Thursday, May 6, 2010

Why Have Naps?

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If you are a parent trying to establish good sleep habits, there is a chance you have fantasized about the possibility of not stressing over naps. Couldn't you just wait until the baby was 6 months old and then you could focus on two or three naps rather than four or five? Or if your two or three year old is giving you trouble, couldn't you just forget about naps? Is it really worth the fight? Maybe you dream of leaving the house at a whim with no concern as to getting home or to your destination in time for your child to nap...

I think most, if not all, of us have had thoughts like these. Establishing naps is hard work. There can be times maintaining naps is hard work. It isn't fun to stay home most of the day. Maybe you are willing to put in the work and sacrifice for naps, but you worry about your child's ability to learn. How will he ever learn and accomplish the skills he is supposed to if he is sleeping all day long? I get this question quite often.

You know what else? Societies like The United States have little to no respect for sleep, much less naps. We push ourselves to the sleep limit, and then naturally spill that over onto our children. We view naps as a waste of time.

Considering these concerns, why bother? Why have naps? Why do we do this?

If you are prone to this line of thinking, I highly, highly recommend Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. It is FULL of reasons to care about your child's sleep. Weissbluth says, "I believe that healthy naps lead to optimal daytime alertness for learning--that is, naps adjust the alert/drowsy control to just the right setting for optimal daytime arousal" (page 28). He also says, "Without naps, the child is too drowsy to learn well" (page 28).

Weissbluth claims that children who don't get enough sleep end up fussy or hyper alert and cannot learn from the environment. The child who naps in the day is awake less and has less time to devote to learning, but the child who does not nap is not able to focus and learn while awake. So minute for minute, the child who naps gains more than the child who doesn't nap.

I believe this is true. Now, I am about to make a statement about my children. I am their mother and therefore their biggest fan (although grandmothers might contest that statement). But all three of my children are very, very smart. My husband and I even marvel at McKenna. She is our third and supposedly by now we shouldn't be impressed by her accomplishments (according to some books), but we are. She is super smart. We are told often by outsiders how smart our children are.

Now, when I was pregnant with Kaitlyn, I worried that she wouldn't be smart like Brayden. When I was pregnant with McKenna, I wasn't concerned in the least. Why? I knew there was something more there than simply who the child was when she came here.

I believe my children are reaching the height of their potential when it comes to learning because they are well-rested.

And it just makes sense logically. Children are people right? Adults are people, too. You, the parent, are an adult. How do you feel when you didn't sleep enough the night before? Can you focus well? What do you want to do that day? Do you feel like reading a book or watching TV? If an adult is "in a fog" with not enough sleep, then it stands to reason a child will be, too.

Infants who get enough sleep often get comments on how alert they are. "She doesn't miss a thing!" "She notices everything going on around her!" I have heard these comments often over the years. "Infants who take long naps have longer attention spans" (page 60) and "...they seem to learn faster" (page 60).

"It is a myth that long naps interfere with acquiring socialization skills or infant stimulation" (page 60).

Did you know that studies done have found children with higher IQs sleep longer? Studies have also found children with higher grades sleep longer (page 61). And is it much longer? No. One study found that brighter children slept 30-40 minutes longer each night (page 61). That isn't much time. And studies done on sets of twins where one slept longer than the other showed that the twin who slept more had higher test scores at age ten than the twin who slept less.

Weissbluth points out that depriving your child of sleep either to avoid conflict or engage in social outings is not "harmless." "...day-in, day-out sleep deprivation at night or for naps, as a matter of habit could be very damaging to your child. Cumulative, chronic sleep losses, even of brief duration, may be harmful for learning" (page 62). Do notice that he says "chronic." He does say it is okay once in a while, but it shouldn't be your routine.

But that is the simpler part of the process. Naps do more for the brain than simply allow it to focus. It isn't just about the right about of sleep over all--naps are important. Weissbluth gives much information on how naps are different from nighttime sleep. "Naps are not little bits of night sleep randomly intruding upon children's awake hours" (page 26).

Not only that, different naps in the day accomplish different tasks. "When children do not nap well, they pay a price" (page 32).

