Updated: Dec 1, 2020

Naps: not the unicorns of baby sleep

We often focus on night-time sleep as that’s the time everyone would like to get some shut eye. However, one of the keys to good sleep at night is great naps. Sometimes, it can feel like we have to work really hard for these magical beasts of baby sleep but in this episode Sarah and I will share how to make naps work for you, giving you both better sleep during the day but also at night. Win-win.

We’ll also answer our listener Eilidh's question about how she can help her baby to nap ANYWHERE but on her! We’ve all been there, sleeping baby in your arms and your drink/phone/TV remote... just out of reach! It’s lovely at first but what about when it’s the only place they’ll sleep? The Sleep Mums share some much needed help and advice.

Five Things About Naps:

1 – Nap routines

2 – Awake time

3 – When not to nap

4 – Where to nap

5 – Out and about naps

The Sleep Mums Ep4. Naps [Transcript]

Cat: [00:00:00]Hello, welcome. We are The Sleep Mums. This is a podcast for parents by parents, all about baby sleep.

Sarah: [00:00:14][Computer Game noises] Keep it down a bit boys!

Cat: [00:00:14][Laughter] As ever, keeping it real!

Cat: [00:00:18]So this week we're talking naps. I promise they're not the unicorns of babies sleep. They do exist. I'm Cat Cubie, parenting junkie and broadcaster. And this is Sarah Carpenter. Baby sleep expert. And, you know, you're also a wee bit like a unicorn because you're magic! [Laughter!] The silence, the silence is deafening! Well, I've thought so ever since you helped me to get my kids sleeping... And because you've got a horn! Together, we are The Sleep Mums. If you want to get in touch with us, drop us a message online at The Sleep Mums or on our website

Cat: [00:00:55]As I mentioned, this week's podcast is all about naps. Five simple things that will help you help your baby to get better at the old disco naps. Parents often focus on nighttime sleep because that's the time we all want to get some shut eye. The thing is, the better sleep babies have during the day, the better they're actually going to sleep at night. So, it's so important to get naps right. And I think they should be guarded as closely as the last hobnob in the biscuit tin! Ok, so the first thing to know about naps is when and how to put baby down for one. Sleep cues and having a nap time routine; basically a few things that you do that helps tell baby it's time for sleep are the building blocks of great naps. So firstly, Sarah, what are sleep cues?

What are baby sleep cues?

Sarah: [00:01:46]Sleep cues are really important to observe and act on. They can vary a lot and they can also look very like hunger cues. Things that you are looking out for would be nestling in to you, rooting, sucking your cheek, rubbing eyes and pulling on an ear lobe, they are all really common sleep cues. The other one is when baby rubs head from left to right and possibly turns to the side and nuzzles in with the cheek against wherever they're lying on at the time.

Cat: [00:02:23]So, they are really like hungry cues. So, it's hard to differentiate.

Sarah: [00:02:29]Exactly it's really, really difficult, especially in those first few weeks for parents to actually see the difference between sleep cues and hunger cues. And it can be so confusing because the natural reaction when you see what you think is a hunger cue is to feed. And that's when you end up in the cycle that we talked about last week. So you need to really try hard to recognize your baby, your own baby sleep cues and work on that and get ahead of the game by getting them time down for the nap before they actually start to show overtired cues, which can be high pitched crying and yawning.

Cat: [00:03:08]So you sort of have to be a bit ninja-like as a parent to kind of spot the cues, get in there and get them to bed before they are overtired.

Sarah: [00:03:18]As you know yourself, if you're overtired and trying to get sleep, it's impossible to do want to get ahead of the game and get baby settled with their naptime routine before they get overtired. So your naptime routine would look something like: a darkened room, sleeping bag or swaddle - depending on baby's age, cot, Moses basket - depending on baby's age again and then using your sleep aid, which could be white noise, shussh noise or singing.

Cat: [00:03:53]So a naptime routine is like the steps that lead up to a nap that tell baby it's sleepy time. A wee bit like we all do before we go to bed, brush our teeth, get a glass of water, maybe read a book. You basically want to have a bunch of things in place that become so familiar that your little one knows exactly what's going to happen next. In fact, they know they're going to sleep before they actually do. It's really similar to having a bedtime routine, which is very important, too, and we will totally come to that. But because naps are so important, we decided they needed an episode in their own right.

