How Daycare Impacts Your Baby’s Sleep Schedule and Habits

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When it comes to daycare, many parents have no shortage of questions, ranging from “What’s the staff to child ratio at this facility” to “How on earth am I going to beat traffic and manage a 5:30 p.m. pick-up time?!” But here’s one question you may not have thought to ask yourself: “How is daycare going to affect my child’s sleep?”

Some Babies Sleep Better at Daycare Than They Do At Home

Most daycares operate on a schedule for all children, including infants. If you haven’t adopted a schedule at home, you may find that your baby responds so well to this kind of consistent routine that he’s sleeping far better at daycare than he does at home! For instance, babies who struggle with naps at home may nap like a dream while at daycare. If this is true for you, and if you want your little one to sleep as well at home as he does at daycare, consider asking the daycare to write out their schedule and then try to duplicate it at home as much as you can.

Your baby may also sleep better at daycare because she knows it’s expected of her. Children are experts at knowing how to “read” adults. If your child has learned that her daycare caregiver won’t rock/sing/nurse her to sleep, then she’s much more likely to sleep without fuss when she’s at daycare. But at home, it’s a different story! If your child knows that you’ll spend hours rocking her to sleep, then she’ll likely require you to do it. If you suspect this is the case, consider weaning your child off her sleep associations at home (especially since you know she can sleep without them at daycare!)

Some Babies Sleep Worse at Daycare Than They Do At Home

Other babies fall into this category. This is especially true for babies who have highly-structured nap schedules and routines at home. It can be difficult for these little ones to adjust to a different schedule at daycare. For example, if your child is used to napping at a certain time each day, or if he’s used to napping in a certain way (with the shades drawn, with a certain CD playing, etc.), it can be very difficult for him to nap at daycare when that same environment isn’t provided. What’s more, daycare is usually a more stimulating place than home — there’s lots of noise, lots of toys, lots to see and do. This extra stimulation can make it hard for a baby to wind down enough to take a nap.

If this is the case, consider writing out your child’s daily routine and asking your daycare providers to follow it as best they can. You may also want to consider sending familiar items from home that will help reproduce your child’s napping environment. These might include sheets and bedding, a “lovey”, a lullaby CD, etc. A good daycare will be willing to work with you and will attempt to accommodate your child’s needs.

Your Baby’s Temperament Matters

If you’re struggling with daycare-related sleep challenges, it’s important to remember that your baby’s unique personality and temperament play a big part. Some babies are great at quickly adapting to new settings, new people, and new schedules. Highly adaptable babies will likely have no problem adjusting to different settings and sleep schedules, and for those babies, daycare may not present any real sleep challenges.

Other babies, however, are much slower to adapt. Slow-to-adapt babies have a much harder time dealing with change, and they tend to need lots of consistency. If your baby is slow to adapt, then it may be hard for him to transition easily between the setting and schedule at daycare and the setting and schedule at home. If this is the case for you, do the best you can to make the transition between home and daycare smooth and easy, and work to build in as much consistency as you can at home.

When Should You Make A Change?

If your child’s getting less sleep in daycare than you’d like, monitor her for a few weeks. If she seems to be coping well, then make the best of it. If you feel that your baby’s lack of sleep is affecting her health and well-being, however, consider making a change. For example, an in-home daycare with fewer children might be a good choice. Or hiring a private nanny might be an option, especially if you only need care a few days a week, or for a few hours each day. And there are ways to offset the cost of a private nanny. The practice of “nanny sharing” allows families to split the use of the same nanny and share the cost.

Daycare is a reality for children of working parents. For some, it may not affect sleep much (or it may even improve it!) For others, however, daycare will negatively impact sleep. If that’s the case for your child, educate yourself about healthy sleep habits, do everything you can to implement them at home, and then do what you can to make sure your daycare provider is implementing them, too.

Has daycare affected your baby’s sleeping habits and schedule? How do you handle the sleep challenges that daycare creates? Share your story with us!

Helping your baby learn to sleep soundly can be a real challenge, can’t it? That’s true for both working parents and stay-at-home parents! Please be sure to pick up your FREE copy of 5 (tear-free) Ways to Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night, our e-Book with tear-free tips to help your baby sleep better. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (babies) or The 5-Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (toddlers). Using a unique approach and practical tools for success, our e-books help you and your baby sleep through the night and nap better. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about! Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a plan. Sometimes you’re just too tired to.

