Nap Nemesis

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Categories Napping, Sleep

I have been dreading writing this post quite frankly, because naps are something we just don’t talk about in our house. We’ll talk about them in metaphor; as in, “it’s really still outside, not even the slightest wind.” Or, “what a beautiful day – you can hear the birds so clearly!” Any direct mention of the boys sleeping during the day, however well or unwell, jinxes the situation. So we just don’t go there. Ever. Until now. The past 15 months of dealing with two anti-nappers has inspired me to write about our experiences, because I think naps are tricky enough with one baby, let alone two or more. And when we were going through our trials and tribulations, I wanted nothing more than a step-by-step guide to getting two babies to sleep during the day at the same time without completely losing my mind. Well, I’m here to tell you that it just doesn’t exist. But hopefully this post will inspire us all to share what has worked (and maybe not) in the nap department, because lord knows, we all can use some good ideas.

To start out, I don’t dare say our boys aren’t good sleepers. Because they are exceptional sleepers…at night. And I am ever so grateful for it. I don’t want anyone to construe this post as complaining, because I’ll take what I can get and I count us very lucky that we have blissful evenings. But from day one the boys have been nap resistors, as if day sleep is some sort of evil regime and it’s their job to stay up and stand guard. Trust me, ain’t no sleep getting through that door on account of those guys dozing on the job!

The early days; Our young boys demonstrate their favorite ways to nap:

In the beginning, when the boys were between the ages of 1 and 4 months, my rule of thumb was to get them to sleep as much during the day as possible, and to help them by whatever means necessary. That meant bouncing in the bouncy seat, the swing, rocking in the co-sleeper (don’t ask me how we finagled it to do this), bouncing on the exercise ball, drives, walks in the stroller, one in the sling and one being held while on the exercise ball, hiring a part time nanny so both boys could be held while napping, etc…etc…etc. You name it, we did it. At first I took on the challenge with vigor. After a few months, I started to lose my mind with the daunting nature of trying to get two tooth-picked eyed babies to sleep at the same time. How the H-E-L-L do people do this?!?! It was at this point that I started clearing the shelves at Barnes and Nobles in the Baby section. I bought any book that looked as if it had any information on naps. And after speed reading all of them, I learned some key things that helped a lot. This is probably redundant info to most of you, but it was a revelation to me.

1) Sleep Windows: Babies between 2-4 months (approx) usually need to sleep 1 to 1.5 hours after first waking, then 1.5 – 2 hours after their first nap, and 1.5 – 2 hours after their second nap. Most babies take 3-4 naps at this age. I felt like such a doofus for not knowing this. But honestly, everyone always talks about nighttime sleep, I never even knew naps would be an issue. Heck, I just thought all babies slept when they needed to. Duh!

2) Cues: It’s important to read cues for sleepiness (dazed look in eyes – the toothpick look actually indicates being overtired, which is a place you just don’t want to go; yawning, obviously; rubbing eyes/nose/face; fussiness; etc.) The Baby Whisperer actually has a good section on all the different cues for different baby personality types. This was very helpful. The key at this age is to balance your sleep windows from above, plus the cues, into a nap equation. Put your baby down for a nap at their very first sign of being tired, and be careful not too let them get overtired, or else it’s actually harder to get them to sleep.

3) Routine, routine, routine: At this age, our routine consisted of me putting them in a bouncy seat and reading them books and bouncing them to sleep if I was lucky. Great if you want your kids to associate nap time with a bouncy seat. I don’t think 3 months is too early to start a nap time routine – but of course, it all depends on your babies’ temperaments. We started our routine at 4 months and it hasn’t varied much since then (my guys are 15 months now). Early on it consisted of nursing, crib time together with mobile on, diaper changes, book, bedtime CD and rocking each baby for about 5 minutes while telling a soothing story. At this point, the routine is so ingrained in my boys that as soon as I put on the bedtime CD, they start rubbing their eyes and grab their blankies. It has served us amazingly well, especially when we’ve traveled! I should also note that I memorized the entire rhyming story The Bear Snores On so I could have a nice, soothing story to say to them while rocking. I should write the author and tell her I’ve recited her story about 2,000 times.

4) Environment: It was important for us to create a night time environment for our guys to help them wind down enough to sleep during the day. This included blinds and drapes to block out light and a good noise machine to drown out any household noise. We also left their cribs barren and took down the mobile before they went down, because if not, they’d stay up playing with anything and everything. I even remember putting burp clothes over Abel’s eyes while rocking him because if not, he’d always find something to stare at in the room and refuse to shut his eyes. Stubborn, I know!

Some babies, I’m sure, are just good at napping. Combining the four factors above hopefully sends your baby into a 1.5-2 hour slumber. This was not the case with us. So by 4.5 months, even after doing everything the books say, I was faced with a dilemma. How do I get two babies to nap, who clearly don’t want to nap, without creating terrible associations and habits (like sleeping in the car seat, the bouncy, in my arms, etc.)? Even though I would normally advocate a gentler approach to sleep training – with twins – I just couldn’t see doing it any other way. We were quickly heading towards “Cry it Out” (CIO) territory.