Cat: [00:04:29]The second thing you need to know about naps isn't actually about sleep. It's about awake time. So why does awake time matter?

Why is awake time just as important as nap time?

Sarah: [00:04:36]Because it can be the difference between a tired baby and an overtired baby. And that's not something you want to deal with. As you know yourself, if you've been overtired, it's just horrible. You get jumpy legs, you're restless. It's exactly the same for babies and children. You know, they just can't settle themselves. They get more and more and more irate. So they become hysterical with over tiredness. But you don't want an under stimulated baby either. So, again, it's getting that balance, as with so much of parenting, you're looking for a balance. You don't want an overstimulated baby ordon under stimulated baby. So your awake time, you really need to work on interaction. That's when you would want to be using your facial expressions to stimulate your baby, you don't need every flashing, noisy toy in the book. You just need yourself and a few simple things, you know: a change of scene, if you're sitting in a room that has light coming in and then move to another room that in itself is enough stimulation to keep a baby awake for long enough.

Cat: [00:05:41]And even when they're wee, something like a nappy, change can be entertaining in itself. I mean it can be entertaining for adults, too.

Sarah: [00:05:49]Yeah, watch that pee! But yeah, I mean a nappy change for a tiny baby is like an hours play for a six month old. So, you know, things that you're just doing as part of your day are actually huge things for those two week old babies.

Cat: [00:06:06]And I guess awake timings are important and we will talk about schedules and routines at a later point. But the amount of time between sleeps is important, too. And that's where, I guess a routine can come in handy.

Sarah: [00:06:22]Yes, you can't expect baby to stay up as long between each feed or each nap as the day goes on. You know, your timings will change. And also, you know, a six week old baby is going to be awake for a certain amount of time. A six month old baby can be awake for so much longer. And it's really important for parents to be able to transition through these changes and know what's coming rather than it being that they've lost any schedule that they've had and they trying to rein it all back in again, baby's routines change quickly and their needs change quickly. So one week your six week old may have managed to stay awake for an hour between naps. And then the following week, she'll be 90 minutes. So it changes fast.

Cat: [00:07:12]That's what makes it so hard. You think you've nailed something and then they, like, go up a level. That's why I always felt with the kids that, you know, they go down for a nap - funnily enough, given that we're talking about naps - and it was like they'd level up in a computer game and they'd wake up and suddenly all the things I'd been doing weren't working anymore.

Sarah: [00:07:30]Just some parents are starting to build their confidence and think that they've got it. That's when those little people decide to change all.

Cat: [00:07:37]Rascals! That actually brings us quite neatly, though, to the third thing that you need to know, which is when not to nap, which as much as that's important to get a baby to nap at the right time. It's also really important to wake them up from naps to keep to a bit of a routine.. and also, obviously, the closer you get to bedtime. I know this goes against every fibre of your sleep depleted body. But if you let baby sleep for too long during the day, they are more likely to wake up more at night.

Baby taking a nap with one hand stretched over head

When not to let baby nap:

Sarah: [00:08:12]So, again, you know, timings of naps really do differ with age and how many naps you have in a day differs as well. So a newborn will typically sleep between each and every feed, but then by age 12 weeks, you'll be aiming for four clear naps. The key nap at any stage is the final lap. So if your aiming for a six thirty seven o'clock bedtime, the final nap is going to be roughly four thirty to five thirty but then over the first few months that you know magical hour that people love at the end of the day is gonna jump right back to straight twenty minutes. So it's a huge.

Cat: [00:08:53]And then it disappears completely!

Sarah: [00:08:56]Yep and then it's gone forever!

Cat: [00:09:00]I think that final nap is a funny one as well, because it can seem a bit weird to parents, maybe if their kid has had longer naps during the day, because often that nap can be pivotal in getting baby to bed because of what we've been talking about, that overtiredness and it's like this wee top pop that helps them get to bedtime and then actually helps them go to sleep better at bedtime.

Sarah: [00:09:25]Yes, it can. It really does. And also for a lot of people, as that nap progresses, they can feel like they're actually spending more time getting baby to sleep than they are actually asleep for. But that naps is really important because it can actually affect the first part of the whole night. It's not just bed time, but you can find that at that point where they're just starting to get a little bit trickier about going down if they don't still have that nap, you could then have an unsettled baby, from 7:00 to midnight just because they've got overtired before they've gone to bed properly.

