The Nap Trap


Before the arrival of my daughter, I imagined myself as being the type of parent who would still get out of the house and do what I want, when I want, because my child would learn to adapt to my lifestyle. While I certainly knew my life would change with a child, I assumed that I would still do things on my own schedule, and my daughter would just be along for the ride (silly pre-mom me, right?).

In the early months after my daughter was born, this was actually mostly true. I could get out of the house most any time of the day and even a little bit at night, and it was okay because a one-month-old will sleep and eat most anywhere and not do too much else, allowing mommy and daddy a little bit of freedom to go out to brunch or an evening bar-b-que while getting used to their new roles as parents.

The lack of sleep gets old pretty quickly though, and after a few months, we, like most parents, started seriously trying to get our daughter on a sleep schedule so we could get back to the elusive full-night’s sleep we vaguely remembered from pre-parenthood. After a little trial and error, we finally got into a somewhat predictable sleep pattern (which, if you are a new parent and don’t know about the 2-3-4 Sleep Routine, you should definitely check it out…it was our savior!), and the joy of sleeping for more than a four to five hour stretch was indescribable.

However, we also found ourselves caught…in the Nap Trap.

The Nap Trap is when you plan your day based on your child’s nap schedule. It is when you no longer can attend that 9:00 a.m. spin class because that’s nap time. It is when you schedule playdates and lunch at 10:30 a.m. because you have to make sure you are home by 12:30 p.m. for nap time. It is when you plan your long distance car trips or lengthier runs walks with the stroller around when the little one is most likely to sleep.

You know you are caught in the Nap Trap when you plan your day in blocks: you can only get out of the house for a limited amount of time at three or four specific times of the day, but you also know that you will get a little bit of baby-free time around the house at a few specific times as well.

When one of those specific times arrive (i.e., baby wakes up from a nap), you better be ready to go, because if you dilly-dally, you get dangerously close to the next nap time. The Nap Trap requires a parent to have a plan for action, which can be great for the SAHM looking to add some structure back into her life, but not so great for the spontaneous, carefree weekend schedule my husband and I often enjoyed as a party of two.

The consequences of not abiding by the Nap Trap’s sleeping schedule are dire; skipping the all important nap could mean hours of bursts of uncontrollable infant/toddler energy coupled with grumpy, weepy meltdowns.

After missing a nap, do you try for another nap later in the day? But what if they do nap later…what does that mean for bedtime?  Will she confuse naptime with bedtime and sleep too long? Will we be up with her tonight until 10:00 p.m., 11:00 p.m., 12:00 a.m.?  If she doesn’t take a nap, will she go to bed at 5:00 p.m. and wake up at 4:00 a.m. ready to start her day tomorrow?

No, no, no…the consequences are breaking the nap schedule are too scary, thus the scheduling trap that rules so many parents’ days.

Not everyone falls into the Nap Trap. Some babies have the miraculous ability to sleep anywhere…but not my little one, which her blackout blinds, sound machine, light projector, comfy crib, and reading The Hungry Caterpillar one to four times before she will settle down to sleep. Routine and environmental familiarity are two of the essential elements of the Nap Trap.

Having already dropped from three naps a day down to two, I know that in a few months time we will be down to one nap a day, allowing us a little more flexibility in our schedule. However, for the time being, I will cherish every moment of our confining, hurry-up-and-wait nap trap schedule because I can finally sleep at night.

How do you handle naps in your household?