At 4.5 months, I started putting the boys down in their cribs after our routine, whether they were awake or not, and leaving the room. I’d check in on them after 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes, and leave them in their room for an hour. We also did this at night, and they “got it” after 3 nights. Not so lucky with the naps, though. The next 30 days, I have to say, were the most frustrating and gut wrenching of my experience as a mother so far. They would cry every nap, most of the time for the full hour, and I felt like an utter failure. I remember calling my husband every nap time, on the verge of tears, telling him I just couldn’t do this. I just couldn’t listen to my boys crying like this. I honestly thought I was ruining them and they would be emotionally scarred forever. I somehow managed to stick with this program, mainly by this justification: I knew they would be crying whether I was in there or not, so they might as well be learning how to put themselves to sleep.

The next month seemed like an eternity, but by the time the guys were 5.5 months, they were actually going down peacefully for two naps and sleeping, well, like babies. It had finally paid off! It seemed as though the boys needed a third nap at the end of the day, but it was a rare gift to get it. If we were in the car or stroller they would take a short cat nap, but if it was in their crib, forget it. I figured two out of three ain’t bad. And we decided at this point, since we rarely got a third nap, that we would have a very early bedtime for them (5:30-6pm). It worked beautifully.

The most important thing at this point for us was to stick as closely with our schedule and routine as possible. As Goddess wrote in several other posts (here and here), your routine can be your best friend. And while it’s not great to be crazy inflexible, the less intrusion on your babies schedule, usually means happy babies and parents. I’d say, with some timing modifications, we did the two nap a day schedule until the boys were 11 months old. As your babies get older, their wakeful times between napping become longer. Meaning by 6 months, they typically can be up for 2 hours after waking, and 2.5 hours between naps. And by 9 months, they can be up for 2.5 hours after waking and 3 hours between naps. If they take 3 naps they also tend to drop down to 2 by 6-7 months. But pay attention to your babies’ cues. I noticed my guys couldn’t stay up that long in the mornings and it served me very well to put them down for that first nap a little on the early side.

We were cruising happily along, me especially because at two 1.5 hour minimum pops I could get A LOT done and have some time to refresh myself. I knew it was just a matter of time, and so I wasn’t terribly surprised when at 11 months our nap world turned upside down. All of a sudden, the afternoon nap became what we like to call, “the anti-nap.” Everything I read said kiddos just aren’t ready for one nap at this age, so we persisted with the routine and put them down each afternoon. Only to experience 60 to 90 minutes of multiple diaper changes (poo. every. stinking. time. read about it here), talking, giggling, squealing, shrieking, and finally crying, at which point I’d call it an attempt and rescue them from their nap torture. I wondered how long we could go on like this. The guys obviously needed the sleep, they just couldn’t get it unless I manually put them to sleep. Not so much fun on my end of things.

At 12 months I finally decided to make a go at 1 nap. But after a few days they were so exhausted that we went back to 2, which they actually took. Amazing! For all of 4 days. I made another attempt at 1 nap at 13 months, only to have the same result. Just before their 15 month birthday, after nearly 5 months of the boys taking an afternoon anti-nap, we have successfully transitioned to one nap. So far, so good! I keep them up until noon, which at first was a little challenging but is getting easier every day. Again, the important thing is to have a good routine and to keep those energizer bunnies as busy and active as possible. We eat breakfast, we play, we take a walk, we play outside or with a friend, we have a snack, we go to the playground, we eat lunch at 11am and then have low-key play and reading until their nap at noon. They are so ready for this nap that they usually fall asleep within 3 minutes of their routine. And their naps have gotten nice and long. We’re talking 2.5 to 3 hours! Sure, we’ve had a few hour naps here and there (UGH!), but for the most part they are doing a great job at getting a nice long chunk of sleep. Hallelujah!

So there you have it, our nap journey in one long rambling post. I swore I would never talk or write about it, but here I am, finishing it up during the boys’ nice long afternoon nap. Oh crap, is that Abel I hear waking up after just an hour?! See what I mean? Never again, I tell you.

My favorite nap resources: The Sleep Easy Solution, Healthy Sleep Habits, The Baby Whisperer and our very own awesome Ask-the-Moms post on sleep (where you’ll find a host of resources on sleep, which typically also include naps!).

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7 thoughts on “Nap Nemesis”

  1. Like a page out of my life, this post came just as I was sitting here thinking, “why can I not get these babies to nap.” Mine are 7 mo and are excellent night sleepers, but I’ll be darned if they’ll sleep during the day. Every day is a different story for each baby, no consistency, despite all my efforts for routine!

    I’m going to try to crack down on it though, per your success story. They are obviously tired, but just won’t give in to napping! So frustrating! Thank you for your insight, it was just what I needed today!

