There is a true saying that sums up the relevance of day sleeps on nighttime sleep: Sleep Begets Sleep, which literally means the more your baby sleeps, the more he will sleep. A good day sleep routine, made up of regular age appropriate day sleeps enhances night sleep and helps your baby sleep better. The reason is that when babies are sleep deprived and overtired during the day, they become fractious and over stimulated and it is hard to fall asleep and sleep well through sleep cycles when one is overtired.
The impact of exhaustion on sleep If you are experiencing any of the following sleep problems with your baby, you need to be sure he is having enough sleep during the day:
- Bedtime antics – Overtired toddlers and babies become difficult to put to sleep. Due to overtiredness, your baby may become busier and more animated in an attempt to stay awake. This hyperactive, alert state feeds on itself and makes falling asleep difficult. If you have difficulty settling your baby to sleep or if bedtime ends up being after 8pm due to challenging bedtime behaviour, the chances are your baby is not sleeping enough during the day or you are starting your bedtime routine too late.
- Night waking – When babies are overtired, they may fall asleep with ease and into a ‘dead’ sleep but 90 minutes later wake and then repeatedly wake at night. If you have ruled out other causes of night waking, have a look at your day sleep routine – maybe your toddler is overtired.
- Night terrors – Babies who scream and cry at night but appear to be asleep and are difficult to soothe whilst screaming are said to be having ‘night terrors’. These differ from night mares as your baby will appear to be fast asleep whilst crying. Night terrors are directly related to overtiredness and are usually seen in toddlers and babies who are not getting enough day sleep or are going to bed too late.
Manage day sleep routines to enhance nighttime sleep To make sure overtiredness is not impacting negatively on night sleep, deal with the following day sleep issues:
- Midday sleep – A good solid stretch of sleep over midday enhances night sleep. A longer midday sleep emerges by 6 months old in most babies. Your baby may sleep for between an hour and three hours at midday, depending on his age and how many other sleeps he has during the day. To encourage a longer midday sleep, try the following:
- Have a consistent sleep space for midday sleep from a young age. Other day sleeps can be more flexible but the midday sleep should consistently be taken in the nursery.
- Darken the room with block out lining on the curtains or blinds
- Play white noise to keep your baby in a deeper sleep during this sleep
- Have a milk feed before the midday sleep if possible so his tummy is full of nice sweet milk
- Regular sleep – Clearly the message is not to keep your baby awake all day. Follow the Baby Sense guidelines for ‘Awake Times’ to gauge how long your baby can be happily awake before going back to sleep. Instead of a rigid routine, put your baby back to sleep during the day when his ‘Awake time’ is up and when he signals fatigue. Less than six months of age 3 – 4 sleeps are common. Between 6 and 12 months of age the number of day sleeps reduces to 2 – 3 sleeps and after 14 months most toddlers drop down to 1 day sleep. But this day sleep remains important until the preschool years.
- Early to bed – Even if you are a working mum or dad, do not be tempted to keep your baby up later than 7:30pm to interact with him. Young babies should be in bed by 6:30 or 7pm at the latest. By keeping your baby up, you will not shift the morning waking and are very likely to face bedtime battles as your overtired baby resists going down to sleep. Furthermore, bad habits like rocking to sleep or feeding to sleep may become entrenched as you have to resort to extensive calming measures at bedtime to settle an overtired baby.
- Wake from the afternoon nap – The only time when sleep during the day can have a negative effect on night sleep is when this sleep happens too late in the day. Read up on the ‘Awake time’ for your baby’s age in Baby Sense/ Sleep Sense then make sure your baby wakes from his last afternoon sleep that length of time before his bedtime. In other words, if your one year old can be happily awake for three hours before the next sleep and bedtime is at 7pm, you should not let him sleep after 4pm or he will resist going to bed. So if your toddler is asleep at 4pm, wake him up.
- Day sleeps are vital for good night sleep habits
- Watch your baby’s awake times and develop a day sleep routine
- Do not make bedtime too late
Follow these guidelines and you will be that little bit closer to a good night’s sleep!
By Meg Faure