The Sleep-Deprived Good Sleeper
I’ve been doing some research on six month old sleep patterns and I’ve become increasingly worried that my son hasn’t been getting enough sleep. He has always been really good about bedtime, I have a routine and he goes down sleepy but awake and puts himself to sleep nine nights out of ten, and has been doing that for a long time. He first slept eight hours before he was two months old! But all the research I’ve been doing is saying by six months he should be sleeping twelve hours a night, but he’s still stuck doing between eight and nine, plus he is a terrible napper.
Most nights he will go down around nine and wake up sometime between five and six. On weekends I can feed him and put him back down and he *might* sleep another two hours, but on weekdays we need to leave the house by 6:30 or so, so he doesn’t get to go back to bed. He has never been a good or consistent napper, and while I love our daycare dearly in all other aspects their baby room is infant led everything, so they won’t enforce a nap schedule. On average he naps from 20-40 minutes, usually four times a day although five naps a day wouldn’t be unusual. His last nap of the day is usually after we get home for the day at some point between 5 and 6:30 pm. While he is normally a happy baby, if he doesn’t nap he becomes a cranky monster that will only stop crying if we walk around holding him. Sometimes on weekends he will refuse to nap for hours and will just scream endlessly if we put him down (Daycare has never had this problem, I know not of their magic).
I’ve tried several times to move his bedtime up earlier, but when I do he will either refuse to go to sleep and get super worked up to the point where he actually goes to sleep much later than normal, or he will get up at 4:30 or earlier, which kinda wrecks my sleep as it is too late to go back to bed once I’ve gotten up and fed him and put him back down. I would so badly love for him to sleep longer at night because there are certain things I need to wait for him to go to sleep to do (wash and sterilize pump parts, take a shower, etc) so I’ve been getting six hours or less lately and am feeling super run down. I’m not sure what to do, but I am really worried his current sleep schedule is just not enough. This past week it has been even harder to put him down for naps and that worry has been growing.
Worried my good sleeper is sleep deprived.
Sometimes it’s a good idea to step away from The Google and all the sample charts and suggested schedules. Those charts and schedules represent Some Babies, sometimes even Most Babies, but you only need to focus on Your Baby. Who might just be charting his own schedule!
And who ALSO might just be in the throes of the six-month sleep regression/growth spurt, and is somewhat stuck in between the sleep schedule of a younger baby and the next step up (i.e. transitioning from four/five short naps during the day to two/three longer, more defined naps). These hiccups tend to work themselves out in the span of a few weeks, and you’ll see a new sleep schedule naturally emerge. So that’s another vote for not working your already sleep-deprived self into a worried wreck that You Have Broken Your Baby And This Is How It Shall Always Be.
That said! It sounds like naps are more of an issue than quibbling over nine overnight hours vs. 12 since it’s primarily on Bad Nap Days that you actually see evidence that he’s sleep deprived. That actually suggests that his natural/personal sleep needs CAN be met just fine with the shorter overnight stretch…as long as he gets those four/five/six catnaps in, spaced nicely throughout the day to stave off the Crank Monster.
It’s definitely not ideal that his daycare isn’t keeping him on a nap schedule during the week, and thus leaving you to flounder aimlessly on the weekends, with no clear idea of when you should be aiming for a nap until he’s well past the Super Overtired mark. Do they at least make note of the times he naps each day? Even if they aren’t specifically choosing his nap times, a daily written log might help you map out some kind of pattern that you can attempt to replicate on the weekends. Ask for a nap log if you don’t get one already. Study it and look for any traces of a repeatable schedule.
On the weekdays he gets up at 6:30 — does he doze in his car seat on the way to daycare? If so, count that as nap #1, which probably gets absorbed into the two extra hours you can get from him on the weekends. If not, make note of the first daycare nap and count how many hours it happens after he wakes up. For a lot of babies this age (BUT NOT ALL), the first nap happens about two hours after they wake up. The next nap is about three hours after they wake from THAT nap, and then nap #3 is four hours after that waking. Also known as the 2-3-4 sleep schedule. For some babies (BUT NOT ALL), those first two naps are long and substantial enough that bedtime actually happens at the “4” mark. But for babies like yours (who is far from unusual!), who take much shorter and more frequent naps, things can get kinda hit-or-miss after those first two naps.
So I’d TRY for a 2-3 nap schedule to start the first half of his day, and then observe him. How many hours awake can he go before Crank Monster and inconsolable crying? Three hours tops? Less than that? Make your own nap/observation log on a Saturday and then try to shift things accordingly on Sunday and see how it goes. Forget about the bedtime and the overnight block for now (especially since you’ve already tried an earlier bedtime and it’s backfired) — I think it’s more important to ensure he’s getting those naps in whenever he needs them, and perhaps the daytime sleep will naturally begin to beget more nighttime sleep. (Once he’s through the six-month growth spurt, at least.)
And here’s the thing about naps: The WHEN is so, so much more important than the WHERE. Even Richard Ferber admits this and advises parents to not stress about naps not always happening in the crib. If your baby won’t “go down” on the weekends…will he fall asleep in a baby carrier? His car seat? A swing or glider? While none of these are recommended for long stretches of overnight sleep, there is no shame or danger in letting him zonk out for 30 minutes wherever he’s willing to zonk out, under your watch. If he fights the crib tooth and nail for naps — don’t push the crib, because you might just end up seeing that behavior start happening at his so-far-so-good bedtime if he starts associating it with a struggle and lots of crying. If you haven’t invested in a good handsfree baby-wearing carrier that both you and your partner like, DO IT. (I recommend a sturdy face-in carrier that works for both front- and back-wearing, like an Ergobaby. We used it for YEARS.) See if he’ll count that as being held and fall asleep…while you can get precious other tasks done because look Ma, no hands!
All humans have different, personal sleep needs. You know you need more than six hours to feel well-rested, but probably know lots of adults for whom six hours is plenty — or even more than they need! The same goes for teens, children and babies. There are the general guidelines and suggestions…and then there’s real life, where some of us are wired to be night owls and others are early risers. Some toddlers drop their naps really early while some are still taking long-ass naps well into preschool. Some babies sleep for 12 hours straight at night while many, many parents can only cry-laugh at that glorious, completely unrealistic idea.
Focus on what’s working (his bedtime routine and lack of multiple nighttime wakings) and do your best with what’s left (getting as much daytime sleep out of him as you can, whenever and wherever it happens).