Cat: [00:09:59]As a really, really rough guide: when they're newborn, they're having lots and lots of naps. Then when you get into the kind of four naps stage.

[00:10:08] So around about the sort of eight to twelve weeks, then there's going to be four clear naps. And then after the 12 weeks that's when you're working towards your three naps ups and then post six months, you're dropping down to the scary two naps...

Cat: [00:10:23] And then one and then zero...

Sarah: [00:10:29]Yes but that's over a long time!

Cat: [00:10:30]Each of those naps is important in its own way, each has a role to play and when we come to talk about different routines for different age groups, we'll obviously address that.

Sarah: [00:10:39]Yeah, definitely.

Cat: [00:10:41]I can hear... Is that Guinness? [Sarah's dog]

Sarah: [00:10:43]No, it's a child!

Cat: [00:10:47][laughter] Is that your dog? Oh, it's my children!

Cat: [00:10:53]Ok, so next, we're going to talk about where to nap, that's the fourth thing. We've spoken about having a nap routine but Sarah, does that mean that you always have to be in the same place?

Does baby always have to nap in the same place?

Sarah: [00:11:02]You definitely want consistency, especially if the routine is changing and try and have one nap in the room that the baby is going to be sleeping in at night. Whenever you're implementing the new schedule or making any changes then I would always encourage you to stay at home and do that in the room where the baby is going to be sleeping at night. But there is a certain amount of flexibility as well, you know, staying in the house is the important thing. So if you wanted to still have baby close to you then you could have baby either in the room next door or the room where you're playing.

Cat: [00:11:33]Do you think that, you know, the more settled and more consistent you are, the easier it becomes?

Sarah: [00:11:39]Definitely you will feel more comfortable because you know what to expect. And likewise, baby will feel more comfortable because they know what to expect. So they're far more likely to settle easier as they get used to their surroundings and they'll recognize those all important sleep cues and needs coming from you.

[00:11:56] Because those things are the same, so they're like aha, I'm going to bed now, I'm going to sleep. Well, that's what you hope for anyway...

Sarah: [00:12:02]Yeah! It may not always be that happily. But yes, they know what's coming.

Cat: [00:12:07]And in many ways, I think or I believe, and I think you do because I've learnt from you, like Mr. Miyagi, that basically by being more established in a routine that allows you to be flexible, because once baby knows what's coming next, whether that's in terms of what their day looks like or because of the sleep ues aou can still go out. You don't need to miss the class. So they hire you, the couple with rain. So tnd having a routine then they're more flexible in how that happens. And just because ideally you want to have one nap at home a day, it doesn't mean that you can't nap on the go. So that's the final thing we're going to talk about, out and about naps.

Cat: [00:12:31]You can still go out when baby is in a napping routine. You don't need to miss the class or the party or the cuppa with friends because these things are just as important to a new parent as getting enough kip... they are life. And so is a good cup of coffee. I am absolutely powered by caffeine. So, Sarah you have a few guidelines about naps out and about...

Baby naps when out and about:

Sarah: [00:12:45]The best way to nap when you're out and about is to try and stick to your settling schedule as much as possible. So choose where they're going to nap first of all, you know, if you're going for a walk, then that's obviously going to be in the pram or the buggy. If you're going to be in the car, then you're going to be settling them in the car seat or you may have them in the sling, but always use the same sleep aids so that they are transferring everywhere you go, so if that's white noise, make sure that you can either put that on your phone or a different device or they can listen to it.

Cat: [00:13:18]And if you're not using white noise you should because it's like the dream maker...

Sarah: [00:13:22] Or the Sssh lady, I love a little bit of the Sssh Lady!

Cat: [00:13:24]Is that just a lady going Shh Shh Shh?

Sarah: [00:13:24]It's a little more like sssssssh... ssssshhhh. I love it!

Cat: [00:13:28][Laughter] Oh, yeah, I was never very good at that.

Sarah: [00:13:40]You definitely get a sore mouth when you're doing it... [inaudible]

Cat: [00:13:45]Did you say that's how you ssh, you get a sore voice or then you might pee?

