Kate Webster’s baby does not like napping. The odd time the seven-month-old does take a daytime snooze, the nap only lasts about 20 minutes, tops.
"The second she hears a noise she'll open her eyes and she's like, oh wait, something's happening. All she wants to do look around even though I know she's desperately tired still,” says Webster.
Webster attributes the alertness to baby Charlotte’s personality. “She’s a very social baby. I think she doesn't want to sleep because she gets so much from interacting with the world.”
FOMO. It's a term that sleep consultant Erin Junker of The Happy Sleep Company hears from tired parents every single day. Junker even characterized her own daughter’s sleep that way when she was a baby. “I remember saying, ‘Well, she only takes 45 minute naps because she has FOMO,’ ” which stands for Fear of Missing Out. Parents usually tell Junker their baby doesn't want to go down for their naps, or they have short naps because it seems like they don’t want to miss out on any action. She says symptoms usually fall within a range: some babies get really excited, cooing, playing and just won’t settle, but more often parents tell Junker their baby gets really upset and cries or screams and doesn’t want to be left alone in their crib come naptime or bedtime.
Clients often tell Junker their FOMO baby was just born curious, or excitable. And while that might be true, despite a baby’s apparent personality traits, almost all babies can learn to sleep properly, she says.
“A lot of parents, I think, mistake their baby just being overtired for what they're calling FOMO,” she explains. Alanna McGinn, a sleep consultant and owner of the Good Night Sleep Site, agrees. While she definitely sees some FOMO tendencies in toddlers and preschool age kids, with young babies the issue is more likely to do with sleep habits and scheduling. “An overtired child has their second wind, so that's when you see that surge of energy and that excitement and adrenaline and parents are like, well, how am I going to put my kid down now when they're not even tired?” she says.
Most newborns can fall asleep anywhere and everywhere, in spite of noise or distractions. But at around four months old, that changes. “Once they're out of the newborn stage, they are much more alert, they're much more easily stimulated,” says Junker.
“The quality of sleep that they get per cycle changes so they start getting longer periods of lighter stages of sleep,” explains McGinn. This means that if they hear a loud noise or are in a distracting environment, sleep likely isn’t going to happen.
That was the case for Webster’s daughter. “Initially when she was a newborn she was pretty good and she'd nap on-the-go,” explains Webster. But at around four months, a common time for a sleep regression, things weren’t so easy anymore. “She basically just stopped napping well at all,” says Webster.
Another common reason for a FOMO baby fighting sleep is when they start experiencing developmental milestones. “If your baby is eight months old and really practicing crawling, you might find that they're taking longer to get to sleep because they're just working on that milestone,” says Junker.
FOMO can also be situational. If you’re staying at grandma’s house for the holidays and your baby is overstimulated by an unfamiliar environment and new faces, sleep is likely going to be more challenging. If your child’s really sick, good sleep is also out the window, says McGinn.
Rethink your nap schedule: Babies don’t wake up at exactly the same time every day, so they shouldn’t go down for their nap at the same time every day. Focus on awake windows instead. For example, Junker recommends giving a four- to- five-month-old an hour and a half to two hour awake window before putting them down for a nap. Parents should watch for sleep cues like a baby rubbing their eyes, yawning or tugging their ears. But be warned: some babies won’t show any signs of being tired. Instead, they’ll get overexcited. Keep in mind how long they’ve been awake, even if they seem happy. (Also, remember to adjust the awake window as your baby grows.)
Focus on sleep environment: Make sure their room is super dark with things like blackout blinds and curtains to make sure there’s absolutely no light (this is especially important during naptimes on a sunny day), avoid distractions like mobiles or toy aquariums on the crib, and eliminate gadgets with visible lights like bright humidifiers. If you have a noise machine with a light, cover it with a piece of electrical tape, or place the machine outside the room. This is especially important for those FOMO-type babies “whose minds are going 1,000 miles a minute learning new things,” says Junker.
Have a naptime and bedtime routine: Babies thrive on consistency, so it’s important to do the same things in the same order every time you put your baby down to help them understand it’s time to wind down. For example, put them in a sleep sack and read a short book, to help signal that sleep time is coming up, recommends Junker. It takes at least three weeks to really see a difference once you’ve established a routine so don’t give up if they don’t start going down more easily right away, reassures McGinn.
Prioritize the first nap: If you have other kids who have to be dropped off or picked up from daycare or school, or you simply want to take your baby to do an activity later in the day, try to get at least the first nap of the day in the crib at home and the other nap can be on-the-go if necessary. “The first nap really sets the tone for the day,” Junker says. And while a missed nap here or there isn’t a big deal, sleep begets sleep,” says McGinn. “The better sleep they get throughout the day, the better they're going to sleep at night,” she says.
How to manage travel or illness: In these situations, do your best to keep naps and bedtimes consistent when possible. Take your baby to a quiet room for 10 to 15 minutes and try to establish some semblance of their usual routine before trying to put them down, recommends Junker. “The key is that once a child starts feeling better, or once you're back from your travels, you start getting right back on track,” says McGinn, or you’ll be back to square one with sleep issues.
In the end, when it comes to sleep, “consistency is absolutely the key,” says Junker. And it’s important to realize sleep is like any other skill—kids need your help to learn how to do it properly, she says.
Some parents find though, that no matter how much they try, some babies just don’t go down easily. Webster tried to set a nap routine for her daughter but nothing seemed to work. Luckily, her baby was a good sleeper at night. Webster decided if she couldn’t change her baby’s daytime sleep schedule, she would just change her attitude towards it. “I kind of just embraced it because honestly it’s way worse when you’re frustrated about it. Occasionally she’ll have a good nap, but I don't bank on it.”
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