The power of a restorative nap is hugely under rated. How often have you sat at your desk after lunch, fighting to stay awake, or wished you could curl up on the sofa at the weekend and take a little sleep - but having small children now means you no longer have carefree Sunday afternoons to while away?
And yet in some cultures it is still very much part of daily life to sleep a full night and then to also nap each day in the afternoon, and enjoy a little siesta. This is commonplace not just in Mediterranean Europe, but also in some African countries, parts of South America, and China.
There is evidence to suggest that this 'biphasic' pattern of sleep is derived from a deep biological need rather than a cultural difference. But modern life in many industrialised countries now means that it is not possible certainly for us adults to nap for 20 minutes to an hour every afternoon - usually due to work and family commitments, despite some companies such as Google recognising that it can in fact, increase productivity. (https://www.sleep.org/articles/napping-around-the-world/). Instead we now tend to just sleep in one block, at night, referred to as monophasic sleep. At least, that's if we aren't woken by a sleepless little one!
So back on to the subject of naps - and how it can make a huge difference to your baby's night time sleep!
Some parents make the mistake, when struggling with a child who isn't sleeping through the night, of thinking that if they reduce the daytime nap length, or remove naps completely, this will make their child more tired when it comes to bedtime and they will sleep longer the next night.
In fact, what happens is the complete opposite. When a child becomes overtired, their body releases the stress hormone cortisol - which then keeps them awake longer and means they are unable to settle, as their central nervous system is on high alert, they are 'wired' and experience what is commonly known as a second wind. Most adults can relate to this when they feel tired in the early part of the evening, perhaps once they've just come in from work, or during the bedtime routine with their children, but then find they get a boost of energy just before they were thinking of heading to bed - and then end up staying up until the early hours finding all sorts of things they suddenly need to do!
A chronically overtired child results in a repetitive pattern of an inability to settle, irritability during the day and frequent night wakings, which then just exacerbates the problem into the next day. This in turn can lead to erratic nap times and babies and young children falling asleep at completely the wrong times. It is a case of taking the time to unravel and correct this situation in order to reduce the overtiredness and solve the problem.
It is important to remember the age old saying, 'Sleep Begets Sleep'. This is absolutely true. A well rested child who is napping for the correct amount of time relative to their age during the day, and not being kept awake too long between naps (particularly important with younger babies) will find it easier to settle at bedtime, and will sleep deeper throughout the night and wake less. Often it is just a case of making minor changes to their daytime routine in order to create a huge impact on their nights.
If you're struggling with your child's sleep, dealing with multiple night wakings, early morning wakings or resistance to bedtime, please visit www.sweetdreamssleepcoaching.co.uk to book a consultation and bespoke sleep plan package tailored specifically to your family's needs and parenting style.