Q&A: 7-month-old nap strike

Stephanie writes:

"I have a 7-month old. As this of moment, she sleeps well at night. Also at this moment, she is on what I would call a nap-strike, or semi nap-strike in case I am being too dramatic. In the last week, at least one of her two daily naps have shortened horrendously, to like 15-25 minutes. Although she has always been a relatively short napper, it has never been this bad. I follow all of the "rules" - early bedtime, regular schedule, she can soothe herself, blah blah blah. Everyone says if you do that, their naps will lengthen. Well, I have waited patiently and things are going downhill instead of up. How can this be?

If solutions are to be offered, that would be interesting. However, now I am trying to breathe and (hope!) this is only temporary. I don't want to be poring over WeissbluthHoggFerberSomeMomWhoPostedOnYahoo. Can someone please tell me that they have been through this and it all turned out OK? Thanks."

I can absolutely promise you these two things:

1. You are not the only one who's gone through this, and

2. It's not indicative of the future.

One of the many, many dirty big secrets about baby and kid sleep is that it doesn't get progressively better. It goes in fits and starts, so you can be cruising along just fine, or at least limping along well enough that you can survive, and then out of the blue it all seems to fall apart. And you think you've done something horrible or your municipal water system has switched and it's causing your baby to freak out or your baby hates you or that your child will Never Sleep Again. But none of that is true.

If you think about all the patterns that appear in nature, one of the most common (and beautiful) is the spiral pattern. You see it in seashells and flowers and animal horns. And you also see it in baby development in general and their sleep in particular. Instead of being a linear progression, it spirals around so when it's on one side of the curve the sleep is good, but then as it comes around the bend it gets worse again.

What you can't necessarily see in the moment is that even as it's rounding the "rough nights" side of the spiral, the sleep is building and getting bigger and more solid, as the spiral grows outward. So you're looking at the good/bad cycle, and then all of a sudden your child is 7 and puts on her own pajamas and brushes her teeth and goes to bed by herself and you have to wake her for school in the morning.

I am going to guess that the short naps are because she's learning some new physical skill that isn't letting her sleep. She'll probably start crawling or pulling up soon (but she may not start sleeping again because then she'll be on to learning to walk). Or there may be some other socio-emotional development going on. Or maybe she's teething. Or maybe there's something else that we can't recognize because we haven't studied it yet.

If she had never slept longer that 20 minutes, I'd say it might be possible that she was just a catnapper (I've heard of a few, and it's brutal on the parents). But since her naps were longer before and just got shorter now, it's a nap regression of some sort. You could attempt some careful observation to see if you can figure out what's going on. You could also try changing her environment to see if that does anything. But really, the thing that will fix it is waiting until she hits the next nap stage and they stretch out again.

Do NOT get caught up in thinking you have more control over her sleep than you do. If you're setting the stage for sleep as much as you can, and teaching her that sleeping is safe, then she's sleeping the way she needs to be at that stage of development. You can't make her sleep any more than you can make her crawl when it's not her time developmentally to crawl.

Who else had a baby whose naps spiraled in length instead of getting progressively longer and longer? Does your kid sleep now?