The morning nap has the most REM sleep. "Research shows that high amounts of REM sleep...help direct the course of brain maturation in early life" (page 29). REM sleep also restores us emotionally and psychologically.

Non-REM sleep is more important for physical restoration.

Stress is reduced during naps (page 31). Not taking the nap that is needed means that the body remains stressed.

What else?

Babies "...between 4-8 months old who do not nap well have shorter attention spans or appear less persistent when engaged in activities" (page 32).

By age three, "...children who do not nap or nap very little are often described as nonadaptable or ever hyperactive" (page 32). The three year old who naps will be able to adjust in life much easier than the three year old who does not nap (page 61).

Okay, so wow! Lots of information on why naps are valuable and important. Please don't read this information and freak out if your child is not the "perfect" sleeper. This information is here to give you the boost you need to continue to work on giving your child the opportunity for optimal sleep. You can't force a child to sleep, but you can provide the right opportunities for sleep.

Respect the nap. It is of value. It is worth the effort it takes you to establish good naps. It is worth the effort it takes you to maintain good naps. It is worth hearing your three year old say, "I don't want to take a nap. Never, ever, never!" and you say, "I know, but you need to" and follow through. Is she going to kiss you and thank you for sticking to the rule that she nap? No. But she might kiss you and be happy later in the day just because she is in a good mood after taking the nap.

Napping will not damage your child's intelligence. It will only improve it. Naps are worth it!



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25 comments:

Lisa Joy said...

I think having flexibility and non-stress over nap times comes in when you have to re-define what a nap is. My 4-year-old has fought sleep at nap time for almost two years now, and at this point, he only sleeps about once a week during nap time. However, we still lie down for at least 30 minutes every day for "rest time" or "quiet time." I had to learn that I can control whether he has rest time, but I CAN'T make him sleep. He still gets about 12 hours of sleep at night, and he seems to function just fine with that amount. Do I wish he'd take at least a small nap during the day and make our evenings a bit more open? Yes, but again, I can't control that. I focus on what I can control and provide him with ample time to sleep if he needs it.

melissa said...

Naps/Quiet Time are good downtime for the Mamas/Papas, too!

I've had to really learn what best fits my second son (6 months) for naps and eating, instead of comparing him to my firstborn (almost 2). We're at a good point right now.

I also really like Weissbluth's book. :-)

Ryan & Amber said...

Thank you so much for this post! I think I'm going to pick up that book. I get a lot of questions from people about how many naps my daughter takes, because many of these people only give their child little catnaps on the run...but then they wonder why their baby cries so much! I also get a lot of comments from a family member that I need to be more flexible and the baby "will survive" if she misses one nap. Yes, that's true, but I'm a lot less stressed and I'm sure she is, too, when she has her nap. :)

Redheads said...

I like this a lot, BUT...what about a situation like mine? My DD has been a bad napper her whole infancy! I have tried and tried and tweaked and troubleshooted to no avail. Chronic 45 min naps persisted until 12 months of age when we went to one nap. Now that nap is on average 1.5 hours. So, does this mean my child is less intelligent and less able to learn because she doesn't get as much sleep as other BW babies??? I would love your thoughts on this! I think my Sophia is smart and focused, but is she limited because of her short daytime sleep? She has STTN since 6 weeks old and is a 12 hour night sleeper. Thanks!
Amy

Camilla said...

Thanks for this post. I struggled with my little almost 2 year old at naptime today, and was wondering if it was worth it. He just barely started saying "I don't want to", but I told him he needed to take a nap, and finally, after a 1 hour struggle, he has fallen asleep! Victory! I'm glad I didn't give in, and that it's worth it, as you said.

Amanda said...

"Respect the nap" that is totally my new catchphrase! I'm going to make that into a sign for the kids' bedroom door, lol!

And yeah, I used to get those "he's so awake and curious!", "he's so alert" comments too when Tobias was an infant. Sleep is so important, it gives our brains a chance to process and organize the information from the day too. I used to tell my friends to stop studying until 2am before tests in high school and they never listened. I'd head to bed by 10 or 11pm and was so much less stressed about test-taking as a result.

ys said...

