My baby is a crap napper. At least from the point of view of what I read online at baby sleep sites (I told you I couldn’t stop googling this even for my own good!). She is not quite three months old, but per many sites and forums she should like clockwork sleep 1.5 hours 3x/day, not a minute more or less. I so want to be that perfect mother and follow the E.A.S.Y schedule, but I’ve learned the only way to be an A student in the E.A.S.Y method is if your darn baby cooperates and takes long, meaty naps regularly throughout the day. It’s penciled in right there in the S category. They have charts! And per those charts the S block should be approximately 1-2 hours.
So what kind of F students are my baby and me if sometimes our S block is only 15 minutes!? Clearly the model we took home from the hospital has a manufacturer’s defect, and I must soon return her for a baby that actually does what she is programmed to do.
In all seriousness, sometimes Ryley excels at naps, although only for the first nap of the day. In the last few weeks she has taken one three-hour nap for me in her crib, several 2+ hour naps, and frequent 1-hour naps. The rest of the day she typically will nap 30-45 minutes. I know I should feel good about this, because we’re already doing something right if she can nap at all in her crib. She has even achieved that golden and elusive parenting dream of falling asleep when put down “drowsy but awake” on a handful of occasions. And she almost always can fall asleep in the crib if I stand there holding the pacifier in place for a few minutes.
And yet in spite of this, I cannot describe the angst I feel when, especially for that first nap of the day, she wakes up after only 25 minutes. Often I am able to get her back to sleep if I go in and rock her for a few minutes, but that only makes me feel worse, because obviously my baby is not capable of self soothing herself back to sleep which means that she will grow up as a totally dependent personality and probably attach herself to some charismatic cult leader.
I reassure myself at times by re-reading those other parenting sites, the ones that build you up instead of tear you down, the science based ones that emphasize how for the first 6 months of a baby’s life sleep, including naps, is a total CRAP SHOOT. They say that biologically at this point babies are simply not capable of regular and dependable lengthy sleep episodes.
And yet, and yet, why do I still spend so much time stressing about naps? Despite the amount of babies I have cared for as a babysitter, I wasn’t quite prepared for how much of your day with an infant revolves around getting them to sleep, especially when they take micro-naps and need to sleep 5-6x/day (another way I have failed as a parent per so many online charts, my baby is supposed to be in the 3-4 naps a day category that some rando arbitrarily decided for no real reason other than it sounds reasonable). I can almost swear I see a path worn into the rug in the nursery from the miles I have walked with the baby to put her down for naps. My heels are sore. I didn’t know heels could be sore, but they are sore from all the hours of bouncing accumulated at this point.
I want my daughter to regularly take long and replenishing daytime naps, and I know she will get better at this when she gets older and her circadian rhythms sort themselves out a little more. And I am trying to just accept that right now and for probably a few months longer things are not going to be regular and dependable. And yet there always creeps in those feelings of frustration and inadequacy that are particularly compounded by “helpful” advice I mistakenly seek out online.
One of my favorite of these tips is to not let your baby get overtired. Which is reasonable. And it pops up again and again. But the best part of this advice is that inevitably the author will talk of the window of time you should put a baby down to nap. You know the one. Apparently at the very first signs of sleepiness a giant countdown, game clock style, will suddenly appear in the air marking down the number of minutes you have to get that baby to sleep. And you better stop whatever you are doing, grab the baby even if she is perfectly content, and sprint toward the nursery. OR ELSE.
Sounds easy enough right? Baby yawns or fusses=she is tired=put her down for a nap. Well think again you fool! If your baby yawns you have completely missed the signals that she is tired and she had crossed over into the OVER TIRED zone. The authors of this advice never really define what the super secret baby secrets of early tiredness are. They only tell you that a good parent would never the late ones occur. The late ones are of course the universal human signs that someone is tired like crankiness or yawning or rubbing eyes. Your baby should never yawn or rub her eyes, because this means you obviously missed your baby’s subtle, early cues of impending tiredness and need to go to some kind of parent remediation to get your act together.