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19 Responses to How Daycare Impacts Your Baby’s Sleep Schedule and Habits

  1. Lainie Rusco says:

    My daughter isn’t a baby anymore – she’s 3. But she’ll start daycare this fall, and I’m really concerned that their 1:30-3:30 nap is going to completely ruin her bedtime.

    She already struggles to fall asleep before 9 p.m. because of the 1-hour nap she gets from 12-1 p.m.

    Is it just me, or is a late, 2-hour nap a bit much for a 3-year-old?

  2. Melissa says:

    My son is 6 months old and has been in an in-home daycare for 3 months. The caregiver keeps all of the kids on the same nap schedule – from my son (who is the youngest) to the oldest who is 2 1/2. A short nap between 9:30-10:30am and a long nap between 12:30-3:30pm. This has been problematic for my son from the start because he wakes up at 6:30am, and waiting 3+ hours for a nap is way too long at his age. Sometimes he now won’t sleep more than 15 minutes in the morning at daycare. But he usually does sleep 2.5-3 hours for the afternoon nap in daycare. And then he’s so exhausted by bedtime that he often falls asleep while eating his bottle, which he shouldn’t be doing.

    However, his sleep on the weekends is totally different. I try to follow his sleep cues and get him down for a nap earlier in the morning, which ends up shifting his whole nap schedule for the day. And ultimately at home he takes 3-4 short (30 min to 1 hour naps) on the weekends, rather than one short one and one super long one. He has NEVER taken a 2+ hour nap at home for me, no matter how much I’d love him to!

    To complicate matters, in 2 weeks we’re switching to the daycare center at my office, where he will be in a smaller group of exclusively infants, and their policy is to let the babies his age drive when they sleep, though I can give them instructions on a schedule if needed. My problem is that I don’t know what instructions to give them because I don’t know what the best schedule is for him since his current daycare and weekend schedules are so different, and he sleeps longer in daycare, but overall seems to get more rest at home on the weekends. And since he’s only 6 months old, I’m not sure I should even be trying to force him into a rigid schedule, or just keep following sleep cues along a loose schedule. Either way, I’d love to be able to get him to take a nap at home longer than 45 minutes consistently!

  3. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Lainie Rusco — I don’t think it’s necessarily late for every family; some families trend towards “late” schedules due to outside factors (like when parents are getting home from work, etc.) However, it sounds like it’s definitely a late nap for your family’s schedule! And to be honest, it would be for mine, too.

    I’d suggest waiting to see how this plays out for your toddler. It’s certainly possible that your little one will only sleep for part of that time, in which case it may not be a huge issue.

    Let us know how this works out, Lainie! And thanks for commenting. :)

    @ Melissa — At first glance, I’d suggest using your weekend schedule to guide any nap schedule you might create for the new daycare center. Shorter naps are actually very normal for this age; it isn’t until kids are entering their toddler years that you get the really long naps. You can check out our recommended 6 month schedule (http://www.babysleepsite.com/schedules/6-month-old-baby-schedule/) for some guidance. That may help you craft a schedule that will work for both you and your baby.

    Let us know how the transition goes, Melissa! And thanks for commenting! :)

  4. Samantha says:

    Dear Melissa

    I quit work when my daughter was born to be at home with her. But the offices where I worked had a lovely daycare – apparently one of the best in Johannesburg. At your son’s age, until the child was mobile, they let the children determine their own sleep schedule. Once mobile, they moved up a class and then were put on a flexible schedule.

    In the last class (age 2-3), they were on one 2-hour nap a day my daughter is just 3 and takes a 1.5 hour nap a day at home after play school. They only take them until the year the they turn three, as they are based in the city and have no outdoor play area, which is mandated for that age by legislation in South Africa.

    I have heard of some daycare centers that force kids to nap by shouting at them, threatening them etc. so my advice to anyone out there who has no alternative, is to choose daycare very wisely. This is why my husband and I made sacrifices for me to stay at home with our precious daughter – you never know what goes on at those places, by people who aren’t paid much to look after other people’s kids.

