sleep coaching

Nap Coaching...the challenge is worth it!

Photo by Sasha_Suzi/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Sasha_Suzi/iStock / Getty Images

Naps can be challenging for parents and for children. The drive to sleep is not as strong as it is at night, and it’s harder for babies to want to leave the excitement of the day to take a much-needed snooze. Nap coaching takes consistency + time + effort, but when it “clicks” it’s great for you and for your baby.

Tips for Success

•  Determine if your baby is ready for nap coaching. Most babies have the capacity to work on nap skills by 6 months. If you have a younger baby, then just work on filling his daytime sleep needs any way you can, you can come back to nap coaching when he is older.

•  Know how much daytime sleep your baby needs. A 6-month old baby is going to have different nap needs than a 3-year old.

•  Watch sleep cues (yawning, losing focus, a certain cry) and keep an eye on the clock, we want to catch him before he is overtired.

•  Set-up his sleep environment so it is dark; they need help blocking out the excitement of the world, so the darker the better. Using white noise can also help to block out outside distractions.

•  Move into naptime with a regular naptime routine – make it a shorter version of his normal bedtime routine. Make time for transitions, don’t go from running around outside to straight into bed, add some calming down time.

•  Use back-up nap strategies. Try for a couple of naps during the day in his regular sleep space. Monitor his sleep intake. If, by 3:00 p.m., he still hasn’t had enough daytime sleep, then go for an “emergency nap” or “back-up” nap. This is where a car ride, stroller ride, the swing/ carrier or even holding to sleep can help. Motion sleep is better than no sleep at all.


Nap coaching takes hard work!

Naps take longer to settle into place than nighttime coaching. With consistency, most babies can master daytime sleep within 3-4 weeks. Plan to keep your calendar clear of regular commitments for a couple of weeks while you are nap coaching. Remember that the more practice he gets, the quicker he will learn this new skill. You will probably feel like you are stuck in the house more during nap coaching, but in the long run, you will actually gain more flexibility and freedom. You’ll be able to predict when he needs to sleep so you’ll have more freedom to make plans around his naps- he’ll be a happier baby when he’s awake and his sleep at night will also improve.


How to nap coach: 

Most times, you can use the same sleep strategies during naps that you use at bedtime. However, you may find that an alert baby may be fine with the Shuffle at bedtime, but be more excited or irritated with a parent in the room for naps. If the Shuffle is not working for naps after 2 – 3 days, go ahead and try a different approach. Time checks can work well if you have another child at home and can only focus so much time and attention to nap training.

You can use a different coaching strategy for naps than the strategy you use at night. It’s most important to be consistent with how you will coach at night, and how you will coach for naps.

I usually recommend that parents start nap coaching after the nights have improved so that their baby does not become overtired. However, if time is an issue, it is possible to do night coaching and nap coaching at the same time.


Tips for Nap coaching: 

Naps take practice, which means that you need to give your child the time to master the skill. Here are the Gentle Sleep Coach napping guidelines:

•  Don’t start naps before 8:00 a.m., otherwise his whole day will shift earlier, and you may be faced with a long gap between afternoon nap and bedtime. After naps improve, you can begin to gradually push this nap later in 15-minute increments.

•  Coach for 45 – 60 minutes to get him to sleep for his nap. If he doesn’t go to sleep, then leave the room for a couple of minutes, and come back in with a dramatic wake-up-  throw open the curtains, turn on the light, sing a song. Give him the message, “I am getting you out of bed because Mommy/ Daddy says it’s time to get up – not because you have refused to nap for the past 30 minutes.” If he doesn’t sleep for his nap, then his next nap or bedtime will happen sooner. Watch forsleepy cues.

•  Aim for at least one sleep cycle of 45 minutes. For example, if he sleeps for 50 minutes he has the minimum amount of sleep he needs in his "sleep tank". Do a dramatic wake up. Get on with your day, and watch the sleepy cues for the timing of the next nap or bedtime.

•  If he sleeps less than 45 minutes, it’s what’s called a “disaster nap, try to coach him back to sleep. Try for 30-60 minutes to get him back to sleep. If he doesn’t go back to sleep, just do a dramatic wake-up and get on with your day.   Watch for sleepy cues for the timing of the next nap/ bedtime. If he does go back to sleep, even for a few minutes, that’s success because he’s learning to transition to the next sleep cycle! Do your dramatic wake-up and watch for sleepy cues for the timing of the next nap/ bedtime.