Sarah: [00:13:52]No!!!! [Lots of laughter]

Cat: [00:13:52]It must have been a connection thing. I was like, you know, my pelvic floor is bad.. and actually shushing could you know... [laughter].

Sarah: [00:14:07]I said something like, when you're shushing on repeat you definitely get a sore mouth. So finding the Ssh Lady on YouTube was a godsend. It must've have been re-peeeee! [more laughter]

Cat: [00:14:26]Sorry [laughing] So using white noise... As well as white noise. Do you need to try and make sure it's pretty dark when baby goes to sleep. Obviously harder to do depending on where you're going out and about.

Sarah: [00:14:38]It's a bonus if you've got a pram that has an extendible canopy. That can dim things but it's not essential. The more you do out and about naps, once you've established naps, then the better baby will be at those naps. The other really key thing is comforters. So if you've got a comforter at home, you need to have multiple comforters, identical comforters, so that you can take can keep one in the pram or one in the car seat and have one in the car. It's really, really important, though, that if you are using a comforter, that you always take it with you. But a lot of babies will actually develop an attachment to their swaddle so the large swaddling blanket, which are breathable material, some babies will transition to actually using that as a comforter or their cot blankets...

Cat: [00:15:30]And a dummy's a comforter.

Sarah: [00:15:32]Yeah, a dummy is definitely a comforter. It can basically be anything that that baby chooses. I think I told you about the baby I looked after once he decided that his dad's boxer shorts...

Cat & Sarah: [00:15:48]Laughter

Cat: [00:15:52]Amazing! I love this. I'd love to see a little kid running around with a pair of Calvin Kleins.

Sarah: [00:15:58]He was hilarious. And yeah he didn't give up his boxer shorts until the age of four.

Cat: [00:16:02]So that is so adorable. There are questions but, you know, whatever floats your boat, baby, whatever makes you sleep. I think that is the overarching thing that we want to help parents know, that sometimes you've just got to do what works. And if it's a pair of boxers, it's a pair of boxers. So they've got their comforter or their boxers with them, it's darkish and it's about the time they would normally go to sleep. So far, so much like at home. But I think it's important to mention that a kip out and about is likely to be a wee bit less restful for a baby than one at home.

Sarah: [00:16:44]It will, I mean, they're likely to cut their naps on the go slightly shorter and they wouldn't necessarily go into such a deep sleep. So they might not have a full nap when you're on the move. So, a baby who would generally at home link two sleep cycles together when you're on the move only go through one sleep cycle. So you do have to be up for adapting the rest of your day slightly to compensate for that.

Cat: [00:17:10]In the same way as adults, you're going to have a much better sleep at home in your bed than you are on a train or in a car, even if you're a napper, just because you kind of have one ear open all the time. If you have a couple of days where you have lots of naps out and about, it's better to kind of have a few at home just kind of re-establish routine would you say?

Sarah: [00:17:31]Yeah, it's good to get a balance so you don't obviously want to be out and about every day for every nap, you know, the odd full day out is going to happen. We've all been caught out. You know, gone for a coffee with friends and ended up staying until dinnertime. So, you know, don't cut these things short.

Cat: [00:17:49]Not me. I'm schedule queen. I'm like, no, I'm going home for a nap, because I need that time. I protect nap times at home like a loon. I am like, I need to be at home. I'm leaving. I'm going! I think, you know, if there is anything that I would tell my former parenting self it's not to worry too much because baby can catch up on sleep the next day or later on. If you're out or an out and about nap doesn't happen or they have a rubbish one... none of those things will create unwanted sleep habits. Baby just might be a bit more tired. And I think it just always played on my mind, I was like oh, you know, if they have a rubbish nap now, then that's going to affect bedtime and that's gonna affect nighttime sleep. And I need sleep. I NEED SLEEP!

Sarah: [00:18:35]Yeah. And I think it's just really important to reassure parents at this point that, you know, you can have a completely crap day. You can have a day where everything goes out the window, but you can get back on track.

Cat: [00:18:50]Each week, we'll put one of your questions to Sarah, and it will always be about the topic that we're chatting about. So this week talking about naps. Here is a question from Eilidh.

Listener question: My baby will only nap on me - please help!

