How Daycare Impacts Your Baby’s Sleep Schedule and Habits

How Daycare Impacts Sleep
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 at daycare than you’d like, monitor her for a few weeks. Does she seem to be coping well? 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. If you do opt for a nanny, make sure to talk with the prospective nanny about following your schedule!

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.

Daycare can affect your baby’s sleeping habits and schedule, but you can help! 

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