•  Try for 2 naps in his crib before going to your backup nap strategy. One word of caution: make the back-up nap different from the habit you are trying to break. For example, if you are no longer holding the baby to sleep at bedtime, then use a different sleep support for the emergency nap to get your baby to sleep.

•  Don’t let naps go past 4:30 p.m., even if it means you wake your child. Stick with a regular bedtime as much as possible. If your baby sleeps late in the day, he will have a harder time going to sleep at bedtime.

•  If your child has had short naps and not much daytime sleep, get him into bed anytime after 6:00 p.m. You want him in bed before he is overtired.

Remember that nap coaching can be tough, and naps take longer to fall into place, but the predictability and freedom you gain will be worth it – and your baby will get the daytime sleep he needs!

Please contact me for more help or information!

Creating a Healthy Sleep Environment

Think of your child’s bedroom or nursery, what does it look like? Is it bright and colorful? Are there toys all over the place? A mobile hanging over the crib? One of the most exciting parts of decorating a room for a baby is making it friendly and inviting- a place that every baby would love to fall asleep. But what happens when you get your baby home from the hospital and they don’t sleep? As adults, we can block out a lot of outside distractions when we are tired, but that’s very difficult for children.

When a baby first comes home from the hospital, they seem like they can sleep through anything. You can run the vacuum beside them, have a loud conversation over dinner, pass them from one person to another and they will not stir. That doesn’t mean that they’re sleeping, it’s called habituation. It is a baby’s way to block out the stimulation; a form of self-soothing that most babies have until they’re about 6-8 weeks old. After that time, they will need more assistance to help block out the noise and distractions. This is where sleep environment comes in, and where a soothing setting helps your baby to cope with stimulation.

1.     Light: During the day, when babies need to nap, we need to help them by blocking out the light. has great blackout curtains available, but if that’s not in your budget, you can try tinfoil, black trash bags, or even pinning a dark flat sheet over the window. When the room is nice and dark, your baby will be better equipped to block out stimulation. The same applies to toddlers sleep; if you want to encourage naptime, try making the room nice and dark.

2.     Sound: Are you constantly worried that someone is going to ring your doorbell or the garbage truck is going to wake-up your sleeping baby? A white noise machine can help. Babies are used to lots of noise in the womb, the outside world is very quiet to them in comparison. By adding white noise to their sleep environment, it helps them to block out the intermittent noise, and encourages them to sleep.

 Here’s a good place to compare white noise        machines: 

3.     Distractions: The mobile that’s hanging over your baby’s crib may be too much for him. Instead of soothing him to sleep, it may be keeping him awake. There are some babies that are so focused on what’s going on that mobiles distract them. Even sheets that have a pattern on them can be too much for some babies, their eyes focus on the pattern and they can’t shut it out. It may seem silly to you, but plain sheets may make all the difference to your baby. Is your toddler’s room covered in toys? That may be too much for them. If their room is full of toys, put them away in bins before naps, where they won’t distract them from sleeping.

4.     Personal Preferences: Pay attention to your child and you will learn what they like and what they don’t. My first son loved cozy spaces, so for the first few months of being in his crib, I halved it and made it feel smaller by using the bumper to create a smaller space. He loved this and he transitioned much better into the crib. What does your child like? Does she seem to calm when you press your hand to her tummy while she’s falling asleep? Swaddling or Magic Sleep Suits provide deep pressure sensations that can be calming and comforting for some children.

Get to know your baby or child and adapt their sleeping environment to what will work best for them and their personality. Sometimes creating a healthy sleeping environment is half the battle of good sleep!

Photo by {artist}/{collectionName} / Getty Images

Photo by {artist}/{collectionName} / Getty Images

Best Baby Products

When I found out I was pregnant with my first son, I went to Babies R’ Us and basically registered for every product that looked cool. Bottles, fancy pack n’ plays, pacifiers, swings, bouncers, wipe warmers- I wanted them all! After about 6 months, I realized that most of what I got was unnecessary and I could have saved 100s of dollars!! Now, I tell friends and parents what works and what I think is a waste of time. Here’s my list of favorite products:

1.)   Miracle Blanket (

-        This blanket saved my life! Babies are strong, they can Houdini themselves out of things that you wouldn’t believe! Before having my son, I learned how to swaddle with a blanket- what a joke! He could bust out of any blanket within minutes, which would then lead to him waking up after hitting himself in the face. When your baby is finally asleep, you want them to stay asleep, this blanket helps!