Eilidh: [00:19:00]Hi, Cat and Sarah. I really hope you can help. I'm struggling at the moment. My baby just will not nap anywhere apart from sleeping on me, he won't even settle on his dad. It has to be mummy. As much as I love him and as much as I love the baby snuggles, I'm totally wiped out and I need a break. I can't get anything done around the house through the day. And I also don't feel like he's napping properly because he gets disturbed so easily when I move or do anything else like that. Please help. Thank you.

Sarah: [00:19:29]Oh, Eilidh. It's so hard. You just sound done in, which is completely understandable if you have got a little toot, who's sleeping on you for all their naps. You're not getting things done. And you're also going to feel super touched out, and genuinely a little bit frustrated with your wee one, which isn't a nice feeling but completely understandable given the situation. So there's a few pointers. First of all, have a little think about your general 24 hour period. Start to write things down. Keep a note og things so that you can start to be a little bit more consistent with your approach. And as you write things down, you will see that there is a natural schedule in there, it might not be exactly what you want and it might not be identical every day. But you'll start to see, as you write things down over a five day period, you'll start to see that the morning nap is roughly at the same time. Then there's a bit of awake time and then there's maybe another nap and then there's a third nap. You will see a little pattern and so then what I want you to think about is sleep cues, as we talked about earlier in this podcast, have a little think about what your little one is doing right before they're ready to go for that sleep. And when you see those signs that's what I want you to think about where you're going to put them to sleep. So have your bed set up, have your carrycot ready to go in your pram or if you're going to be out and about in the car just be ready to go with as soon as you see those sleep cues. So instead of letting him settle on you, you're actually going to get him to settle in the place you want him to stay asleep. Now, for the first few days it's not going to happen instantly. You are going to have to think about the environment and be super consistent with it. So, always putting him down in the same place. You know, we have covered it earlier on in this podcast about being consistent when you're making any changes to schedule or routine. So for the next few days, stay home, think about your schedule. Think about the environment and get him down for proper deep sleeps in a proper set up safe environment. And both of you will start to feel a million times better...

Cat: [00:21:40]It can be hard to break through that, though can't it? At first, because it feels so hard in those first few days, you kind of want to give up. Have you got any advice for it for breaking through that wall?

Sarah: [00:21:51]So really, do try and be consistent for the three to five days. If you've got that in mind, if you think, okay, I'm going to start this Monday and I'm not going to see an improvement until Friday. That can really help you be determined. And also, the more times you do it, the better. So if you decide that you're only going to do one nao in a cot in a day, then it is going to take slightly longer for that transition period to actually be ingrained. Whereas if you're doing three in a cot in a day, then you're going to get there so much quicker.

Cat: [00:22:19]I think quite often when we make a decision about wanting things to change, we expect it to happen immediately and we can be a bit disparaged by not changing quickly at all and these things taking time. So I guess, perseverance is a really hard thing, particularly if you're baby's sad or crying or, you know, you want to just go back to doing the snuggly thing because it felt easier. But I guess knowing that you have made that commitment and, you know, this is about making a long term decision that is good for you and your baby.

Sarah: [00:22:50]Definitely. I think, you know, the three sort of a golden words are perseverance, consistency and schedule. If you can keep all that in mind and then use the three to five day rule, then it can keep you strong to see things through to the end.

Cat: [00:23:08]And what if things aren't better in five days.

Sarah:[00:23:11] There's no one rule for everyone, so if it hasn't worked for you in five days, then things might need a slight tweak. So you would want to go back and look at the routine that you've set for yourself, you know, it may be something within that 24 hour period that really needs to be changed... And maybe that's when you really want to read our book!

Cat: [00:23:34]So that's five things about baby naps. I hope it helps. Naps really do save lives! I'm saying it again, because I really do believe it! And, because they're such a big deal, we would really appreciate if you spread the word, tell your parenting friends about our podcast. Send them the link. Write us a lovely review. We would really appreciate it, probably as much as like a Sunday lie in or something like that. So that's a lot. We would really, you know, throw some appreciation your way.

Sarah and I have also written a book together. So keep your, hopefully, less tired eyes peeled for Read It and Sleep. And if you want to get in touch with us, you can find us at www.the sleep...uh, I don't know why it said all the “w’s”. That's a bit old school! If you want to get in touch with us, you can find us on our website. or on Instagram @TheSleepMums .

Thanks for joining us. Sleep soon.

185 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All