  2. I went to sit down and read on HDYDI as I listen to my two 6 month olds scream in the other room protesting what else but nap time! These are my 5th and 6th children and I still have not found a proof positive way to get them to nap consistently. Nate wants to be cuddled which is fine because Paige can usually fall asleep on her own until she sees that her brother is being held, which usually leaves me trapped in the recliner with two babies snoozing away their mid morning naps, while I think of all the things that need to be done and can’t possible be attempted bacause any sudden move and there goes the peace and quiet of two sleeping babes! Good luck with napping!

  3. so weird, tracey, i was going to write and ask you about their naps and whether they had gone to the one nap world. we are on our way and i find they are not quite ready but getting there. my solution for now (as they are early wakers and just starting to sleep later in the morning…later being 6 or 630) we do a shorter a.m. nap and then delay afternoon nap until 130 or so, they have been doing well on this. but the beginning timewas rough.

    i have always followed the BW advice for the nap windows but for months (and months and months) o would nap the dreaded 30-45 minuted get up and stay up. but the more active they get the better they sleep.

    i am so glad you wrote about this and hope the repercussions a small as you have given me a lot of peace of mind and you should not lose any. smiles HDYDI mamas, i love that we are all in this together.

  4. Oy, naps. I found that, at about six months, it made a big difference when I switched to naps at a particular time instead of always “up for no more than 2 hours” or whatever. So now, we have morning nap around 8:30 or 9 (which usually works out to 2.5-3.5 hours of awake time in the AM), afternoon nap around 12:30 or 1. The 3rd nap pretty much doesn’t happen, but I find that they usually need an outing in the afternoon (which may involve a brief catnap in the car on the way home) or at least a nice-length walk, in order to make it all the way to the start of bedtime around 6:30.

    As far as going to sleep, when I did Ferber/CIO for nighttime, we just did the same thing at the same time for naps. An ugly few days, but it ended up OK. Now, Rebecca generally goes down very easily – just hand her her pacifier and her blanket and out she goes. Daniel usually still needs to fuss himself down to sleep, but it’s not so awful usually.

    My biggest issue is nap duration. Daniel, though he fights going down, will often sleep 90 minutes or sometimes even more. Rebecca, after going down easily, is wide awake at 45 minutes. (Of course, they switched it up this week and did the opposite, but whatever.) Anyways, that’s where I have issues is a consistent length of nap, and I’m not sure if there’s anything to be done about it. I try leaving them in there, I try coaxing them back to sleep. Most of the time, though, they’re just up. Alas…

  5. It’s so late but I chanced upon your blog and now I can’t stop reading! My twin boys just turned one a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been sitting here laughing and nodding my head because there are other people out there that go through the same things as me! I must admit though, my boys have been pretty good at naptime. We just started laying them down in their cribs at the same time even if only one looked tired when they were about 3 months and they’ve been napping together ever since. I am not good at routines so they don’t nap at the same time everyday. It just depends on when they wake up in the morning and stuff like that. Now they are down to one nap a day and sometimes they’ll wake up and just stand there in their cribs chatting with each other. Is it bad that I let them do that for sometime 10-20 minutes before getting them? I figure they’re happy! Now, I have no idea what I’m gong to do when they switch to big boy beds…..

  6. I don’t have multiples, but I did have three babies in three years, plus another 20 months older, who all used to nap at the same time. I don’t think I could have survived my last two pregnancies without that chance for me to nap as well.

    I can’t tell you how ompirtant routine and consistency are in helping the babies to nap. I have to admit I felt trapped at home (still do) because we had to be home for naptime. They only liked to sleep in their own cots or beds, and with their favourite music playing, and with their favourite cuddlies. But sleep they did (sometimes the older ones would just rest, but I insisted they stay quietly in their beds.)

    Also, I used the ‘envelope’ method to wrap the babies for sleep, and dummies/pacifiers were essential for my girls.

    Good luck with everyone trying to get that magically naptime happening in the middle of the day. It can work.

  7. Thank you so much for this post. I have 6 mos boy/girl twins… the boy fights sleeping as if he’s going to miss something important should he close his eyes, and our girl sleeps great and can put herself to sleep easily, but has energy of a wild gazelle. UGH. My husband and I fought a lot about what they needed in terms of naps and, I hate to say it, but he was right (they need more sleep, even if we force it a bit by making the environment conducive to napping). I had a laissez faire approach to them sleeping (“whatever, they will sleep whenever they need it”), but I have been enlightened and understand a schedue is neccessary. My little guy is a happier baby forcing a nap schedule. My girl just goes along right with it. THANK YOU!! One quick question… I am having a terrible time figuring out their meal/nap schedule now that they have just been introduced to solids (it seems like so many feedings with baby food, cereal and bottles)… Can any one of you writers submit a post about schedules you enforced at different chapters in your twins life (i.e. 6 mos and having solids).

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