2.)   Dr. Brown’s Bottles (

-        I basically thought that all bottles were created equal before having kids. They are not! This brand of bottles is the absolute best and helps decrease gas, so that after feeding, your baby is comfortable and they spit-up less.

3.)   Magic Merlin Sleepsuit (

-        With my second son, he refused to sleep in the crib. I tried every technique I had used for my older son- warming the mattress before putting him down, putting his head in the corner of the crib so that he felt cozier, purchasing a better crib mattress- nothing worked!
Then I stumbled upon the Merlin Magic Sleepsuit- this thing is a miracle! On the first night, he was in it, he slept for 8 straight hours in the crib- he had never slept in there for more than 20 minutes. It was amazing. If your baby has trouble sleeping in the crib, try this product, it may work like magic for you, too.

4.)   Fisher Price Rock n’ Play (click here)

-        I am a huge fan of this device. I am a sleep coach, but for the first few months of life I believe in doing what you need to do to get your baby sleeping and yourself sleeping (as long as it’s safe!) This product is amazing. I don’t necessarily like the new ones that have all of the bells and whistles, but the standard Rock n’ Play that does not vibrate, rock on its own, etc. is amazing. It feels cozy, and the slight incline makes it easier on babies that may have reflux. I am a huge fan! Plus, you can rock it when your baby stirs, without holding your baby so that they learn a little bit of self-soothing with a little bit of help.

5.)   Basic Pack n’ Play (click here)

-        There is no need to spring for the fancy pack n’ play, the basic one does the trick. If you are going to spend money on something, invest in the mattress that comes with it, so that your baby is not on the super hard mattress that’s included. I never used all the vibration/music options that came on my fancy one- it was a complete waste.

6.)   Wake up clock (click here)

-        When my son was 2 ½ years old he began waking up at 4:30 in the morning for the day. I was terrified at the prospect of waking up at 4:30 am when I was 8 months pregnant with #2. I scoured the internet for a clock that would be easy for him to understand and bright enough for him to see. I settled on this one from the UK, it’s amazing and both my sons still use it every morning. They know that when it turns yellow, they can come out of their room and start their day.

7.)   Breathable mesh bumper (click here)

-        I like bumpers because they make the crib feel a little cozier, and they also help with keeping the pacifiers in the bed. The thick cushy bumpers can be unsafe in the crib. I found that a breathable mesh bumper creates a cozier environment, while still being safe.

8.)   Cloth diaper for burp cloths (click here)

-        Forget those pretty burp cloths that don’t absorb anything- they are not worth it. Instead, get the plain old cloth diapers- they are amazing and absorbing spit up, spills etc. They are the absolute best!

9.)   Aidan & Anais Blankets (

-        Not only are these blankets pretty but they are also super functional. You can use them to cover your baby if they’re cold, use them to cover yourself if you’re nursing, use them to swaddle your baby if needed- they are super functional and beautiful. 

What does “drowsy but awake” mean?

A key part of sleep coaching your child is putting them down drowsy but awake, but what does that mean? How do you know if your child is too drowsy or too awake? A lot of parents I talk to are confused by this term and what it actually means, they find that they aren’t exactly sure of when they should be putting their babies down to sleep.

Many parents wait until their child is fast asleep in their arms before putting them down in the crib, they do this for each nap, bedtime and night waking. The problem with this technique is that their child will become dependent on being held to sleep and need help to fall asleep each time they wake up. Instead, I tell parents to put their child down “drowsy but awake”, this way he or she is falling asleep on their own in their own bed. Picture a 1-10 scale, 1 being wide awake and alert, and 10 being in a deep sleep. Your goal should be to get your child to about a 7 or an 8 on the drowsiness scale- basically, they should be sleepy but still aware that you are putting them down into the crib. If you put your child down and they fall asleep very quickly, say in 5 minutes or less, then they were probably too drowsy. The next time you put them to bed, put them down a bit earlier. Again, the goal is for them to be alert enough to understand and recognize that they are going into their crib, so that they put themselves to sleep. If your child is waking up multiple times in the night, it could be attributed to the fact that he’s going to sleep too drowsy at bedtime, and when he wakes up at nighttime, he has no idea where he is or how he got there- he needs you to come back and hold him, walk him, rock him etc. to help him resettle. Work on cutting back on the holding, rocking, walking, swinging, so that he’s less drowsy and more alert when you put him down. Begin by cutting back the time gradually, by a couple of minutes every few days so that he is calm and drowsy but not sound asleep.

