Baby Sleep

How Scheduling My Baby and Toddler’s Naps Got Me More Time for Myself

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It’s 12.30pm on a Wednesday afternoon as I settle down in front of my laptop in our study to write this. I have a fresh cup of tea, a podcast playing in the background, and a wonderful two hours of peace and productivity ahead of me.

“Where are your two adorable children?” You may ask, “What do you mean ‘peace’?” or, “Tea? At a time like this?” To which I will answer – Welcome to the highlight of my day: NAP TIME FOR THE KIDS.

You see, my toddler and my four month old baby are upstairs in their own rooms. Both are fed, clean, warm, and safely tucked into their individual cots. Baby monitors have been switched on, and there’s no reason (save for a real emergency) for me to make an appearance in either room until Nap Time is over.

Now if you’re a full-time mother-of-two like me, you will be able to appreciate what I have accomplished here. Two full hours in the middle of the day, entirely to yourself. I’m sure that you can understand just how much can be achieved in two hours without any kids in sight.

How is this even possible? Well, even as a nap-evangelist, I’ll be the first to tell you that it was no small feat. It took weeks of careful planning and research, some pretty intense sleep training (both day and night), and rhythm observation to finally crack a Nap Time that worked for us. And if you’re desperate to have anything close to two full hours for yourself every day, let me share with you how I did it.

I realise that since having a baby you may be even more exhausted, time-starved, guilt-ridden and at-your-wits-end than ever before in your life. (If not, I applaud you for being the kind of mom I follow on Instagram). So the first thing you need to do is tell yourself that Nap Time is a priority. Not just for you, but also for your kids who will benefit greatly from a good afternoon nap; in fact the key thing about good naps is that they will result in a better sleep at night.

Both of my kids sleep through the night (7pm to 7am) and I owe this to three things: Prayer, Tizzie Hall and daytime naps. I began taking naps seriously when I saw how my first son would sleep better at night when he’d had a few good naps (of 40 minutes or more) during the day. And then I started taking naps REALLY seriously when my second son came along, and what little time I had to myself threatened to disappear completely. I knew I had to do something drastic.

I started to pay close attention to daytime naps, and I tried to schedule them several times a day. The basic rule I follow is the rhythm of eat, play and sleep. Keep your child awake after a feed, make the next period of time all about play. That way a nap will be needed, and then start the cycle again when he wakes up. Eat, play, sleep.

I know this is hard when your child keeps falling asleep while he eats, or doesn’t seem tired at all even after hours of playing, but I also know that every baby has a rhythm. And sleep is a major part of that rhythm; you just need to give him plenty of opportunity to find it for himself. And by that I mean, lay your baby down after he’s played for an hour or so – and leave him to self settle. He may protest, or cry for you, but I urge you to give him a chance (around ten to fifteen minutes) to calm down and fall asleep. Use the stopwatch on your phone, and restart the clock when there’s a pause or break in his crying. Remind yourself that sometimes babies who are full, dry and not in any pain, cry anyway. And there’s little you can do.

Record your child’s rhythm, and then sit down and make a plan. Start by asking yourself when YOU are most productive. If you’re a morning person you’ll want your child’s longest nap to be during the first half of the day. If you want to be able to have lunch hour to yourself (much like when you used to work!) then you’ll need to aim for the hours of 12pm – 2 pm. Of course babies can take up to three naps during the day, but toddlers tend to only need one by the time they turn two. The really tricky part is to synchronise both kids’ naps. I suggest using your toddler’s nap as the goal, and then nudge your baby closer to it using eat, play, sleep.

Family and friends might call me a little nap-crazy, because they have no idea the restorative power of having a pocket of time just for me. To work, to think, to read, to organize, to rest, to talk to a friend, to catch up with the world, to run an errand, to recover, and sometimes… to nap.

Michelle Lim-Chua is a mum of two and a copywriter with a special interest in sociology. Born in New York City and raised across six different countries, Michelle loves traveling and is naturally curious about people and their cultures. She moved to Malaysia more than seven years ago, found God and fell in love with a boy from Melaka. Michelle is still learning, along with her husband, how to be a good parent.