    All the best,
    Samantha

    M

  5. Tori says:

    My 13-month old is a wonderful sleeper at home – goes to bed awake (rarely with any fussing/crying), sleeps 12-14 hours at night and generally 3-5 hours in two naps. She does still get up to nurse at night, though, particularly when she’s teething or sick – and now that we’re weaning. Daycare usually manages only a single 25-minute nap, though they’ve tried all sorts of things like different locations, using our home CD, different times, different numbers of naps, etc. I think it’s just too stimulating – they have trouble getting several babies to sleep. They’re now putting her on mats with slightly older kids that all sleep at once (for 2.5 hours), but she maxes out at 45 min. She is tired but still happy so we let it go. Here’s hoping she learns to nap longer at daycare once her home schedule changes to a single nap.

  6. Amanda says:

    My son has been in daycare since about 2.5 months old, due to both of us having to work. He is now 7 months old. He has the hardest time sleeping at daycare, always has. It just isn’t at all like the sleep he gets at home. At home (on weekends, etc.) he sleeps pretty well, and has naps following his own cues. They simply can’t replicate it at daycare. The rules prevent them from doing anything that would help him sleep better — nothing (at all!) is allowed in the cribs, the lights must always remain on (and are glaring directly above the cribs), the noise from the other infants in the room, and no allowances for him to sleep in a more comfortable place or position. It is very disheartening. On Mondays he goes in very happy and alert (from having plenty of rest over the weekend), and each day during the week when I pick him up I can see he is more and more tired and stressed from hardly sleeping during the day. By Friday the poor kid is so exhausted he gets cranky and irritable. He often falls asleep in the car on the way home (only 10 mins away!) and even when he doesn’t he is usually asleep soon after getting home (one he’s had a chance to settle down and eat). I feel so bad for him! What’s worse is when the daycare workers ask me if we’ve been “working on getting him to sleep in the crib better,” as though I’m doing something wrong. Sorry about the long venting! It’s just frustrating when it seems there’s nothing I can do to help him.

  7. Amanda says:

    To be fair, he handles it pretty well most of the time. He is typically a pretty happy child! I don’t know if it is having any long term negative impact on him, but it does worry me.

  8. Claire says:

    My 11mth old daughter sleeps well in her cot at night & for two naps in the day but it took 6mths of struggle to get there and now she doesn’t sleep anywhere else. Next month, shortly after her 1st birthday she will be starting nursery (in the UK) and one of my biggest concerns has been ‘will she get any sleep?!’ The staff & some friends have assured me that she will adjust to a new routine but I just cannot imagine her falling asleep on a mat in a room full of other kids and certainly not twice a day. However this article has given me some hope that she may actually surprise me, perhaps she will adapt better to the stricter routine a nursery offers? Here’s hoping anyway.

  9. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Samantha — thanks for chiming in to encourage Melissa!

    @ Tori — good insight; it must be all the stimulation she gets while at daycare. I think your approach to this is a good, healthy one: if she seems happy, and if she seems to be growing and developing well, then best to not worry too much. :)

    Thanks for commenting!

    @ Amanda — my goodness; I wouldn’t be able to nap in those conditions, either! I know daycares have strict safety protocols, and that’s a good thing, but your explanation here helps me see how some of those safety protocols may really interfere with a baby’s ability to sleep. We wrote an article last month on the swaddling ban in daycares, and we came to a similar conclusion there: https://www.babysleepsite.com/newborns/is-swaddling-baby-dangerous/

    I’m so sorry you’re struggling with this, Amanda. :( You sound like a wonderful mom, and it doesn’t seem like there’s anything else you can do to help him nap well at daycare, since their rules are so strict. As for whether or not the lack of sleep is having long-term effects on him: how does he seem to be growing and developing? If he seems healthy, then I wouldn’t worry too much. Not like you need another problem to worry over, right? ;)

    Thanks for commenting, Amanda!

    @ Claire – I hope you’re right! Keep us posted on how she does. :) And thanks for commenting!

  10. Sarah says:

    My 10 month old will be starting daycare next month. Currently she has a good routine at home. She falls asleep on her own and sleeps around 11 hours at night and two naps, each a bit more than an hour, once at 9am and once at around 1pm. The daycare said that their policy is that all babies at around her age take only one nap, from 1-3pm. I am wondering if this is a good age to transition to one nap, I think she is still a bit young? Would it be good if we tried to follow the same schedule at home, or should I continue with her current schedule at home and leave the daycare schedule for when she is there (4 days/week)?

