Should I sleep train for NAPS or at NIGHT first?


Joshua, a few weeks old
The all too familiar question. Maybe you have been wondering this exact thing. It's about time I addressed it in a post instead of in multiple comments where you have to wait days to find out my answer. Not very fun when you are trying t
o get things started!

Here's my answer. Start with either Nights or Nights and Naps. If you start with both (which may or may not be best depending on your child and how over tiredness and total consistency affects him) then it is usually best to start with night followed by naps the next morning or whenever you've got nights tackled. If you think it will be a quick thing (like it was when I took away Jacob's pacifier) and will only last through naps, then I'd personally start there. I'd much rather have a day of bad naps than a night of bad sleeping!

Here's why I suggest doing things this way:
  • First off, most parents struggle more with naps than night time sleep. Babies usually figure out how to sleep during the night before they figure out the day. This is why you'll hear more complaints from parents about naps than night sleep. Well, at least from those parents that are working towards good sleep both day and night for their child.
  • There is a stronger drive to sleep during the night compared to the day (as long as the nights and days aren't switched). Your child will feel more tired at night and will {hopefully} give in to sleep more easily.
  • Night sleep is more restorative than day sleep. In other words, you get more for your buck while sleeping at night compared to the day. So if you can, you want to get the good sleep going for you here.
  • Night sleep is, obviously, a lot longer than naps so you get a huge chunk of time to work with. During the day you can only work at things so long before it is time to get baby up and feed etc. During the night you've got hours and hours to work with so you can stick with things until they work.
  • Getting night sleep figured out before nap training will help rid your child of over tiredness which is a huge factor in bad napping. Sleep training for naps makes over tiredness and often short naps worse, so you can use all the great night sleep you can get (and early bedtimes too!).

Additionally, make sure to start with bedtime if you are working with night wakings. Many children, once they get that bedtime down well, will start to reduce their night wakings all on their own in several days time.

What experience do you have with this? What has worked best for you?

16 comments :

  1. I have had an easier time with night sleep than naps with both my girls. This is great advice! The naps will come easier if you first get them in s good nightime rotine.

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    1. Yeah! Thank you for validating what I said :) I mean, I've had experience and i've talked to a lot of people, but it is nice to get it validated when I post about it!

      Rachel

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  2. Great advise and reminder that you get more for your buck while night sleeping compared to day sleeping.

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    1. "you get more for your buck while night sleeping compared to day sleeping"

      I have probably drilled this into you head too many times, huh?!

      Rachel

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  3. Thank you for linking to the Thursday Favorite Things blog hop linky party xo

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  4. Rachel,
    First of all, thank you for providing such a great resource and being so generous with your time... By answering all of our questions and giving advice. I was wondering if you could help me trouble shoot my son's night sleep issue. My son is 4 1/2 months old. Recently, he started napping so well. He went from taking a few annoying 30 minute or shorter naps to taking 2 naps of about 1 1/2 hours and 1 30 min nap late in the day. He also just started going down for naps SO EASILY. I know part of the problem was that he used to nurse to sleep. I stopped that and started a simple but consistent nap routine and it has done wonders. Our days have been so much better for the past week or so! As night, he goes down so easily and falls asleep on his own in less than 10 min. His bedtime is 6:00...of his own doing. We tried to make it later and it was 8:30 when he was a newborn, but he shows signs of being tired and ready at 5:30 every night. We are very consistent with his bedtime routine. The problem is, he wakes about 4 or 5 hours after this and again every 2 hours or so all night. Then he wakes at 5am or so and is ready to play. Some nights, the waking even starts earlier at 8:30 or 9pm. We've let him cry a little, we wait, I've tried pu/pd and nothing helps. I've read that babies who can put themselves to sleep often start to sleep through the night on their own. Do you think the recent nap lengthening is a sign that maybe night sleep will soon evolve on its own also? Any thoughts? Thanks so much! I'm becoming so sleep deprived I can't think straight.

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    1. Emily H,
      "babies who can put themselves to sleep often start to sleep through the night on their own"--this is true, but it isn't uncommon for it to take a couple weeks to happen.

      "Do you think the recent nap lengthening is a sign that maybe night sleep will soon evolve on its own also? " It may be, but sometimes night and naps can be pretty separate. That's great that you've got an early bedtime, that can do wonder with multiple night wakings. Look over his waketimes and see how they compare to the average, as well as his total sleep.

      Is he getting a feeding at all at night? I wonder if he's got a growth spurt going on (or still needs one feed) and if he gets a feed then he'll stop having frequent wakings after.

      I'd try wake to sleep for the 5 am waking (if other things dont't fix it) or some other ST method, like pu/pd (whatever method you prefer). You need to be consistent for several days though with whatever you try. just make sure to not give attention and play at this time. Give as little attention as possible to help him know 5 am is night, not day.

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  5. Hi Rachel,
    My son's 4 weeks old, and all along I've been worried that I've been creating bad sleep associations and habits, while everyone told me that for the first 2-3 months, not to worry and do whatever works to get him to sleep.

