How & Why New Skills May Impact Your Baby’s Naps
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I love to share my favorite nap fun-fact with parents of babies: during your baby’s first year+ of life, his morning nap and his afternoon nap actually serve different biological purposes. Yes, they both help your tired little bug rest up, but the morning nap is mentally restorative in nature and the afternoon nap is physically restorative. How do we know this? According my favorite pediatrician Dr. Marc Weissbluth, this occurrence is evidenced by the fact that “there is more REM sleep in the morning nap compared to the afternoon nap”. And we know from research that REM sleep is directly related to brain maturation and restoration and that non-REM sleep is replenishing for the body.
Practice Makes Perfect
I have seen further evidence to this fact in my practice. For example, I often receive emails from parents of 11-12 month old babies at their wits end because their amazing napper has boycotted his afternoon nap for 6 straight days. Right away, without knowing many of the details, I can almost always assume their baby is on the cusp of mastering standing, cruising, or walking. You see, not only do the two naps serve two distinct purposes, but they also tend to be when babies practice their new skills. If your child is going through a cognitive leap, or mastering a fine motor skill, often the morning nap is impacted, as that is when your child chooses to go over their new skill. And when they are mastering a new gross motor skill, they practice during their afternoon nap. Working on new skills during sleep times makes much more sense than one would initially think – after all, naptimes are the one time a day your baby gets to be truly alone with his thoughts. You may or may not find all this fascinating, but if you’re still reading this then you’re surely wondering: when can you expect these blips in your child’s naps and what should you do when they occur?
Common Times for Naptime Crazies
- Disruptions to the morning nap: Assuming your baby is on an age appropriate schedule and has self-soothing skills, if his morning nap takes a sudden turn, it is likely that he is going through a cognitive leap. The first time I usually see this phenomenon come into play is around 5.5-6 months as baby enters “The Wonder Weeks” Leap #5 – “The World of Relationships”. In short, during this leap he is learning the spatial relationships between items. As you can imagine this is a very big concept for such a little person to comprehend and voila – they fall asleep for their morning nap very late as they roll around pondering this new concept or sometimes the nap is skipped all together. Personally the most trying cognitive disturbance for both my daughters happened around 9 months when they were learning about cause and effect. My older daughter would stand in her crib and toss out her binkies instead of sleeping and my younger daughter would toss her prized lovey and then call and call for it’s return. And still for other babies of this age, they simply just stand for long periods of time rather than lying down (read this for more). Fortunately this only lasted a few days, as I was able to stay consistent and leave them be to figure out that they would not get these objects back once they were thrown. But don’t get me wrong, it still stressed me out. Speech and language development are another big one in the for your baby’s morning nap to be impacted and are common again at around the one year mark.
- Afternoon Nap Nonsense: Again, your child’s afternoon nap can be impacted by new gross motor skills. The first time we usually see this phenomenon is when your baby learns to roll from back to belly. They usually master this first great gross motor skill quickly if you can leave them be to work it out on their own (read this for more on rolling over). The next big one is crawling and then of course pulling up to stand, cruising and the biggie – walking. Walking is the granddaddy of frustration, as often times it causes them to fully skip their second nap for a week plus as they work through the new skill.
Tips To Get Through These Leaps
It can be incredibly frustrating when your great napper suddenly struggles, but it does make it a bit easier to know that it is happening because they are working on a new skill. What can you do to ease through these periods? Nothing. Literally – you should do absolutely nothing. Keep offering the naps at the correct times (or a bit earlier so they can work on this skill and still fall asleep before becoming overtired). Keep leaving them in their crib for the full duration of naptime – whether they sleep or not. And as tempting as it may be, do not go in and try to lie them down, roll them over, or verbally coax them into going to sleep. This will simply prolong the nap boycott by 1.) Not allowing them to work through the skill on their own or 2.) By stimulating them with the interaction of you coming and going. Further, for older babies, your intervention will become a game, as they will keep doing whatever it is that gets you coming in and telling them not to do. So again, keep their schedule and routine consistent, stay out of the room, leave them be to work on it on their own, be consistent and their naps will come back just as quickly as they went awry.
Amy Lage is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and a Family Sleep Institute certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant. She is founder of Well Rested Baby (www.wellrestedbaby.com). She offers a host of services including in person, phone, email and Skype/FaceTime consultations that can be tailored to meet any family’s needs and schedule. Please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions. Be sure to follow WRB on Facebook & Twitter too for more great sleep tips!