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!
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!).