We've all heard the phrase a million times "never wake a sleeping baby". People are usually very surprised then, when they tell me their saga of sleepless nights or napless days and my recommendation includes the unthinkable- waking their sleeping baby. I wanted to take some time to highlight a few different situations where waking a baby is ok, even necessary. After reading this, I urge you take a look at the whole picture and add the words "except to preserve the next sleep time" on to the end of that well known phrase.
1. Wake a baby sleeping in after 7:30am. Children's biological wake times vary, but the norm is somewhere between 5:30 and 7:00am. Waking any earlier than 5:30am causes the child to lose out on restorative night time sleep. On the other end of the spectrum, sleeping in after 7:30am also causes your child to lose important sleep at biologically appropriate naptimes. For example, let's say your child is 10 months old and napping twice per day. The optimal times for those naps to begin are around 9am and 1pm. In order for a child to be ready to nap by 9am, they have to be awake in the 7 o'clock at the latest. So to make sure your child's naps are on track for the day, make sure to begin your day no later than 7:30am.
2. Napping after 4pm. Along the same lines as above, napping after 4pm (for children on 2 naps or 1 nap per day) will encroach upon night time sleep. If your child naps too late into the afternoon, they will not be tired by an appropriate bedtime and will miss out on some important night time sleep. Of course there is always an exception for sick children. They should get all the sleep they can while their bodies need extra rest.
3. The dreaded car nap. I understand people have lives and napping in cribs is not always an option, but you should try to make it a priority. When a child sleeps in a car, or other moving device, they are unable to fall into the deep restorative stages of sleep. All thought they are sleeping, they are not getting the full sleep that they need and will not wake up refreshed. I hear time and time again that children fall asleep for 5 or 10 minutes in the car on the way home from activities and then cannot sleep at naptime. Inevitably, they will be grumpy in the evening and have a hard time sleeping that night as their brain will have released cortisol to combat to tiredness. Therefore, if you can help it, try to keep your children awake in the car and wait until home to get sleep in safe, non-moving environment,