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Sleep Begats Sleep – Why A Messed Up Nap Upsets Nightime Sleep

by Christy on August 19, 2009
category: 0 – 1 year (baby),1 – 3 year (toddler)

p2070068 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. 

5 Responses to Sleep Begats Sleep – Why A Messed Up Nap Upsets Nightime Sleep

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Jenn
    August 19, 2009 @ 11:06 am

    I took part in an online sleep clinic as M was having some rough nights after an emergency trip out east when my Father-in-Law passed suddenly. It came out that his patterns had been interrupted by the trip, the time change, and then being sick.

    Moral of this story- we started putting him to bed earlier, getting him up later, and giving him two naps a day. I had not realized at that stage in his life (about 8 months) how much sleep he needed each 24hours. Especially in those months when he was transitioning from “baby” to “little person” and waking more. The more in-tune I was to his sleep cues, the better. And the clinic made me realize that he wanted more sleep each day.

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Amy
    August 19, 2009 @ 12:44 pm

    Thank you for this. We’ve had a problem for a few weeks now and are looking for some answers and ideas…

  • Comment by Sharon M
    August 19, 2009 @ 1:03 pm

    Fortunately, we haven’t TOO many problems in this area when it comes to napping, but I’ve found that a lot of these techniques also work well when you’re trying to adjust to major time changes (flying W Coast to E Coast, or trans-Atlantic). My kids are both cuddlers, and we’ve found that if one of us lays down with them, we can get them to go to sleep a bit earlier than if they were laying down by themselves.

    Also, my kids are attached to their down feather pillows (a gift from my MIL). They will sleep (almost) anywhere as long as their pillows are with them, so if I know that I’ll be out during my two year old’s nap time, I make sure to bring her pillow along so she can have a chance to rest.

  • Comment by Christy
    August 19, 2009 @ 1:29 pm

    Definitely giving them a lovey of some sort (even if it’s a pillow) is a great idea. And Amy, I highly recommend Good Night, Sleep Tight by Kim West. We struggled a lot with our son’s sleeping, so I found this book and used the techniques right off when we had our daughter… it was a life (and sanity) saver!!! Kim West also does personal sleep training lessons and consultations. They are pricy, but she’s had a lot of success… for starters, I’d suggest the book. It even breaks it down into age groups and strategies for each age.

  • Comment by Amanda
    August 20, 2009 @ 10:49 am

    This is great, Christy. I really need to work on sleep stuff with my second baby. We have started to put him to bed earlier, but he is still waking up about 3 times a night to eat. I need to figure out if it is genuine hunger or if it is just comforting to him. I don’t know.. I will look at the book. :)

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