I LOVE the HSHC books. I've called it my "sleep bible". I love BW too, but found the HSHC very helpful in conjunction and love the scientific technical info in there. It totally highlighs why sleep is SOOOO important!
Amy, Weissbluth specifically addresses shortnappers. He says there are babies who have biological rhythyms that only take shortnaps. This is sometimes that that they just outgrow eventually. I think he said that some may not outgrow til 20 months? (don't remember exactly off the top of my head. it was a really late time....you hear of a lot of shortnappers who stop at the 6ish month mark and naps lengthen out but he said some go on into toddlerhood). He said there isn't much to be done about it if you've had a chronic shortnapper (and this is a different from an OT baby who takes poor naps from being OT and is capable of taking longer naps) and they just outgrow it. He said as LO's that these babies just tend to need to take more naps than others (because they're short) and that is the key to keeping them wellrested. He had a term for some babies who only took 20-30 min naps...he called them "snaps":) And I remember in the babywhisperer that some parents who had shortnappers would do 2 sleeps per eat cycle (like eat, wake, nap,wake,nap....then eat,etc). So I think that ties in with what he says. These babies are smart and growing well and are rested too, so don't worry:)

Dave and Elaine said...

My daughter is 11 months old. We have been visiting my 84 year old Grandpa this week. Today my Grandpa told me, "She is the most well adapted, happy baby I have EVER seen. You have done a marvelous job with her. She sleeps when you want her to sleep and she eats when you want her to eat. She is SO alert & SO happy. And that is just amazing. And, I believe that this great foudation that she has as a young baby will even impact who she is as a person 30years from now. How did you get her to be like this?"
I answered him by saying, "BABYWISE!"
I did not start babywise from birth with my daughter. She was around 3 months old when I started babywise with her. I cannot tell you how many times I have come to this blog to help me troubleshoot and figure something out! I thank God that He lead me to this site and to the methods of Babywise. It has made a profound difference in the life of my daughter and our family.

THANK YOU for teaching me the methods behind Babywise.

jshrayber said...

Val,

Great post, thank you! My son will be a year old next week and for the last month he has been waking at 6am instead of 6:45 and seems overtired all day long. He has been doing this since we got back from visiting my parents about 1 month ago. I realize the traveling probably got to him, but a month of this? I don't know how to get back on track. I have tried an earlier bedtime, but he still wakes at 6am. We dropped the 3rd nap when he was around 10 months old and he did great. I just bought Pre-Toddler Wise and on page 25 it says "Pretoddlers go from two naps or (two naps and a catnap) down to one nap." Should I try to bring back the 3rd nap? I feel like a 1 year old should not be taking a 3rd nap?? I actually tried the other day but he would not have it. Anyway, that confused me because the Babywise II book says to drop it around 9 months. Any ideas?
Thanks!

Sasha said...

Val, I just wanted to let you know that I couldn't agree with you more! I'm constantly getting comments on how happy and alert my DD (31 weeks) is! Sometimes people tell me how lucky I am that my baby is so easy going. I smile and say thank you but I KNOW it's not luck (well, maybe a little bit) but because she's so well rested! I put a lot of work into getting her to sleep well for naps. I didn't do CIO so it took me a long long time to get there but it was well worth it!

gretta said...

I would like to see you post something related to "respecting the nap," as far as nap environment. We lived in a small apartment when my son was born, so if I wanted to do anything in the kitchen while he napped or before we woke up in the morning, I did it in the dark, very quietly. He has always had a fan that runs during his nap, and darkened windows. He is 2 years, 3 months now, and we have moved. His room no longer has a glass door, and is not right off the kitchen, but I find myself still tiptoeing around and working in the dark when he sleeps! My sister-in-law now lives in our old apartment and her 13 month old has the room with the glass door off the kitchen. She was commenting how she cleaned the oven one morning before he woke up with the light on, etc. And he has no white noise. She said, "You really need to do that with your next one - naps with lights on and noise." I know some parents claim that they did that from Day 1 (Well, in my experience most 1 weeks olds will sleep in any environment.), but she has also complained that her son does not nap consistently or sleep as long of stretches as she would like at night. While my son also didn't STTN as early as I wanted, he has pretty much always taken good, long naps (unless he is too overtired, overstimulated) since 6-7 months. (We had 45 min. intruder and things, but in hindsight, I think I was trying to squelch growth spurts.) I've learned a lot from this blog and do hope do to things differently next time around. But I'm not sure that napping with lights and noise will be part of it. I'd be curious what you think about that.

jshrayber said...

