Sleep Begats Sleep – Why A Messed Up Nap Upsets Nightime Sleep
It’s midnight and your baby/toddler is wide awake… for the third time. He had his nap today, but was waken up 40 minutes after falling asleep by the UPS man ringing the doorbell. He should be exhausted and sleeping soundly, right?
Many of us, I’m sure, have experienced similar situations with our kids. It seems contrary to rational thought and reasoning that a child who is sleep deprived won’t sleep. However, Kim West, author of Good Night, Sleep Tight, suggests that there is actually a physiological reason for this phenomena. She says that your child’s “adrenal glands send out a rush of cortisol, a stress related hormone that will overstimulate your baby…” making them agitated and more difficult to soothe. At bedtime, they will most likely be harder to get to sleep and “the cortisol and overtiredness team up to make it harder for him to stay asleep. He is more likely to wake up at night, and to wake up too early in the morning before he is truly rested.” In other words, good sleep begats good sleep, and well, bad sleep begats no sleep! The better your little one sleeps during the day, the better they will sleep at night.
So the most obvious question is how to avoid this torturous cycle. Here are a few suggestions I have tried and usually find helpful:
- Stick to your routine as much as possible. There will obviously be some days that you just can’t be home at your child’s exact nap time, but try to at least be somewhere your child can have a quiet resting time and put them down for a nap as soon as you get home.
- If your child wakes from nap too early, DO EVERYTHING YOU CAN TO GET THEM BACK TO SLEEP! If it means rocking them, back patting, or an extra cup of milk, it’s worth it in the longrun for everyone that they get that needed sleep!
- Watch for your child’s sleep cues and act quickly! Sometimes the problem comes from delaying nap and giving the child an opportunity to get their “second wind”. If their normal nap time is after lunch, but it’s an hour before lunch and you notice yawning and eye rubbing, consider an early lunch or delaying lunch until after nap. Missing that nap window can be disastrous!
The most important things to remember are that this is bound to happen at some point, but you should do your best not to make it a habit and that you CAN get your sweet sleeper back into their normal sleep routine. It may take a day or so, but you can get your sleep (and sanity) back. Sweet dreams!
What tricks do you have to avoid this vicious sleep cycle? How do you handle it once you are in the cycle?
Photo is of my little boy, Andrew, after a disaster nap when he was 7 months old.