Giving up Naps (Or How I Learned to Adapt to my Child’s Needs)
If you asked me two weeks ago–yes, just two weeks ago–how I felt about the prospect of my kids giving up their regular naps/”quiet time” some day, I would have shuddered, maybe cried, and perhaps even moaned, “NOOOOO! Noooooo. That can never happen! NEVER!”
But at the beginning of this month, on a desperate whim after careful consideration, I experimented with removing nap time from A’s (2 1/2) daytime routine…
…and I haven’t looked back since.
It all started when A’s usual sleep pattern disintegrated into an erratic (and whiny and overtired) mess.
As he had for nearly a year, A would nap for anywhere from 1-3 hours each day, typically beginning his nap somewhere between11 a.m. and 2 p.m. He would fall asleep easily and would sleep soundly while his brother, M (4), would enjoy “quiet time” (reading, quietly playing with toys, or even napping) in his own room.
This was a good thing. It was a (so I thought) necessary thing. It gave me quiet. Time to work. Time to chill. Time to get busy. Time to be lazy. Time to recharge my maternal batteries.
And it gave the boys (or so I thought) a chance to get all of the rest that they needed.
But then came bedtime. At night–even if he would be demonstrating every single sign of sleepiness you could imagine–A would struggle to fall asleep. He’d toss and turn, he’d talk, he’d try to get up and play, and most nights, he wouldn’t fall asleep until after 10 p.m. And then he’d be up again before 6:30 the next morning.
This is not enough sleep for a child his age. In fact, according to the National Sleep Foundation (who is getting a mild stink-eye from me for not including any information about breastfeeding in their section on infant sleeping patterns), children A’s age (1-3 years) require approximately 12-14 hours of sleep per 24 hour period.
At most, A was getting 11 hours of sleep in a day. Generally, he was getting more like 9-10 hours. And (ruling out the possibility that he was just that anomalous kid who didn’t require very much sleep) it was definitely showing.
The incomparable tantrums. The fatigue-induced wildness. The particularly sharp dips and turns of his emotional rollercoaster. The permanent sleepiness.
What was the problem?!
Addressing the issue of sleep problems among toddlers, the National Sleep Foundation explains that:
Many toddlers experience sleep problems including resisting going to bed and nighttime awakenings. Nighttime fears and nightmares are also common.
Many factors can lead to sleep problems. Toddlers’ drive for independence and an increase in their motor, cognitive and social abilities can interfere with sleep. In addition, their ability to get out of bed, separation anxiety, the need for autonomy and the development of the child’s imagination can lead to sleep problems. Daytime sleepiness and behavior problems may signal poor sleep or a sleep problem.
Nightmares? Perhaps. But the problem wasn’t nighttime wakings. It was getting him to fall asleep in the first place.
The ability to get out of bed? Oh yes. Oh hell yes. You can say that this ability had interfered with his sleep ever since he started clambering out of his crib this past July.
Separation anxiety? Maybe. But Tim and/or I lie in bed with him until he falls asleep every night, so it’s not as if he should have been feeling lots of separation anxiety while he was trying to fall asleep. And he often crawls into bed with us or asks one of us to sleep with him if he wakes in the middle of the night.
The need for autonomy and independence? See: crib, climbing. Also? See: child of Oganowski, Kristen.
And the development of his imagination? This here is the big one. In the past few months, A’s language skills have grown dramatically, and we’ve speculated that part of his nighttime sleep-troubles could be traced to the fact that he had all sorts of new and fun tools (i.e. words) to help him process his day. Which, you know, is kind of awesome in that whole “Oh honey, I’m so glad you’re so in love with this skill that it keeps you up at all hours” sort of way.
So then there were the “solutions.”
Bath before every bedtime? More stories at bedtime? More quiet before bedtime? Waiting longer after dinner to begin bedtime? Bedtime with his brother? Bedtime with only Mommy? Bedtime with only Daddy? Bedtime with both Mommy and Daddy? An earlier bedtime? A later bedtime? End the bedtime routine while he is awake? Stay with him at bedtime only until after he has fallen asleep?
Give up on the idea of an under-two hour bedtime routine forever and for always?
But not once did I entertain the idea of giving up a regular nap time. I was not ready to give up my treasured mid-afternoon Mommy break–MY quiet time!
At least not until I became so utterly desperate one afternoon (mid-inconsolable crying jag) that I announced to my raucous room-of-two that “we’re just going to push through ’til bedtime and see where this wave takes us. NO! NAP! TIME! TODAY! KIDS!”
(Why yes, I did look very much like Jack Nicholson’s character from The Shining when I uttered these words.)
Bedtime that evening was easy. Smooth. A routine-without-meltdowns. A sleepy-time with peaceful snuggles. A fifteen minute endeavor.
It was downright enjoyable.
And A slept for 12 straight hours.
And the next day?
He was pleasant. Happy. Content. Well-rested.
He was still riding his two-year-old hormonal and emotional rollercoaster, but the dips and curves were not so violent, not so shocking and unexpected.
And then the next night?
More of the same meltdown-free, quick and easy bedtime bliss. Which also happened the next night. And the next.
And this has all continued (nearly) every day and night since.
When he is tired during the day, he chooses to nap, curling up with his blankets on a couch and falling asleep on his own accord.
When he plays, he seems to be happier and is certainly much less whiny than he was before our nap-free daily routine.
And when he melts down, he is consolable, no longer weighed down by the force of sleeplessness.
Regular naps–those quiet times that I clung to so dearly–were the obstacle between him and a good night’s sleep. Doing away with them gave him the space (and the rest) to get the sleep that his little body and mind require.
This is him, and this is what he needs.
And what about my needs?
Surprisingly, I’ve found that an awake-and-well-rested toddler is much more conducive to work than a two-hour break that turns said toddler into a crankypants each and every day. I’ve even found that I’m a more active and attentive parent now that the majority of my parenting efforts don’t involve the superhuman attempt to barrel through 13-15 hours’ worth of whining and epic tantrums every day.
To be clear, giving up naps is not something that I would universally recommend to all parents whose children are experiencing sleep issues.
But it was what worked–and is what is working–for A.
And it taught me a lesson in parenting adaptability.
Have any of your parenting choices or “solutions” surprised you? Were there any that seemed too self-sacrificing and anxiety-provoking “from the outside” but that ended up being just what you and your child needed?