You want to be home with the kids, so working from home seems like the perfect situation. But the reality is that some days you feel like you never get anything accomplished. Sure, the days are long, but somehow there never seem to be enough hours to hit those work goals.
Working while your children sleep is usually the only way to be productive. If you’re like me, you’re so exhausted at the end of the day you can barely string together a sentence. And if I get up before the kids in the morning, one of them will inevitably wake up, leaving us both walking zombies all day.
That leaves naps. Before I became a mom, I spent many years in a career working with children from newborns to school-aged children. So, I’ve been able to use that experience to prioritize my own kids’ sleep, and it’s the only way I’ve been able to start a business from home.
8 ways to get the kids napping consistently so you can work more:
1. Naps are important.
First, remove any mommy guilt about wanting your kids to nap so you can work. Naps are crucial for your little one’s growth and development. Most kids need naps until they’re at least 2 to 3 years old and some even longer. My 4 year old now has quiet time in his bedroom instead but will occasionally fall asleep.
Insufficient sleep can lead to all sorts of problems. Tired babies can become cranky or find it difficult to finish a feed. Overtired toddlers, as you likely know, can be prone to major meltdowns and moodiness. A lack of sleep can even be the source of picky eating! Children become reluctant to try new foods or even to sit still when they’re exhausted.
Summary: Kids (and adults!) of all ages need to recharge, so think of nap time as non-negotiable, not a luxury.
2. Routine is everything.
Establishing a nap routine is the key to getting your kids to take naps consistently. Doing the same thing every day tells your child what’s expected of them.
Kids like predictability and knowing what’s coming up next. If naps happen some days, but not others, it will only confuse them. Confusion leads to resistance. So try to make naps happen at roughly the same time every day. Persevere as it will take several weeks of doing this for it to become a regular pattern.
Setting up a wind-down routine similar to bedtime at night is essential. Put in place as many sleep cues as you can to send them the message that it’s naptime. This will look different for every family.
There’s no need to draw it out, but it might be as simple as changing your little one’s diaper, putting them in their sleeping bag, drawing the curtains, having a cuddle, singing a lullaby, and saying goodnight. Just do the same thing at each nap.
Summary: Persistence and consistency is the only way you’re going to get your kids napping reliably.
3. Fill up their tummies.
Kids have small tummies that need filling up regularly. You can’t expect them to fall asleep or stay asleep if they’re hungry. I’m going to go on about routine again here! You might be a mama who doesn’t like a routine. You might be more go-with-the-flow (I wish I could be like that sometimes!), but developing a routine is important when you’re trying to juggle kids and working from home.
As well as set naptimes, it makes sense to eat together at around the same time each day. You know what they say: Routine leads to a pattern. Patterns become a habit. Habits lead to behavior changes. Timing naps to follow meals or milk feeds will ensure they’re not waking due to rumbling tummies. Make sure those meals are nutrient-dense and full of foods that help them sleep (like tryptophan-containing foods), including chicken, oats, yogurt, eggs, chickpeas, and almonds.
Summary: Routine. Routine. Routine.
4. Get them outside and moving.
Days with kids are ridiculously busy. When you throw in work on top of meals, diaper changes, cleaning up messes, never-ending laundry, running errands, and finding time to play with your kids, there’s very little time left. You can forget about any downtime for you until they’re tucked in bed at night! There’s one thing you should absolutely try to make time for, even if it means leaving the toys everywhere or the breakfast dishes on the table. And that’s getting outdoors together.
Fresh air and exercise will revitalize you so you can find the energy and motivation to keep going all day. But the other obvious bonus of outside play is that it will wear the kids out. Sunlight will increase melatonin production, which is the lovely sleepy hormone. So, walk everywhere, meet up with friends at the park, or get out into the yard and let them be kids – no matter the weather.
Summary: Physical activity is essential for growing bodies and also amazing for a mama’s mental health.
5. Create the perfect sleep environment.
The world is a big, overwhelming, and stimulating place for a little developing brain. Where your kiddos nap should be a sanctuary away from noise, distractions, and clutter (if that’s possible)! I like to keep the toys out of the bedroom to make it as calm and as neutral as possible. A light room can prevent them from falling asleep (there are so many fascinating things to look at!), so it’s important to make it pitch black in there.
To block out household sounds, the lawnmower next door, or the passing truck, play white noise or lullabies quite loudly in their bedroom. Move any toys out of their beds, except for their favorite comforter (only if they’re over 12 months for safety reasons), and ensure that any screen use ends at least an hour before naptime.
Summary: Set the tranquil scene that will quiet and calm those busy little bodies and minds.
6. Fill up their emotional cups.
They need YOU as much as they need to eat and sleep. It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day and become all-consumed in the chaos that is small children. But remember, they crave love and quality time with you more than anything. You’re their world.
You work from home so that you can be there with them, so be present with them when you switch from work mode. Allocate some special time with them every day that includes physical play, like ball games or bike riding; some time to be silly together, like a dance or a tea party; and some time to be affectionate like snuggling up on the sofa and looking at books.
Summary: When they’ve had cozy moments of connection with you, they’ll go to sleep feeling loved and secure.
7. Sleep promotes sleep.
Have you heard that the more consistent children’s naps are during the day, the better they’ll sleep at night? Every child’s sleep needs are unique, and the amount of sleep they require is continuously changing. Follow your child’s cues; look for tired signs and act on them right away. Often those broken nights can be caused by not enough sleep during the day or naps too close to bedtime. On average, a young baby needs between 14-15 hours of sleep over 24 hours, and a toddler needs between 10-14 hours. This will vary from child to child.
Is your little one a catnapper? That can make it seriously challenging to get anything done. Babies often catnap up until they’re about 6 months old. After that, you can try to implement some resettling techniques to get them to the next sleep cycle. Ideally, you want them napping for at least an hour for it to be a truly restorative sleep, particularly for the afternoon nap.
Summary: Good daytime naps can improve sleep at night and vice versa.
8. Naps won’t always happen.
This brings me to my final thought on naps: They won’t always happen. As great as they might become at taking naps, kids are only human and will resist sleep for a number of reasons. They go through developmentally normal sleep regressions, illness, teething, separation anxiety, developmental leaps, and sometimes they simply like to push yet another boundary. My baby has recently started pulling himself up to stand, which he’s practicing in the cot but he can’t get back down again. All are normal and expected behaviors.
As long as you try to stick to your routine and stay calm, the stage will pass. They will nap again, but for now, try to remain patient. Your child will always be more important than work. It can be frustrating especially if you have work deadlines, but you’ll need to find some other time to get it done. Don’t be hard on yourself or your child. Oh, and remember to have a nap yourself occasionally.
Summary: Naps don’t always go as planned, but that’s kids for you!
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Kara Wilson is a mama, parenting writer, and early childhood consultant. If she had some spare time, you would find her either cooking, reading, daydreaming about traveling, or sleeping. You can check out her other published articles at KaraWilson.com.