    What this has meant, so far, is usually nursing him to sleep or close to it, and mom or dad holding him as he sleeps (or sometimes at least until he's in a really deep sleep - then, if I'm lucky, I can lay him on a pillow on the couch next to me as I stay up all night watching). We haven't had much success getting him to sleep or nap in his pack n' play bassinet.

    My method has been to nurse him until he's super drowsy - then I put him down, occasionally w/ a pacifier though he doesn't always want one. He's swaddled and I have white noise. I usually get about 20 minutes of sleep before he wakes up crying. Sometimes I can pick him up and console him, sometimes he's worked into a frenzy and takes a lot of soothing to calm down. I assume then he's overtired, because he only got a short sleep before waking.

    I think part of the problem might be association - part might be location, as he'll sleep (if he's in a deep sleep at night) in our bed or on a soft pillow/blanket. But, he doesn't like to sleep in his bouncer, either. Same thing - about 20 minutes before he realizes he doesn't want to be there.

    I don't know where to start at this young age - but I want him to be able to sleep without being in someone's arms! Dad and Mom are taking shifts - one in bed sleeping, the other one out in the living room holding baby. We need more sleep :)

    Thanks so much!

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  6. I should say, my method for putting him down in his bassinet for a nap.

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    1. Bethany,
      As you've found out, everyone has different opinons about what to do with kids. I try to avoid the sleep props, but sometimes I think their use is very helpful and needed. More about that here:
      http://www.mybabysleepguide.com/2012/11/sleep-props-and-newborns.html

      Start with working on things on these two posts, mainly the second one (the first isn't quite done yet) and read more about thing on the included links.
      http://www.mybabysleepguide.com/2010/02/sleep-problems-by-age-newborn.html
      http://www.mybabysleepguide.com/2013/01/how-to-set-stage-for-good-sleep-tear.html

      Sounds like he's probably a bit overtired too. But many babies are, don't be hard on yourself about that one.

      As for sleep location, it's a matter of safety. The bed/pillow is more cuddly for him (like a swaddle--swaddle if you are not doing that) but the flat mattress on his bed is safer. I know, not ideal how things like that work out. Safety isn't always convenient, that's for sure!

      Best of luck!
      Rachel

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  7. Hi Rachel,

    I have a similar problem as Emily h above, my little guy (5 months old in 1 week) has been self settling since 4 weeks or so old. At 14 weeks he slept through on and off for 2 weeks.
    For the past near 6 weeks his sleep has regressed. He started waking once, then twice, now three times (every 3 hours).
    His day sleep was just cat naps up until a week ago and now we manage two long sleeps a day (and a cat nap).
    I feed him when he wakes as he won't settle otherwise - just screams.
    He goes down between 6.30 and 7 and wakes at 9.30, 12.30, 3.30 and then 7ish (all give or take and hour).
    We also recently travelled and the time was 2 hours behind home, he went to sleep fine (around 6.30) and woke every day at 5, we left him to resettle and wake at 6 - was the latest he expected as it was light there by 5.30.
    While we were there he began the waking for a feed every 3 hours and seemed to move into this being his routine, sometimes he'd wake earlier.
    If moved hime to having around 3.5 hours between feeds and this seems to be working well - so I don't understand why this won't translate to night.
    According to the wonder weeks app he is 3 days from finishing the Events wonder week (thank God! This was a long one!).
    I should add that we do try quite hard to settle before feeding but he's hell bent on a feed (even tried Panadol in case it's teething - didn't seem to help).
    I'm hoping you can offer some advice, I have no idea what to do and my hubby and I are really struggling with the lack of sleep!
    Thanks in advance.

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  8. Hi Rachel,

    Been reading your blog for a couple of weeks now and it's the best I've seen on the topic - thank you for doing it! I'm struggling with an issue now that I wonder if you'd mind thinking over with me. My son, James, is just over 3 months now. We go to a pediatrician who advocates for sleep training at 2 months, so we went ahead and did the full CIO when he was about 11 weeks. It really only took him one night with pretty minimal crying and for the last three weeks he's slept from 7:00 to 7:00 without much problem. However, I'm running into an issue with his last nap of the day and his bedtime. Like many others, his nap lengths are all over the place, ranging from 1.5 hrs to 30 or 40 minutes, and usually shrinking in length as the day wears on. He had been going down for his last nap sometime between 4:30 and 5:30 and then going to bed by 7:30. Some days I can still get that last nap out of him and some days I can't (he'll just lay back there babbling and whining, crying a little, NOT sleeping). I'm also worried that a late nap might interfere with his nighttime sleeping. However, he has been waking about 30-45 minutes into his night sleep for the past few nights and I'm worried that he is overtired because it's been too long since his last nap. I've tried to think of every possible solution to this problem but I keep getting stuck. If I put him to bed earlier than 7:00pm, won't he wake earlier than 7:00am? And then won't that throw off my schedule for the following day? If I keep waiting until 7:00 to put him to bed will he just end up so overtired that he'll continue waking up 30 mins later? If I really enforce the nap in the evening, will it mess up his nighttime sleep because it's too close to bedtime? I'm really trying for consistency and don't want to destroy the work my husband and I put in with the sleep training because it was torture. I feel like there is a better solution than what I'm doing. Also, we have a pretty well established bedtime routine that involves me nursing him just before putting him down. He often falls asleep and I have to struggle to keep him awake and put him down awake - many times he is asleep by the time I put him down. I KNOW this is not a good idea, but not sure what to do - should I start nursing him at a different stage in the bedtime routine? I guess I just feel like I should nurse him as close to the time I put him down as possible so he doesn't wake at night. Just really unsure what route to take here - any insight would be appreciated!

