My daughter, Hannah, was a world-class napper. During her first nine months, she napped for two hours in the morning and for two hours in the afternoon. Around age 1, she combined these naps and slept for three to four hours in the afternoon. She would wake smiling, play, have dinner, a bath, a story, and be back in bed by 8 p.m. for 12 more hours of slumber. Unless she was sick or teething, The Napster was always in a great mood.
I?ll be honest. I thought our good fortune in the napping department was because I was a great mom. But when Hannah was 3 1/2, my son, Isaac, was born: Worst. Napper. Ever. To make matters worse, Hannah stopped napping about a week before he arrived. Sixteen months later, my second son, Ben, was born: Second. Worst. Napper. Ever.
What had gone wrong? I was the same mom, wasn't I?
Actually, with three kids under the age of 5, I was a much more tired and distracted (albeit less smug) mom. Plus, it was sometimes a challenge to work in naps around Hannah's busy, non-napping schedule. Our sons had colds more often than Hannah did, and I wondered whether it was from all those germs she was bringing home from kindergarten, or whether their poor napping was getting in the way of their good health. Whatever was going on, we were all pretty miserable.
With good reason. Put simply, babies need sleep in order to function. And you need your baby to sleep in order to get through the day too: "Having a break lets parents regroup and have the energy they need for when their baby is awake," says Parents advisor Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., author of Sleep Deprived No More. Daily naps also enable babies and children to learn and pay attention more easily when they're awake, rather than fuss, according to Kim West, coauthor of The Sleep Lady's Good Night, Sleep Tight. "Think of all the learning and growing your child is doing at an incredible rate," says West. "That little brain needs downtime to process, restore, and renew."
In retrospect, yes, I had extra challenges when I had more than one child. However, a lot of what I'd done the first time around is what sleep experts think of as a winning recipe for successful naps. Oh, how I wish I'd stuck with my old rules and enforced some new ones! This is what you can do to make naps happen for your under-3 child every day.