If you often nurse or feed your baby until they’re asleep, you can try feeding them with a light on to keep them more alert. Or, try changing the order in which you do things. For instance, if your baby’s routine is: diaper change, book, song, and then nursing, it makes sense that they would often fall asleep while feeding, making them too drowsy when you put them down for bed. If you were to change the order of the routine to: diaper change, nursing, book then a song, the interruption between nursing and bed with the book and song may help to keep your baby awake.

Experiment with timing, routine and lighting and see what works best for your baby. Rocking, holding, walking etc. are all great tools to soothe your baby, but for babies 6 months and older, we need to give them a chance to self-soothe so that they learn this vital skill. Give he or she some help, but then allow them the independence to put themselves to sleep by putting them down drowsy but awake.


Why is consistency so important?

Consistency in regards to sleep training success is crucial. In Good Night Sleep Tight: The Sleep Lady's Gentle Guide to Helping Your Child Go to Sleep, Stay Asleep, and Wake Up Happy, author Kim West mentions the term “intermittent reinforcement”. Intermittent Reinforcement simply means that sometimes you give in, and sometimes you don’t, giving a mixed message to your child. Babies and toddlers have a hard time making sense of these mixed messages, he or she can’t figure out why sometimes their behavior gets them the reaction they were looking for and other times they are not responded to in the same way. Here are 3 examples of intermittent reinforcement:

1.)  You nurse your baby to sleep at bedtime. When he wakes up during the night, sometimes he is nursed back to sleep and sometimes Dad comes in and rocks him to sleep. Usually at some point he begins crying because he is confused and frustrated. Mom and Dad are too tired to deal with it, so eventually he is brought into their bed.

  •  Solution: Try to respond to your child consistently each time they wake at night, that way they know what to expect, they can count on your response. This doesn’t mean the same person must respond each time, but the response should be consistent. Babies like consistency, it helps bring predictability to their life, they begin to expect and depend on your behavior and strategies.

2.)  Parent lets their baby cry, but only sometimes. Sometimes they try cry-it-out (CIO) for 15 or 30 minutes because they are desperate to try something to get some rest. After some time, they decide that CIO is not for them, they go into his room and pick him up and rock him to sleep. Without realizing it, they are teaching him that if he cries long and hard enough, his parents will do whatever they can to get him to fall asleep, and he will not learn how to do it himself.

  •  Solution: Don’t try CIO if you don’t think you can follow through with it. Instead, try a gentle approach first, or try the time-check system where you can go and check on your baby. Whatever approach you begin, stick to it and be, you guessed it, consistent!

3.)  Parent brings their baby into bed but only after 5:00 am. This becomes a problem because most babies (ok, let’s say, all babies) cannot tell time. They begin to wake up earlier and earlier because they can’t understand the rules for when it’s okay to go into Mom and Dad’s bed and when it is not. How come it’s not okay at 1:00 am or 3:00 am but at 5:00 am it’s okay? They can’t tell time, they just know that they want in that bed!

  •  Solution: If your child is sleeping in their own room, keep them in their bed until 6:00 am. At 6:00 enter their room and do a dramatic wake-up; open the blinds, sing a happy song, turn off their sound machine. Let them see and feel the difference between sleep-time and awake-time. If they’re sleeping in your bed or in your room, try not to interact with them until 6:00am. Once the clock turns 6:00, leave the room re-enter and do a dramatic wake up.

Being a parent is hard work, and when you are exhausted and not sleeping well, sometimes you do what you need to do, to get some much-needed rest. We have all done it, so no judgements! The problem comes when over time, children get accustomed to these habits. In the end, until your child learns the skills necessary to put themselves to sleep, they will be dependent on what they’re used to- rocking, holding, patting, singing, etc. Relax, habits can be broken and new ways of doing things can be learned, it’s not too late to begin sleep coaching. But, whatever sleep coaching method your family chooses, remain consistent in your choice and you will see improvements and results. 

If you want to learn more about consistency and sleep training, please see the following post by Kim West aka the "Sleep Lady". She provides so much information as to why it is better to wait to sleep coach if you're not in a position to be consistent: