The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Health & Family

November 1, 2012

Sarah Coyne: Nap schedule important for babies

JOPLIN, Mo. — I can never decide if frequent baby naps are cause for great joy or great irritation.

On one hand, a few naps scattered throughout the day like tiny, peaceful oases can be the only bursts of quiet or concentration in a worn-out parent’s day. On the other hand, required naps at home sometimes feel like slave labor; we’re forced to plan all of our activities around the baby’s nap schedule.

Parties are cut short. Errands are hurried. Time spent is never without consequences, and heaven forbid we should attempt to wake a sleepy infant in order to reach an event on time.

For several months, babies are mostly portable and fare well on noisy excursions no matter their sleep needs. They doze easily.

But at some point, many babies will only be content to nap in their usual bed, at their usual time. It happens without much parental input, too: Babies develop a need for both a morning and an afternoon nap, and we begin to notice that they sleep better under certain circumstances.

So we accommodate that shift because any parent with self-preservation in mind will admit that easy naps are like currency; spend it wisely, and you’ll be investing in peaceful days.

We’ve made way for those easy, clockwork naps in our house, and it’s been absolutely wonderful. For the past six months, our baby boy has molded his days around two daytime sleeps. They’re predictable. They’re relieving.

And now, they’re changing.

He’s beginning to delay his afternoon nap until two or three o’clock, which means he might not wake until around four or five. It’s still a good part of the day reserved for peacefulness, but the late hour means it’s interfering with his early bedtime.

Sometimes that seems to be for the better. A later bedtime means our family can have more fun playing after dinner and on outings without being forced to cut out early for a tired baby.  

With the holidays coming up -- parties, family celebrations and plenty of opportunities for activity -- I’m tempted to let the baby’s two-nap schedule stand as is. We could really use the flexibility his late-night capabilities provide.

But he’s becoming resistant to the afternoon nap in general. Not to mention, I’m noticing that the late bedtime is affecting his nighttime sleep.

He’s more restless and wakeful during the midnight hours. And instead of causing him to sleep later in the morning, the late nights make him wake a bit earlier.

In order to protect his body’s natural needs, it’s time to make the call and give up on two naps each day; to make the transition to a one-nap baby. It’s a little bit exciting.

No more rushing home to squeeze in a nap while the big sisters are at school. No more arranging the day’s errands into halves and thirds in order to accommodate naps. No more worrying about waking the baby from a late nap to protect an early bedtime.

Still, the grouch in me worries about accumulated fussiness from tired mornings. I tell myself it will be a worthwhile, if cranky, adventure.

Sarah Coyne lives in Joplin. She writes about life and motherhood at her personal blog, http://thisheavenlylife.

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