Read an Excerpt
the no-cry nap solutionGuaranteed Gentle Ways to Solve All Your Naptime Problems
By Elizabeth Pantley
McGraw-HillCopyright © 2009 Better Beginnings, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePart 1 Nap Magic
Naps The Key to a Happy, Healthy Child
Naps take only a few hours of time, but they shape all twenty-four hours of your child's day. The quality and quantity of your child's naps influence his mood, behavior, health, and brain development. Naps can affect how cheerful your child is when she wakes up in the morning, whether or not she whines, fusses, and has tantrums all day, and how easily she'll go to bed at night. An appropriate nap schedule is a vital component for your child's healthy, happy life. When you consider all of this, you'll understand that your child's naps—or lack of naps—can affect all twenty-four hours of your day as well as your child's.
I thought I knew everything there was to know about naps, since I've written two other books and countless articles about children and sleep, but I was shocked and amazed at the new information I discovered while writing this book. I set out on this venture knowing that parents struggle getting their children to nap; it's a frequent topic that readers write to me about. Everyone knows that children need naps, but the biological reasons behind this will convince you, without a doubt, that you should do everything you can to provide your child with daily naptime. It is common knowledge that when a child misses a nap, he gets cranky, but you will be intrigued to learn the actual reasons why this happens. So, before we delve into typical nap problems and a plethora of ways to solve them, let's explore the background information that will provide an understanding and foundation for all the solutions that follow.
Naps: What Is the Magic?
A nap is a miraculous, life-enhancing activity. A nap can transform a crying, fussing baby into a cooing, smiling delight. A nap can convert a cranky, whiny child into a happier, healthier, and more adaptable little person. A nap can rescue a grouchy, moody parent and allow the loving mom or dad to reappear. Naps are magical breaks in the day that rejuvenate the entire family.
Napping is an important component of a child's healthy mental, physical, and social growth. Naps boost energy, focus, and the ability to learn. Naps benefit a child in a number of ways.
Naps are a biological necessity. Children have natural dips in energy during the day, even after a full night's sleep. A lack of response to this natural craving for rest results in a biological misfiring that leads to behavioral, emotional, and physical problems. Naps that correspond with energy dips allow the body and mind to function properly.
Naps reduce the day's fussiness, whining, and tantrums. A midday nap enables the body to release cortisol and other hormones that combat stress and tension. Without the release of these hormones, they build to uncontrollable levels and create inner pressure that erupts as unpleasant behavior. Children who do not get enough sleep have difficulty controlling their emotions. High-need children or those with more intense, active personalities can have an exaggerated effect from sleep shortages. Daily naps can be a lifeline for them and their families.
Naps increase learning capacity for babies. Babies who have adequate naps spend more of their waking hours in a relaxed, alert condition. They learn more, they enjoy life more, and their parents are provided with added quality time for engaging, teaching, and bonding with their babies.
Naps fill gaps from poor nighttime sleep. Napping can help a child recover from problems in the prior night's sleep. Any shortage of night sleep is damaging to your child's health and behavior, so naps are a critically important way for children to make up for less than a perfect night's sleep. Surprisingly, children who do sleep well at night receive as much benefit from naps as their night-waking peers, since nap sleep is different from night sleep in its configuration of sleep cycles and in its effect on a child's health and behavior. Extra night sleep doesn't achieve the same results as a good night's sleep plus naps.
Naps improve a child's mood. A child is typically happier following a daytime snooze, which is as good for the parent as it is for the child. Naptime can stabilize a child's mood over the course of the day, eliminating the frustrating highs and lows of mood swings and crankiness.
Naps improve brain development. Adequate sleep is crucial to proper brain development. Napping plays a role in learning by helping to convert new information into a permanent place in the memory. Naps allow a child midday pauses to store new information and make room for the remainder of the day's learning. Sufficient sleep is also thought to help young brains develop the ability to achieve high levels of abstract thinking.
Naps improve the bedtime routine. A child who needs a nap but doesn't get one will get overtired throughout the day yet become hyperactive and resist the idea of bedtime when it arrives. An overtired child may find it difficult to fall asleep at bedtime.
Naps increase attention span. Children who nap have longer attention spans and are better able to absorb new information. Conversely, children who lack appropriate sleep tend to be less focused, so much so that researchers believe that over 20 percent of children diagnosed with hyperactivity disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are actually suffering from sleep disorders.
