhausted, fall asleep while nursing and the minute I put him down (unless he is totally zonked out) he wakes up and starts screaming bloody murder. I have tried the method which worked to get him to sleep at night, letting him "cry it out" but it just seems that it isn't working... my goal is to teach him to nap during the day so that he isn't miserably tired by 7pm. If he naps during the day, he can stay up til 9, then sleep til 3 or so, and then sleep til about 8am... if he doesn't nap, he is so tired by 7 that we have to force him to stay awake and we are all miserable.

I put him down to nap in his crib, in a darkened room (blackout shades on the one window, etc.). I've tried everything I can think of and I'm at my wit's end. I just don't think I am having the desired effect. Any advice would be GREATLY appreciated!!

Thank you!  Lo


Dear Lo,

Having an infant that has not figured out how to meet his own sleep needs can be a real challenge. First, be reassured, there is hope. This will not last forever (in fact if you do nothing he will grow up and not need so much sleep and grow out of it). However, if you are like most parents, this is very stressful and it really makes your day a lot harder. Not only does he "need" a nap, but you need a break. When I was working as a family doctor, infant sleep problems were one of the most stressful for families.

Having helped a lot of families with similar challenges, I learned a few things:

There really is no "right way" to solve this problem. The person who will figure out what the "right way" is for your family is you. You will probably figure out some things that make the problem better...and he will start to grow out of it and within 6 months life will be better. Every infant is different. Some sleep easily. Some have a lot of trouble with the transition always. Some only have trouble during the day or during the night. What you do may make your infants transition a little easier or a little harder, but some of this is developmental (and each child develops differently). Your challenge is not to take this personally and look for small changes that make life easier while he learns what to do to get to sleep.

Here are some suggestions:


Most infants really like routines. That does not mean that you have to watch your clock and pay attention to minutes, but if your son tends to "like" to nap (when he is successful) in the afternoon, having a regular afternoon routine will be helpful. That would be a time when you would want to avoid errands, visits, appointments and visitors. If for some reason you miss a day (and are out for the afternoon, for example) you might find that it takes 2-3 days for your infant to "settle back in" to the regular routine.

Taking time out

Some infants are incredibly sensitive to parent stress levels. One solution that has been successful for some parents (especially those without other small children) is taking a nap WITH your child in the afternoon. No, you can't get your housework done, but you can use the rest too. Then at 8 or 9 pm after your son gets to bed you still might have energy left to do of the things you need to do to take care of you. All over the world parents sleep with their parents. Our culture has had a problem with that, but you might feel like it could work for you.

Falling asleep while nursing

Some kids fall asleep nursing and can stay asleep. Others will rarely stay asleep. Just because he appears "zonked" does not mean that he is in a stable sleep pattern. Some kids will stay asleep after nursing if they are not moved and if they still have the opportunity to suck. You could try nursing him in your bed (or even on a quilt or soft rug on the floor) and slip a small pacifier in when you stop nursing. Remember to surround him (ahead of time so you won't wake him up when you leave) with barriers so he won't roll of of the bed. This technique will NOT work when he gets strong enough to move around, though you may find by then that he has gotten better at falling asleep by himself.

Nap time environment

Not all kids need the dark to sleep. You tried making his room really dark which did not seem to work. You could try leaving the curtains open or putting on a quiet tape of soothing music. What you are looking for is not what works for all kids (because there is no answer to that) but what might work for your son in particular.

Crying it out

Some people advocate just picking a nap time, setting up a routine and letting him cry it out. It works for some people. For other families it just creates more stress because the parents don't feel good about it. Those who choose crying it out, believe that even infants have the ability to self-soothe. If you do decide to let him cry it out, do it with confidence and be consistent. Many parents who have tried this with confidence and consistency find it takes about three days. Inconsistency is just torture for both parent and child.

You have to be the judge for you. I am not convinced that at 5 1/2 months that all infants are developmentally capable of getting to sleep in the middle of an exciting day without more assistance. Some kids clearly are. Trust your intuition here and experiment. What works for you as a parent AND for your infant? Only you know.

During this time.... do try to remember that this will go away. No matter what you do (or don't do) it will get better. Remember to take care of yourself (take time out, get exercise) and to enjoy your infant when he is not tired.

Best wishes!

Jody McVittie, MD., Certified Positive Discipline Associate

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