Your usual routine is probably turned on its head right now as you adjust to working from home and caring for your kiddos who are no longer in school or daycare. But because you’re home so much, now is the time to get firm about nap time, according to two pediatricians and a childhood sleep expert. This is especially true if your little one is used to napping at daycare and you’re trying to keep their schedule at home.
Maybe you’re thinking that you don’t have time or energy to add any new routines to your daily life (which is totally fair). But the enticing thing about having your child on a predictable nap schedule is that it frees up time for you each day. Naps give your kiddo an hour or so to rest and reset which may mean those late-afternoon hours are a bit easier, and your kiddo may even skip that epic evening toddler meltdown.
“[Quarantine] actually is a good time to establish a nap schedule or, at least, a scheduled quiet time,” Dr. Lynelle Schneeberg, Psy.D., pediatric sleep psychologist and director of the Behavioral Sleep Program at Connecticut Children's Medical Center tells Romper. She adds that it can be helpful to have a pre-nap routine that's a shortened version of your nighttime routine, so maybe you do one quick book and a song at nap-time before dimming the lights.
It may take a bit of trial and error to find the best nap time for your little one, but after lunch is usually a safe bet. The sleep hormone, melatonin, builds up in the early afternoon, Dr. David Hill, pediatrician and author of Dad to Dad: Parenting Like a Pro, tells Romper. “We're more likely to sleep after a meal, so planning nap time for after lunch is quite helpful. Use light and dark cues, making the sleep environment as dark as you can get it. Keep the same schedule every day; every cell in the body adapts to our sleep schedule, and they like to know what’s coming,” Hill adds.
You may need to spend a few days “observing” your child’s behavior (not that you have any other choice these days). “After your child wakes from their nighttime sleep or from a previous nap, watch for early signs of sleepiness (yawning or rubbing eyes) to determine about how long their awake time should be,” Dr. Whitney Casares, pediatrician and author of The New Baby Blueprint: Caring for Your Little One, tells Romper. She adds that it’s helpful to make sure kiddos get plenty of physical activity in-between naps so they’re ready to fall asleep easily; this can be really hard without playgrounds and playdates, but there are some great exercise videos for kids that should tire them out, even in a small space.
Your family’s sleep schedule may have shifted a bit for everyone recently, and it’s okay (in fact, it may even be encouraged) to allow your kiddos to sleep in a little later than they would if you had to rush to school and work. However, it’s still important to pay attention to your child’s rise time (the time that they wake up).
“The rise time sets the bedtime if you think about it,” Schneeberg tells Romper. “It's also fine if the rise time (and the bedtime) is a bit later than it would be if the child were going to school. It can be best not to let it slide by more than an hour or two if you can,” she says. If your child is sleeping long, uninterrupted stretches at night, they may not actually need a nap (depending on age), but you can still have a quiet time each afternoon, Hill says. You can set them up in their room with a relaxing activity like a book, music, or maybe even a calming meditation. “It's fine to sit in their doorway in a chair, if you'd like, to read your own book or get some work done if that helps your child to settle,” Schneeberg tells Romper. If they do fall asleep, great, but if not, that's okay too.
And if your kiddo just will not nap or you can’t always stick to the schedule? Don't be too hard on yourself. “Give yourself some grace if your child doesn’t nap as well as they normally do during quarantine,” Casares tells Romper. “Lack of regular routine for you and your little one can impact all aspects of your child’s life, including sleep.” There will be times when you have an urgent work meeting at nap time or your kiddo is just resisting and you don’t feel like fighting it. Routines are helpful, but it’s okay to break them in certain times.
Dr. Whitney Casares, pediatrician & author of "The New Baby Blueprint: Caring for Your Little One"
Dr. Lynelle Schneeberg, Psy.D., pediatric sleep psychologist & director of the Behavioral Sleep Program at Connecticut Children's Medical Center