Liz-

I posted something similar earlier today. I can't figure it out either. I read your last post and actually tried pushing his waketime like Val suggested. He is waking at 6, but I leave him in there as long as possible (normally he can make it to 6:30 before he melts down) and I feed him around 6:30 or 6:45. I have been doing this consistently but he is still waking at 6 on the dot. I am glad to hear you are trying a 3rd nap as well b/c I was feeling crazy the other day when I tried it thinking at 1 yrs old he was to old for it. haha. I thought by this age the sleep issues would be worked out!!

Amy said...

Thank-you so much for this post... I needed it today! My 2 1/2 year old is in a nap-fighting phase. The pre-naptime has gotten longer & today I had to let him CIO for 45 minutes. But eventually he fell asleep for 2 hours & woke up happy as can be. During the 45 minutes of crying, I was starting to succumb to the "does he really need to nap?" trap, so your post has helped me get back into the right frame of mind again... respect the nap!

Plowmanators said...

You are welcome everyone and thanks for your added thoughts!

Lisa, definitely many 4 year olds are at a rest time point, and definitely you can't force children to sleep--no matter what the age.

Melissa, that is one of the biggest tricks of parenting. Treating each child as an individual is hard at first! I found that especially true when I went from 1 to 2 kids. When McKenna was born, I was already used to the fact that each child was so different.

Amber, so true about the stress. The other night McKenna was up late for a family function. She was looking at us in despair with an expression of, "Help me! Why do I feel this way! Help me!"

Amy, I think YS explained it all perfectly. Keep in mind Brayden took short naps until 6 months old, and I think he is really smart :) He didn't even sleep in the day most days for his first 9 weeks! So long as you are providing opportunities for her to sleep, the rest is up to her.

Amanda, I was one of those late-nighters in high school. At graduation, I decided I would not continue that in college. I was always in bed at a good time (which meant no procrastination!) and I got WAY better grades in college.

Elaine, you are welcome! And that was so sweet and so wise of your Grandpa.

Plowmanators said...

jshrayber, have you been super, super consistent with his schedule? Is the sun waking him up or the birds (the birds have been waking me up :) ).

No, don't bring in the third nap at this point. The books ars all quite inconsistent when it comes to the third nap for some reason :)

If you have been super consistent since getting back from your trip, then I suggest you really look into environmental factors to see if you can figure out what is waking him up.

Plowmanators said...

Thanks for sharing Sasha!

Plowmanators said...

Gretta, that is a great idea for a post; I will add it to my list.

I have mixed feelings on the topic. The AAP has a book on teaching babies to sleep and it says that you need to be noisy from the beginning so your child will learn to sleep through it.

Some parents take that really far--even vacuuming in the baby's room while baby is asleep!

Tracy Hogg (the baby whisperer) says that is very disrespectful and also ridiculous; she asks how you would sleep if she came in the room vacuuming.

My view is somewhere in the middle. When you have more than one child, you have to allow some noise in the house because you can't expect a toddler or preschooler to tiptoe and whisper all day long.

But I also am a big believer in showing respect for others. So I taught my children to be respectful while baby was sleeping. We don't yell, but we can talk. If we are right next to the door of someone who is sleeping, we whisper. We don't stomp through the house while baby is asleep. We show respect, but we still live our lives.

Moms I talk to with multiple children pretty much universally say that their younger children don't sleep as well for naps as the older children simply because of all the noise going on in the house. I have talked with a large group of moms on this topic and not one of them said their youngest slept really well (moms with 5 or more children). They hear their siblings and want to play, too.