    Lauren

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    1. Lauren,
      He will probably not wake earlier in the morning if you put him down a bit earlier if he doesn't take an evening nap.

      I would also consider that falling to sleep nursing at night might be part of the issue. An earlier bedtime will help with that, as will nursing a bit earlier in the routine--eating a touch earlier probably won't make any difference. Babies really start to get used to eating at X time in the morning at this age, rather than just after X number of hours (assuming they aren't fed many times at night).

      best,
      rachel

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    2. Thanks so much for your reply. I started a sleep log today to try to help me work it out, too. I feel like there are so many variables going on and I just need to try to start ruling them out. One thing I'm not sure I mentioned is that he's on a 2-2.5 hour eating schedule (just over 3 months old now). I had gotten him up to 2.5-3 a couple of weeks ago but then I think a growth spurt hit and he was suddenly fussy and hungry all the time. I'm not sure how to build up to 2.5-3 hours when his naps are sometimes so short. Waiting to feed him doesn't seem to make much difference since I'm not altering his total awake time, therefore not lengthening the cycle itself. I feel a bit stuck - not sure how to lengthen the cycle without lengthening the naps, which is proving to be super hard (and you suggest not to worry too much about naps right now, as they can sort themselves out between 4-6 months, correct?). I've also noticed that he nods off while eating pretty frequently. I usually just jostle him a bit, tickle him, whatever it takes to wake him so I see that he is eating, but not necessarily insisting that his eyes are open. I've been assuming that the sucking action must mean he is awake, even though his eyes are closed, but now I'm starting to think that he is catching extra zzz's during mealtimes and this may be impacting a few things.

      Starting tonight, I will alter his bedtime routine so that he is not eating right before bed. Do you think I should also ensure that his eyes are OPEN while he's eating during the day? Would you assume that closed eyes mean dozing?

      Thanks again, really appreciate your advice.

      Lauren

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  9. Rachel,
    i m going through a very difficult face and finding your blog has helped with so much amazing information, but i m so confused and would like some help clearing things out...
    my son is 4 months and 1 week old. he still sleeps in a bassinet in our room (plan to change that soon) but did really good since the begining at night (meaning waking up every 3 h or so, but with eyes closed, would eat/change, go in his bed and no peep...) at around 2 m old he even slept for 6 h for a few weeks and even 10 h one night!! i would try to get him to bedtime sleepy but awake, but after his bath/eat routine he anticipates sleep so much that mist of the time he falls asleep (not deep) while eating then put down, then kind of moves around until he falls asleep completely.
    As far as naps, he was always awful. would only sleep on me, and only for 30', woke up every time i put him down, cried for a long time if i let him sleep on his own, (45' for an 1 month old drove me nuts) so after trying all possible ways and places he finally started sleeping in the swing almost from awake state, at 2 months for 2-2 h naps and a 3rd 1 h one.
    until 3 weeks ago, he started all of a sudden waking up in the swing after 30' crying and would go back to sleep no matter what!! after a week we thought that maybe he was getting too uncomfortable for the swing (too big) as he d wake up streching and decided to move him in his crib and try getting him to sleep on his own (with going in and picking up at longer intervals) which didn t work at all. he d cry or 1 h, till he d fall asleep in my arms and then wake up again 30' later!!
    also, he started waking up earlier and earlier in the morning (usually happy to start the day) and for a week now he has stared waking up every 3 h, then 1.5h then last night every hour at night and nothing but being on my breast would console him-not necessarily eating either!!!
    i d like to mention he s an extremely aware baby ( i would n t know, people and other mothers told me that form the begining) has been very vocal/communicative and the last weeks has been def practicing sitting, trying to roll, finds new sounds, is perfecting holding etc.and also grew sooo big during the past couple of weeks (he was as skinny little thing)
    is this a very long "wonder week" case, and we should just wait it out? have we slowly created a bad sleep habit monster?? the problems seem to be getting worse every day (naps, night waking, early morning waking you name it!!) and we re entering week 4 and considering drugs for calming down - for me, not for the baby : ) he s always tired and unhappy and seems almost in pain when he wakes up (at night especially-no sickness though, i suppose exhaustion) we ve tried the swing back again sometimes, same 30' thing (except right now he s been sleeping in it for 1.30' 1rst time in 3 weeks, i m leaving him right now, so he can finally get some rest)
    what do i do...where do i begin???
    i apologize for the long post and i look forward to your response cause i m at my wits end!!

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