Naps ensure proper growth and development. Growth hormone is released during deep sleep, and children who sleep well are assured their necessary sleep-assisted growth. Naps provide a child's body with downtime needed for rejuvenation and repair. Naps also fuel the dramatic developmental surges that occur when children learn to master major physical and mental milestones.
Children's naps give caregivers a needed break. No matter how much they love and adore them, adults sometimes need their little ones to nap just as much as their children need the nap. During naptime, caregivers can reenergize, do a few things for themselves, or handle tasks that cannot be done when tending to children. A nap break relieves adult stress and assures that caregivers can enjoy their little nappers more when they wake up.
Naps are beneficial for people of all ages. There is no time when your child must—or should—give up naps. Naps are healthy for all human beings. Even fervent nonnappers can learn to embrace the idea of naps and enjoy the many physical, emotional, and social benefits that they bring.
How Much Naptime Does Your Child Need?
The actual number of hours that your child sleeps is an incredibly important factor for his health and well-being. A sleep study completed by Dr. Avi Sadeh at Tel Aviv University demonstrated that even a one-hour shortage in appropriate sleep time will compromise a child's alertness and brain functioning and increase fatigue. Dr. William C. Dement, known as the world's leading authority on sleep, takes that one step further and says, "... the effects of delaying bedtime by even half an hour can be subtle and pernicious [very destructive]." These are amazing findings and call for us to look very closely at the total number of hours our children are sleeping. Every child is unique and has his own "personal best" amount of sleep. Your child's behavior, mood, and health can give you an indication if he is getting the right amount of sleep. If you suspect that your child may not be sleeping enough and if your child is not getting close to the amount of sleep on the following chart, he may be "chronically overtired," and this will directly affect his behavior, moods, health, learning, and growth.
As you will learn in the next section, the length of time that your child is awake from one sleep period to the next will also have a powerful impact on his temperament and behavior, so it is one more important consideration and earns a prominent place on the chart. You'll see that the span of awake time is very, very short for a newborn baby and this gradually increases over time.
This sleep chart is an important guide to your child's sleep hours. All children are different, and a few truly do need less (or more) sleep than shown here, but the vast majority of children have sleep needs that fall within the range shown on this chart.
Important Facts You Should Know About Sleep
When we think of sleep, we visualize a quiet child at rest, doing nothing. Actually, sleep is a complex process that is far from passive. It provides your child with the mental, emotional, and physical fuel needed to function each and every day. Sleep is a dynamic activity—a complex series of phases, each of which makes important contributions to health and well-being. The following chart shows the various stages of sleep and describes what happens at each phase.
Why Short Catnaps Are Not Good Enough
If your child's naps are shorter than an hour and a half in length, you might suspect that these catnaps aren't meeting your child's sleep needs—and you would be right. A short nap takes the edge off but doesn't offer the physical and mental nourishment that a longer nap provides. (If your child is a catnapper, you can find solutions in the chapter "Catnaps: Making Short Naps Longer.")
As shown in the chart, it takes between 90 and 120 minutes for your child to move through one sleep cycle. Each stage of sleep brings a different benefit to the sleeper. Imagine, if you will, magic gifts that are awarded at each new stage of sleep. In order for your child to receive all of these wonderful gifts, he must sleep long enough to pass through each stage.
Newborn babies have unique cycles that mature over time. A newborn sleep cycle is about forty to sixty minutes long, and an infant enters dream sleep quickly, skipping several stages. By the time a baby is six to eight months old, his sleep will have become more organized into the cycle pattern. (Newborn sleep is explained beginning on page 35.)
The following chart lists the benefits of a complete nap. It shows the "magic gifts" to be had during each stage of the sleep cycle.
Why the Timing of Naps Is Vitally Important
From the moment your child wakes in the morning, he is slowly using up the benefits of the previous night's sleep. He wakes up refreshed, but as the hours pass, little by little the benefits of his sleep time are used up, and an urge to return to sleep begins to build. When we catch a child at in-between stages and provide naps, we build up his reservoir of sleep-related benefits, allowing him a "fresh start" after each sleep period.
As shown on the sleep chart on page 8, as children age, the length of time that they can stay happily awake increases. A newborn can be awake only one or two hours before tiredness sets in, whereas a two-year-old can last five to seven hours before craving some downtime. When children are pushed beyond the time span that is ideal, biologically speaking, for them to be awake without a rest break, that's when they become fatigued and unhappy. As the day progresses and the sleep pressure builds, a child becomes fussier, whinier, and less flexible. He has more crying spells, more tantrums, and less patience. He loses concentration and the ability to learn new information. The scientific term for this process is "homeostatic sleep pressure" or "homeostatic sleep drive." I call it "the Volcano Effect." We've all seen the effects of this on a baby or child, as it is often as clear as watching a volcano erupt; nearly everyone has observed a fussy child and thought or said, "Someone needs a nap!"
