Friday, February 3, 2012

The "Nap Nazi"

I had absolutely no clue when I had my baby that I would be so cautious to guard her naps. My hope was that I would be able to strap her into her sling or put her in her car seat and bring her wherever I wanted to go, at whatever time I wanted to go there. I wanted her to be portable and me to be flexible.

Well, it turns out that's just not the best scenario for her or for me. She is a sleep-hungry baby who truly needs several good naps every day - naps that take place in a nice, quiet room in a comfy bed with white noise, rather than in a car seat or stroller amidst commotion and chaos.

A second-time mom on my pregnancy message board called herself a "sleep Nazi" (no, not the most PC term, but fitting!) when our babies were born and I was asking where I should put mine down to sleep. She introduced me to the idea that "sleep begets sleep" and that all naps should take place in the same environment as nighttime sleep.

Before that, I'd thought I should just put the baby down in the middle of the living room with light and noise and sound so that she could (a) sleep anywhere and (b) learn the difference between day and night. This might have worked in her early weeks of life, and perhaps it did help her to distinguish nighttime from day early on since we never did have any trouble with that. But as she got older and more aware of her surroundings, it became perfectly clear that putting a baby in a noisy room doesn't help her sleep better through noise - it just disrupts her sleep. And once I realized that, I too became a "sleep Nazi."

Now my baby is still only 2.5 months old and not quite ready to have naps at exactly the same time every day, so we don't have her on a set schedule. Rather, we read her sleepy cues and watch the clock. What I've learned from books like the Babywise and The Baby Whisperer books is that babies her age get drowsy after about 90 minutes of wakefulness. If she shows she's tired (rubbing her eyes, whiny cry, general "unexplained" fussiness) before that magic time ticks around, we'll put her down when she's ready, but regardless of her cues, putting her down after 90 minutes of being awake seems to allow her to go to sleep easily (rather than being overtired or under-tired and therefore fighting sleep) and take a good nap.

And since I've been able to implement a relatively consistent bedtime, she's waking up around the same time each day, and her naps are falling around the same time each day, making it easy to know approximately when she'll need to sleep.

What do I get as a result of her well-timed, quality naps? A happy, calm, easygoing baby who enjoys alert, smiley, interactive awake time that isn't hampered by droopy eyelids and whiny cries. It's worth it to me if that means I have to plan a trip to the store around her naps or put her to bed when we have company over.

Now that's not to say we can't be flexible from time to time. All the experts agree that missing a nap here or there isn't going to be the end of the world, and sometimes you just can't plan your schedule accordingly. But in general, providing my baby with the opportunity to get regular sleep benefits... well, everyone!

Also read: Getting Your Baby to Nap: Tips from a New Mom