  11. Pam says:

    My daughter is 10 months old and has just started daycare part time mornings, she will be attending full time next month. I wanted to introduce her to daycare for half days so she could get accustomed to their routine for naps and feeding as well as adjust to being away from me. She has only gone a few days so far but I think this is going to really help the transition to full time daycare. She is an excellent sleeper at home, usually two naps for a total of 2-3 hours sleep and at least 12 hours overnight (no wake-ups). Her first morning at daycare, they said she had a very short nap (about 30 minutes) It is true that there is so much stimulation, she had a harder time to wind down. But when she got home, I put her down (on their schedule) and she had a great two hour nap. She goes to bed at 6:30pm – averaging about 3-4 hours awake time between all sleeps. I would recommend sending your babies to daycare for part time if this is an option – eases the separation anxiety for mommy too! Best of luck to all of us!

  12. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Sarah — first, let me say that your intuition is right. 10 months is quite young to transition to one nap. Some babies will make the transition at that age, but most make it after the one year mark, and some aren’t ready for one nap until they’re 15 or 16 months old!

    That said, it’ll be tricky to figure out the best way to handle this. The daycare likely isn’t going to change their policy (understandably), so you’ll have to decide if you want to follow the daycare’s schedule at home, or if you want to preserve a 2 nap schedule on days that your baby isn’t at daycare.

    I’d suggest keeping your 2 nap schedule at first, and seeing how that goes. This would allow her to make up for any lost sleep on the weekends. If this doesn’t work out, then you could slowly try to transition to a one nap schedule at home, and maybe start putting her to bed a bit earlier at bedtime (in the hopes that she’ll sleep a bit longer at night, and make up for the nap time sleep she’s not getting.)

    Hope this helps, Sarah! Thanks for commenting. :)

    @ Pam — thanks for sharing a bit about your experience! How nice that you were able to ease into daycare by going part-time at first. Sounds like that’s worked beautifully for your daughter; glad to hear it!

    Thanks for commenting, Pam!

  13. When looking for childcare, schedules is something you should ask about. I have a master’s degree in early childhood and I own and operate a childcare for infants and toddlers. High quality childcare programs should follow each child’s schedule, not put all of the children on their schedule.

    We work closely with our families to copy the schedule they are using at home and to provide children with naps that meet their individual needs. We have a seperate sleep room (with a large window so we can supervise sleeping infants and toddlers at all times). We swaddle babies (if the family does), we rock each child to sleep (if the family does), and we let all children (regardless of age) have as many or as few naps as they need each day. Our sleep room is quiet, fairly dark, and plays calming lullabies throughout the day.

    If your childcare program is not willing to do these things, then they are not providing ideal care for your little one. Infants and toddlers do not function well in many childcare programs because many childcare programs do not operate based on the needs of the children. You should not have to accomodate the childcare’s schedule at home – they should accomodate your schedule when your child is in their care.

  14. Lee says:

    @ Jennifer – Wow, I wish you ran all day care centres!What a wonderful philosophy!
    My little boy was at daycare last year from the time he was 4.5months. Like the other moms’ children he just was not sleeping as much as I would have liked him to and it got to a point where I was physically sick with the stress of it. That’s when we pulled him out of daycare and employed a nanny. He sleeps so much better, I’m happier and he hasn’t been sick since he left daycare which is almost a year ago.

  15. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Jennifer Long — thanks for chiming in and providing your expert opinions! I took a look at your childcare center’s website, and wow — quite impressive! Looks like you and your staff have created a beautiful and child-centered space. And I’m a Hoosier by birth, so I was excited to see that a place like this exists in my home state!

    Thanks for commenting, Jennifer! :)

    @ Lee — so, so, SO glad to hear that you found a solution that worked better for your baby. I’ve always been able to work from home, so I’ve never had to utilize daycare. But I have hired nannies (very part time) from time to time, and it’s been such a good experience for our family — and it sounds like it has been for you, too! There’s nothing like having one-on-one care for your baby in your own home. I just wish this option were affordable for everyone. I suspect that many parents would vastly prefer to use a nanny but end up using a daycare service because it’s more feasible financially.