We are three months in and I am sorry to say that I clearly do not know my baby, because I am still puzzled as to her mysterious early signs of tiredness. Somehow I am missing the signals, because she will be playing and cooing happily on her playmat and then yawn, and bam, just like that we have missed our window people. Obviously somewhere in that happy period of playing, she must have winked at me or babbled out a code word to signal her approaching sleepiness. Is there a hand gesture of some kind I’m not picking up on? Does she kick her legs out in morse code to spell out “MOM I AM ABOUT TO BE TIRED. STOP. PUT ME TO SLEEP BEFORE I GET OVERTIRED. STOP. WELL 15 SECONDS HAVE PASSED SO YOU MISSED IT MOM. STOP. NOW I WILL YAWN TO SHOW YOU WHAT AN IMBECILE YOU ARE. STOP. ALSO I JUST POOPED. STOP.”
So inevitably I miss the early “signs” and the baby yawns and starts to fuss and apparently this means something really horrible. Because sleep experts also inevitably say that there is a specific window of time between when your baby shows signs of tiredness and when you have to put her to sleep. And I kid you not some of these people say this window is like 10 minutes long. They are always really vague as to what happens when you miss the window, other than to make it sound slightly apocalyptic. The more generous experts will give you like 30 minutes to get your act together and put the darn baby to bed already, but if you miss out on that 30 minute window apparently you are royally screwed and might as well not attempt to put the baby down for a nap again until they are 16.
Because I guess by now your baby is “over-tired” which is like the #1 worst thing for a baby to be according to interwebs. Forget starvation or sickness or neglect, there is literally NOTHING worse for a baby than being over-tired, and you are a monster if you let your child get to this point. Apparently if you are such a dumb dumb that you miss your baby’s secret sleep cues and sleep window and the worst case scenario occurs and they get over-tired, then they will never sleep again and possibly turn into a gremlin.
At this point sleep experts usually wring their hands, shrug and offer little advice other than to tell you that the End Times have arrived. They may half-heartedly suggest that you call a priest to the house because your baby is now a full-fledged demon and an exorcism may be the only way to get them to sleep.
Look, there are some truth nuggets buried beneath all of the hyperbole. Yes, babies are harder to sleep when they get over-tired. Yes, it is good to loosely keep track of how long your baby has been awake and put your baby down for naps because they won’t just curl into a ball and fall asleep when they feel like it.
But naps don’t have to be such a herculean task, right?
I really am asking, because right now I am in the thick of “nap training” and some days I feel like I will spend the rest of my life in a lather-rinse-repeat cycle of naps and wake ups and putting baby back down for naps. I would like for the success of my days to be measured less by how long her morning nap is, because right now I literally want to high five everyone I see on the days when she takes multi-hour naps and vent to everyone I see on the days she only takes 15 minute naps.
I think new moms must stress out so much about naps, because these little periods of time are sometimes the only time in a day when we are not holding the baby or feeding the baby or playing with the baby. They are brief reminders of life pre-baby when you could do anything you’d like. They are also the time in your day when you can do all the things around house that need to be done like cooking and cleaning and laundry. I think in a lot of ways naps are the key to a mother’s sanity just as much as they are the key to a baby’s general demeanor and happiness.
And so of course when your sanity hinges on them, you can get a little fixated. I, for one, am trying to be less obsessed with the whole nap thing and just let those long, chunky naps happen naturally when the baby is ready to nap like that. Right now we are still in the season of catnaps, and that’s okay too.
I remind myself that a 20-minute nap is not the end of the world. I am not a bad mom if I cannot read my child’s mind to the point of knowing she is tired before she exhibits overt signs of tiredness. The baby will not transform into a hissing goblin if I miss her sleep window (or at least she hasn’t has of yet).
It will be okay. One day I will look back and laugh at how much of my time was spent thinking about naps. And for now we will both just do the best we can.
I'm a thirty-something mom of two, wife, pediatric RN, and writer with a passion for all the big and little things in life.