Some babies are more sensitive to noise and light than others. My oldest two took naps with the room bright as day with the blinds open. They napped great that way. My youngest would not sleep that way well at all. She needs it nice and dark. I didn't start life differently with her; I simply recognized she was a different person.

Anyway, I think there can be things the baby gets used to within reason (like my kids can all sleep through barking dogs since we have barking dogs), but I also think you should respect people who are sleeping. Even if they stay asleep, it will likely pull them to a lighter sleep state and make it so sleep isn't as resful as it would otherwise be. Or it might even wake them, then they go back to sleep. That isn't as resful as continuous sleep would be.

Plowmanators said...

jshrayber, oh it seems like there is something to figure out every 3-6 months along the way through life :) Hang in there!

Plowmanators said...

Amy you are most welcome! Hopefully you get everything worked out soon. Hang in there! I had to often explain to Brayden, "You take a nap every day of your life. Today is no different." :)

mrs. martin said...

I need help so badly! My baby won't take naps and it seems like he is always hungry! He is 9 weeks old and has been sleeping through the night since 7 weeks. My husband keeps thinking it's a growth spurt, but if that is the case, then he has been on a growth spurt for about a month! I have him on a 2.5 hr feeding schedule (6:30, 9, 1130, 2, 430, 7, 9) but he is always hungry (or at least it seems) between feedings but I'm starting to think that he is just wanting to eat because he is fussy because he won't sleep during the day in the first place. At night he sleeps great: down for bedtime at 930 every night and not a peep until 630. But everyday is a struggle. It's so hard to keep him on schedule because I always want to cave and feed him between every feeding- though I seldom do because he eats a full 5 oz. usually every feeding (I pump now so that I know he is getting a full feeding). I have even tried staying on schedule and letting him CIO for naptime, but he just cries the whole time. Please help, I am literally to the point of tears because I don't know what to do!
p.s. we saw his pediatrician this morning and she says his growth is great and he is completely healthy.
Thanks so very much,
Katie

Plowmanators said...

Mrs. Martin,

The first thing to do is rule out any possible pain. I know the pedi said he is healthy, so there are at least no glaringly obvious health issues going on. But what about gas? Or reflux? Be sure there isn't something there.

Are you swaddling?

Are you sure waketime length is right? See the label "optimal waketime" for help.

See also the post "naps: troubleshooting revised and updated" for help in figuring out why this could be going on.

mrs. martin said...

Thanks so much! I tried all of what you said and waketime is exactly what it was! I started putting him down about 15 minutes before I thought he actually needed to go down and for the first couple days, he cried about 20 minutes and then fell asleep. And then after a few days of that, he would just "talk" to him self for about 5 minutes and then fall right to sleep! He's doing great now at every nap time. Thanks again!

Plowmanators said...

So glad to hear it! Thanks for the update!

Rebecca said...

First off I really want to thank you for your wonderful blog. This has been my number one go to guide for all of my parenting questions. However I still have been battling my daghters 2nd nap. She shows clear signs of being tired around 1:30pm however when I carry her to her room she starts fussing. when I put her down she screams for about 5 minutes. And she only sleeps for about 15 minutes.

I have tried putting her to bed 15- 30 min earlier and 15 -30 minutes later. I have tried to skip it and bring back our evening nap at 5pm. That doesnt work either.

I have tried to ease her into sleep mode and massage, read a book, sing, rock, keep lights dim, turn on lullabies, bring in a mobile, and give her a bath. None seems to work.

Here is a sample schedule if that helps to understand more.

7am wake up and eat
9am nap (this nap is so easy and she sleeps 1 1/2 - 2 hours)
11am eat
1-2pm NAP (this is the one we are having difficulties with)
3pm eat
6pm eat and bedtime routine
7pm bedtime

Thanks in advance for getting back to me.
~Rebecca

Plowmanators said...

Rebecca, it is hard to say for suer without knowing how old she is.

I would try putting her down at 1 PM, then moving it later in five minute increments to see what is best (so 1:05, 1:10 etc.)

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