As a child progresses through his day, his biology demands a nap so he can regroup. Without a nap break, the homeostatic pressure continues building until the end of the day, growing in intensity, so that a child becomes overtired, wired, and unable to stop the explosion. The result is an intense bedtime battle with a cranky, overtired child who won't fall asleep no matter how tired he is.
Even more, a child who misses naps day after day builds a sleep deprivation that launches her into the volcano stage much easier and quicker. If she is missing naps and lacking the appropriate nighttime sleep ... watch out!
This concept brings to light one more important point: quality naps can make up for lost night sleep—but extra nighttime sleep does not make up for missed naps, as made clear by the homeostatic sleep pressure concept. Therefore, no matter how your child sleeps at night—great sleeper or poor sleeper—his daily naps are critically important to release the rising sleep pressure.
Infants have a much shorter span in which their sleep pressure builds. They rapidly reach the peak of their volcano in one to three hours. This is why newborns sleep throughout the day and why young babies require multiple naps. Over time as a baby's sleep cycle matures, he will be able to go longer periods between sleeps. It is not until age four or five that a child is able to go through the entire day without a nap, and research suggests that even through adulthood, a midday rest break is beneficial in reducing the pressure. The following charts represent the building and outcome of the Volcano Effect.
Is Anyone Else in the Family Affected by Homeostatic Sleep Pressure?
The Volcano Effect is not something reserved for children! This biological process affects adults as well. Understanding this can help you interpret what is really going on in your home at the end of a long day when children are fussy and parents are grumpy— resulting in a whole mountain range of volcanoes. What's more, each person's moodiness feeds off the others', causing contagious crankiness. You'll find yourself losing patience and saying to your child, "I'm sorry, honey. Mommy's just tired right now." (This is a very telling explanation we don't often stop to analyze.)
Homeostatic sleep pressure can tell us much about the time of day that is often referred to by names such as the "fussy hour," the "witching hour," or the more desperate (and, amusingly, most common) nickname, defined for us by Dictionary.com:
arsenic hour (AR.suh.nik owur) n. the time of day when both children and parents have come home but dinner has not yet been served, seen as being difficult due to everyone being tired and hungry
When a daily nap routine is established, you may be delighted to find that you can avoid this daily meltdown and your evenings will become a more relaxed and pleasant time for all.
Avoiding Late-Day Naps
You can't force a child to be sleepy just because the clock says it is naptime. We all know what it's like to put a bright-eyed, wide-awake child in bed—there's no sleep to be had for anyone! However, it makes sense that the longer your child has been awake, the more tired he becomes. Sleepiness must build up to an ample level in order for your child to feel tired and fall asleep again. Therefore, you must allow enough time between sleep sessions to build up this pressure. This explains why a child resists a nap too soon after waking up in the morning and why a late nap too close to bedtime brings a bedtime battle.
Keep in mind that sleep pressure is not the only biological process affecting your child. The "magic gifts" are being given out all night long or all through a nap. If your child's sleep period has not been long enough, he won't wake up fully refreshed, at the bottom of his volcano. He will wake up somewhere in the middle or even toward the top. This explains the early-waking baby or short-napping child who is grumpy and fussy right from the moment he awakes. He hasn't received his full allotment of gifts—and he knows it!
The Biological Reason for the Second Wind
What happens if your child falls asleep, perhaps in the car or in your arms, for only five to fifteen minutes? He'll likely wake up appearing refreshed and full of energy and be unable to fall back to sleep. If you'll refer back to the "magic gifts" (sleep benefits) chart on page 12, you will see that the very first stage of sleep reduces feelings of sleepiness. Therefore this brief micro-nap has eliminated tiredness for the moment but has not allowed a child to gather his gifts from all the other sleep stages. One of those benefits is reducing his building sleep pressure, so the pressure is still there, just masked for a short time by the reduced feelings of fatigue. But as the day goes on, the mask is lifted to reveal a child more prone to frustration, fussing, crying, and temper tantrums.
Excerpted from the no-cry nap solution by Elizabeth Pantley Copyright © 2009 by Better Beginnings, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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