SINGAPORE: There’s only one moment in any new mum’s day when she can actually do whatever she wants – when junior is sleeping.
Yes, naptimes are indeed precious when you have a little one to care for. Mums often find themselves using this time to pump breastmilk, catch up with the laundry, prepare meals, or perhaps even catch some shuteye themselves.
Besides downtime for mothers, daytime siestas are also necessary for your toddler’s health. According to the National Sleep Foundation, toddlers between ages 1 and 2 require 11 to 14 hours of sleep, while preschoolers aged 3 to 5 need 10 to 13 hours of sleep.
Sleep expert and parenting coach Zoe Chu of SG Supernanny explained that toddlers who don’t nap won’t be able to get the right amount of sleep just from their nighttime sleep. “Good naps during the day will help fill up their sleep tanks,” she said. “If they nap well during the day, they will sleep better at night as well.”
Chu added that good naps also help your child develop mentally, emotionally, and adjust well socially. “Studies show that an overtired toddler will be cranky, throw tantrums easily and be hard to settle, become wired, and may often display signs of hyperactivity.”
So, how do you ensure that you’re on the right track when it comes to your tot napping? Use these tips as a guide.
DON’T LET THEM GET OVERTIRED
Watch for signs that your kid’s nap is due and get him to sleep as soon as you can. He may rub his eyes, stare into space, or blink more frequently than usual. He may even get fussy or start demanding things irrationally. But don’t wait till he is overtired; it would be harder to settle him then.
“You've just got to ride it out with an overtired child. Some toddlers become so frustrated and overwhelmed with their tiredness that they simply don’t realise that only by napping can they get rid of the feelings,” Chu explained.
Getting cranky and crying is their way of expressing how tired they are, and how they release the stress that’s building up. “We should allow them to express it, rather than trying to distract them with toys or games,” Chu added.
KNOW HOW MUCH HE NEEDS
Get tuned in to how often and how long your toddler needs to nap. “Every toddler is different, but a one-year-old should still be getting at least two naps a day – one in the morning, and one in the afternoon,” said Chu. “After 16 to 18 months, they usually drop the morning nap and will only have one nap in the afternoon.” This last nap can last till the child is 3, or even 5 years old.
Ninety minutes is generally a good gauge for a restorative nap – anything shorter than 45 minutes, or longer than two hours can lead to junior fussing when he gets up.
DECIDE ON A ROUTINE
Consistency is key when it comes to getting your tot to nap successfully. Try putting him in the same environment for each nap – it could be a day bed in the study, or his crib in the bedroom, but keep that environment as consistent as possible, so that junior knows it’s time to rest and associate it with going to sleep.
It is recommended that you give your tot a two-minute warning before naptime. After that, bring him into his room. “Do a short story or lullabies, then into bed. Always use the same keywords like 'sleep sleep', or 'naptime'. Repetition helps your child develop a positive sleep association when it comes to naps.”
Even if your child doesn’t end up napping, you can just allow him to have his rest time in bed, and he will appreciate the winding down. “Some toddlers are so hyperactive that they’d rather be playing than napping. But as parents, you know what’s best for your child,” said Chu.
FIX THE TIMING (OR NOT)
Having a routine can mean that you set fixed timings for the naps - for instance, 1.30pm every afternoon. “A specific timing is good, in the sense that your child will readily adapt to the timings of the naps,” Chu noted.
However she added that some parents may prefer to go with the flow, depending on the time that their toddlers wake in the morning. For example, if the child wakes up very early at 6am on a particular day, keeping to a strict timing may backfire as the toddler gets overtired and misses his sleep window to fall asleep quickly.
“As long as the afternoon naps are not too close to bedtime, then looking at the wake times can be a good guideline.” So, a two-year-old may be awake for four to five hours, before he gets tired, for example.
What happens when it’s time for junior to move from two naps to one, or completely drop his naps?
This is usually a time of turmoil in a toddler’s napping schedule, and parents may not be sure what to do. Chu has some suggestions on how parents can smoothly merge two naps into one:
• First, start by moving your little one’s morning nap later by half an hour. If he usually naps at 10am, move it to 10.30am for the next three days.
• Even if he no longer naps well in the afternoon, put him down for quiet time for a full hour. If he doesn’t sleep, at least he is having some downtime. If he does sleep, don’t let him sleep past 4pm, so he can go to bed at 7pm at night.
• If he did not take an afternoon nap, move his bedtime up as early as 6.30pm to prevent him from getting overtired.
• On the fourth day, move his morning nap later by another half hour (up to 11am) for the next three days. And on the seventh day, move naptime up to 11.30am for three days.
• On the 10th day, you can move your baby’s naptime to noon – this means moving lunchtime earlier, and there won’t be time for the afternoon nap.
If your tot doesn’t nap well, or often wakes from his nap prematurely, find out why. He may be relying on a sleep prop, like a pacifier, patting or cuddling in order to fall asleep, Chu explained.
You may need to teach junior the art of self-settling. Start by shortening the time you spend rocking or patting your child to sleep. Lay him down awake but drowsy for each of his naps. If he cries, allow some time, perhaps a few minutes, instead of rushing in to comfort him. Chances are, he will figure out a way to soothe himself back to sleep before you have to step in.
GET THEM TO BED
Letting junior nap in a car seat or a stroller is not the same as letting him nap in the quiet of his bed or at home. As inconvenient as it may be, it is recommended that he nap in his bed or cot.
“You will find that a toddler who naps in the stroller or baby carrier won’t nap for long and the nap won’t be as restorative,” said Chu. “It’s similar to an adult falling asleep in the MRT or car – it’s just not quite as restful.” That said, napping on the go is still better than skipping the naps entirely when you’re outside.
DON’T TRADE NAPS FOR AN EARLIER BEDTIME
As tempting as it is to suddenly drop your child’s nap in favour of an earlier bedtime, don’t do it. If you keep your tot up and make him overtired, he will be too restless and unable to settle down when bedtime finally arrives. Dropping of naps should be done gradually.
What you can do instead, is to shave 15 minutes off his last nap, or simply start napping earlier in the day, so as to move his bedtime up.
QUIET TIME IS AN OPTION
As your tot gets older and reaches the age where he might possibly be dropping his naps, there’s always the option of quiet time to ensure that he isn’t overstimulated, even without a proper nap.
Instead of insisting that he snoozes at his usual time, you can encourage him to go to his room to regroup and reenergise. You could set some ground rules. For example, let him know that 3pm to 4pm is his quiet time - he can turn on some soft, soothing music in his room, read some books or work on a puzzle. Electronics, loud music and overstimulating toys aren’t allowed, and he can only emerge from his room at 4pm.
A version of this story first appeared in Smart Parents.