Written by: Nicky Barker, Founder of Little Ones & Paediatric Sleep Specialist
You may have heard us talk about the lunch-time nap being the longest most restorative nap of the day for your little one, and while we all would love for this nap to be smooth sailing, unfortunately that long stretch of sleep is harder to achieve than you may think.
There are numerous reasons for this, which we cover in this article, but first let me share my story about the lunch nap, which we recommend in our Sleep Programs.
When my youngest was about 4 weeks old we were really refining our Sleep Program methods and I started implementing our own advice in terms of awake times and nap times/lengths with her. At this point I was side-settling my baby fully to sleep for all sleeps, in her cot, and resettling her the same way. Sometimes she’d fall asleep while I was feeding her before a nap or in the night (she was breastfed), and that was fine! I knew that at this age that wasn’t going to really be impacting the quality or length of her sleep.
By the time she was closer to 11 weeks old she started to have noticeably more differentiated sleep cycles, catnapping started to creep in and that’s around the time I decided I needed to ease back on fully settling her to sleep and so I would side-settle her until she was in the zone for sleep, then I would back off and let her fall the rest of the way asleep on her own. It took maybe 1-2 days of doing this at the start of naps and she didn’t ever cry or get upset; she would sometimes get a bit frustrated and grizzly and I’d go back and side-settle her again. Sometimes she just lay there quietly until she fell asleep, no crying, just figuring out how to do it and that she COULD do it!
So it’s fair to say she was pretty much falling asleep independently from around 3 months old.
Once the 4 month regression was in full swing however, her lunchtime nap definitely took a hit and that's what I really wanted to share with you - that is just a very very “normal” occurrence between around 3-6 months. Our recommended 2 hour nap is the absolute end game, it is not a case of “it has to happen every day and if your baby doesn’t do the full lunch nap there’s something wrong”.
My baby would do the nap some days, and other days she wouldn’t. Almost every 2nd day she wouldn’t do it and I would go in and try and resettle her, I would turn up the white noise, I would side-settle her, I would get her out of her cot, I would feed her. Sometimes she fell asleep while she was feeding and I would just let her sleep on me for the rest of her nap and use it as a chance to have some down time (and a cuddle!) myself. Sometimes she wouldn’t resettle or go back to sleep at all and if I felt like resettling her was making me anxious or frustrated, I’d just get her up and I would work off her awake times and use my intuition as her mother to assess how she was going - if I thought she seemed super tired, I’d give her less awake time and let her sleep longer at the afternoon nap to catch up or I’d follow our catnapping schedule.
Because I had the knowledge about her sleep and a good idea of how much she needed to sleep each day (the same knowledge you can have in our Sleep Programs), I was far better equipped to navigate things when they didn’t go according to plan. I could follow her lead to an extent, or re-plan her naps for the rest of the day, using the timings in the Program as a guide. On the days she did resettle herself during the lunch nap, I would text Amanda and say “OMG I think she’s doing it” in genuine disbelief! Then the next day she’d prove me a liar!
So, we 100% feel your pain - the lunch nap was a tricky, unpredictable pain in the bum for us too.
Because my daughter was already self-settling before the 4 month regression fully hit, the regression was a lot easier on her, but in saying that, we still definitely felt it and it wasn’t until closer to 6 months that the lunch nap started consistently happening. And then of course by 8 months we had the 8 month regression and the lunch nap took a hit again and her nap would sometimes only be an hour or an hour and a half. Instead of stressing about it I would say “yep cool, thats a developmental stage, we’re just going to keep pushing through” and if she woke early from the lunch nap and she was happy, I’d leave her in her cot so she was at least still resting. If she was upset, I’d just get her up and get on with the day, assessing whether she might have needed a power nap to get her through till bedtime or whether she might last if I brought bedtime earlier.
So what I really wanted to share with you all is that the lunch nap is the ultimate nap goal, it’s what we’re aiming for long-term, but it’s certainly something that takes time to click into place and we don’t want you to worry if your baby isn’t doing the lunch nap immediately, or during the tricky 3-6 month bracket, or during a sleep regression! It doesn’t mean your baby is broken or that the Program isn’t working. It means your baby is only human!
We know babies aren’t robots. Sometimes your baby will need more sleep and less awake time than in our Program. Sometimes they won’t do the lunch nap, sometimes they need an earlier bedtime. Utilise our knowledge and our advice and your own understanding of your baby to adapt the Program if you need to.
So our advice - for the lunch nap, if your baby wakes up after one sleep cycle, leave them to see if they’ll go back to sleep - always give them the chance. If they’re under 6 months, see if you can resettle them all the way back to sleep (however you can) otherwise use the catnapping schedule. If they aren’t going back to sleep don’t sweat it. We’ve all been there, the lunch nap can suck for a while, and tomorrow is a new day!