    Thanks for sharing a bit about your experience, Lee!

  16. Karen says:

    My baby is 12 months old, will be 13 months in a week. She started daycare 3 weeks ago. She finally turned from a bad napper to a great 2 x 1.5hr napper near 9 months old. I was so happy to finally have a happy napping baby instead of a catnapper. Unfortunately, now she can’t nap at daycare! She either goes down for one or two catnaps there and comes home exhausted. Struggle through dinner and needs to go down to sleep right after. I hardly have time with her and it’s so sad.

    I told them to follow our schedule at home but she simply can’t fall asleep there. She doesn’t need much help at home to fall asleep. They even pat and rock her at daycare and she still can’t sleep. It is bright and noisy there as most kids only take one nap there midday. The daycare wants her on one nap as well but I told them to try for two just cause she seems to sleep so much at home and so tirred in the morning. So far not working though. How long shoudl I keep asking the to try two naps? Is she old enough to push her to one nap? Can you force it? Cause at home, she really goes down easily for a long moring nap. THey did try one nap a couple of times and she slept only 30mins as well. So I stopped it thinking she isn’t ready. Should we just let her tough it out and adjust to one nap? SHe is always happily playing and doesn’t show any sign of tiredness at daycare apparently. At home, sign or no sign, she sleeps long for me anyhow.

    We looked into nanny but it’ so expensive that I might as well quit working.

  17. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Karen — I’m so sorry you’re going through this! The transition to daycare (for your daughter) and going back to work (for you) is hard enough without having to worry about your little one’s napping schedule. :(

    In terms of what to do — it sounds like your hands are tied, here. Your options are either to stop working (or to go part-time, or something like that), to hire a nanny (which, as you mention, can be pricey), or to stick with daycare. If those first two options aren’t feasible, then you’ll likely need to stick with daycare.

    As for how to make sure your daughter gets the rest she needs at daycare: it sounds to me like you’ve done everything you can to try and make two naps happen while she’s at daycare. And that’s not working. So, I think perhaps you could try and transition her to one nap. 12 months isn’t necessarily too early. The majority of kids make that switch around 15 months, but your daughter is just 2 months shy of that.

    As for how to make this transition happen, read through this post for ideas: http://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-naps-2/how-to-manage-baby-toddler-nap-transitions/ You may need to adjust bedtime and morning wake-up time for awhile. And it’s likely that she’ll never nap as well at daycare as she does at home, unfortunately. But if you stick with this, you’ll both adapt to the new schedule over time.

    Hope this helps, Karen! Best of luck to you. And thanks for commenting. :)

  18. Karen says:

    Thanks Emily. I am considering quitting but my husband and daycare think we need to give it more time. This is her 4th week. So far last week, her one naps were just under one hour last week and today 45mins. They tell us they do try to encourage her to fall back asleep but it has never worked. I am trying to shift my work schedule so that I can pick her up by 3:30pm.

    Do you think 4 weeks is enough time to judge whether she will be able to sleep better? Should I hold off on pulling her out and give her more time there to try to nap? How long should one typically “try”.

    Should I give her a nap when she gets home? Or is this bad cause then her bedtime would be too late?

    My husband feels that it is a waste to quit a good job when they are so hard to come by just cause she can’t nap at daycare. He think she is still so new there. She is very happy there otherwise. Never cried at drop off ever! Only cries at pick up when she sees me and wants to sleep!

  19. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Karen — It’s true that quitting your job would be a more extreme option, so I understand where your husband is coming from. And I do think that, if you give it time, your daughter will eventually adjust. What may very well happen is that she’ll get into a groove in which one short nap at daycare becomes her ‘norm’. And then you can build in a late afternoon nap, if necessary, or institute an early bedtime. It does sound like you’ll have to get creative with your weekday schedule, as long as she’s in daycare. And the schedule may be more challenging than the one you were using before daycare. But I think it’s do-able.

    It really sounds like you’re doing everything you possibly can, Karen, to make this work for your daughter, and to ensure that she’s getting the sleep she needs. Good for you! The fact that you’re concerned about this just proves that you’re an excellent mom. :)

    Keep us posted on the details, and let us know if things have improved at all over the next few weeks!