To Nap, Perchance to Dream

“How long has she been sleeping?” Beth asked me at two-thirty on Saturday afternoon.

“A long time,” I answered.

June’s naps have been shrinking. Until recently an hour and a half to two hours, they are now closer to an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes most days. An hour and a half is a long one. So this hour and forty-five minute nap caught us by surprise, especially coming as it did on a day when we had afternoon plans. Beth was taking the kids to Maryland Day (, an annual festival at the University of Maryland, while I stayed home to work on an editing job.

In the end we had to wake her up and hustle her into the car still half-asleep so Beth and the kids could arrive on campus before everything shut down at four. They had just enough time to pick one activity and one snack so Noah chose to the wind tunnel, where they experienced hurricane-force winds and June chose the cotton candy stand and everyone came home happy.

One way or another, June will stop napping some time in the next four months. Either the nap will peter out naturally or we’ll have to wean her from it when she starts afternoon preschool next September. Noah was napping right up until he started the Tracks class, though he was starting to resist them and he did skip them on occasion. About three weeks before the school year started, we instituted something I called Quiet Time. Instead of napping, he stayed in his room and played quietly for the duration of a CD of his choosing. I marked all his CDs with little stickers indicating their length. Quiet Time CDs had to be at least a half hour long. Because nap was starting to become something of a struggle, Noah took to Quiet Time with enthusiasm. He didn’t have to nap any more! Except, quite often he would fall asleep during Quiet Time, sometimes on the bare wooden floor of his room. This occasional narcolepsy went on until the middle of his Tracks year when, probably not coincidentally, he also started to sleep through the night more often than not for the first time in his life. I don’t know whether discontinuing his nap eventually helped him sleep better at night or whether something just clicked in his brain that helped consolidate his sleeping into one uninterrupted chunk and eliminated his afternoon sleepiness.

It would be nice to know because then I might have some inkling of when June might sleep through the night on a regular basis. She’s actually made some big strides in this direction. Last year it happened just two or three times a month on average, then quite suddenly in January she started sleeping through the night almost half the time (approximately 40% in January and February and yes, I am keeping track). March was even better at just over 60%. I was feeling pretty positive about things and then, after an exceptional four-night streak in mid-April, she just stopped. She’s been up once or twice a night for the past six nights and I am dragging again. I find it takes about three consecutive nights of good sleep for me to start to feel significantly better, so sometimes I almost don’t remember that June really is sleeping a lot better than she was a few months ago. I have to hold onto that, especially since my own mid-day siesta is not a sure thing these days.

I do lie down during June’s nap most days, unless I have some really urgent work to do. Sometimes I sleep, sometimes I just rest, sometimes I read. But every now and then an unusually short nap will take me by surprise and June will get up while I am still up doing the lunch dishes or checking my email or something like that. About a month ago June took a fifteen-minute nap and I was unable to coax her back to sleep. So I explained how sometimes children can’t nap and then they have Quiet Time. She was very interested and on board with the whole idea. A few days later I was unable to get her to sleep at all and I thought, okay, this is it, the beginning of the end. But that day when the CD ended, I found her curled up in her bed asleep and we haven’t needed to resort to Quiet Time since then, until yesterday.

Sunday June took a very short nap, about twenty-five minutes, and woke up coughing. I lay down with her in bed and she got another ten minutes or so of fitful sleep before waking up for good. That night, her cough kept her up again so I was dismayed, but not too surprised when yesterday’s nap got cut short at exactly the same point, twenty-five minutes into it. This time she couldn’t get back to sleep at all, and I really needed to close my eyes for a little while, so I re-introduced the concept of Quiet Time. She was co-operative at first, but it only took a few minutes for her to realize that this Quiet Time routine just meant not being able to leave her room and she started crying and saying, “I don’t like it” over and over again and coming out of the room every three or four minutes. It finally occurred to me that most of her best toys are in the living room and not the bedroom, so I fetched her some finger puppets, her magnetic dress-up doll, a stack of blank paper and a big box of crayons and after that she was happier. A half hour later when the CD ended, I came into the room and found her bent over a cardboard box she was using as a table, scribbling industriously. There was a stack of drawings on the floor next to her. One of them was a map with a lake, she told me. The other one was of a person sleeping in bed and dreaming. The dream person was in a bubble, as dreams are often portrayed in cartoons. I was charmed by this drawing and I also thought it was a little funny she was drawing a sleeping person when she couldn’t sleep herself.

After another rough night last night, June fell asleep almost instantly at naptime today and she slept an hour and fifty minutes. I think she will be napping for a while yet, but the end of an era is near. At least we have a map that shows us how to proceed, and a few more weeks or months of sweet afternoon dreams.