What’s Wrong with Car naps, Baby Swings and Bouncers?
Updated: Nov 15, 2021
Parents need to be certain that they don’t become a crutch that babies NEED to fall or stay asleep. That motion becomes their only way or favorite way to get to sleep. This commonly creates issues at night when parents find their babies cannot sleep unless being rocked, or worse yet, being driven around all night long.
Sleep Props and Baby's Sleep
Like car ride naps, parents need to beware of every gizmo and gimmick that comes along promising to help babies sleep.
There are swings and bassinets are now equipped with motors that will keep them rocking or vibrating to help soothe baby back to sleep. These are usually successful, but it is extremely possible that the baby will become dependent on the car movement and swinging motion to fall asleep.
Sleep aids used for a limited amount of time can help prevent dependency. It is a good rule of thumb to remember that sleep aids are a means to an end. Parents need to be certain that they don’t become a crutch that babies NEED to fall or stay asleep. That motion becomes their only way or favorite way to get to sleep. This commonly creates issues at night when parents find their babies cannot sleep unless being rocked, or worse yet, being driven around all night long.
As adults, we can relate that motion sleep (in cars, in airplanes etc) can be helpful in lulling us to sleep. Part of it is we are strapped in and our lack of movement allows our (often) fatigued bodies to remind us that we are requiring sleep. But the thing is, motion sleep often keeps you in light sleep
Laying flat without a lot of motion encourages our brain to go into deep sleep cycles. When we are slightly inclined or there’s slight movement, your brain isn't 100% sure you’re safe enough to allow you to slide into deep sleep cycles. That makes sense, what if you fall out or there's some sort of danger.
But motion sleep better than no sleep, right? Of course, you'll find some rejuvenation but the quality of sleep is actually better when baby is the crib.
When Are Sleep Props Appropriate
There are moments when motion sleep can be useful and appropriate as there will be times when you really don't want your baby to fall asleep in the car seat. I’ve seen those situations plenty of times when baby took a quick snooze in the car and refused to go down for their usual 1.5 hour long afternoon nap.
So when can motion sleep be useful?
I like the 80-20 rule. If 80% of the time baby is taking good naps in the crib, then sure, 20% of the time baby can be in a stroller or an environment where there is movement. Here are some situations where I feel motion sleep can be appropriate.
Newborns who just need a little help linking their sleep cycle. Sometimes when baby wakes up after 45min and baby is still tired but cannot seem to get back to sleep, moving baby to the swing, a rocker or vibrating chair with supervision (pls use own common sense) can help her get back to sleep and prolong that nap.
Last nap of the day which is usually the trickiest by far. If you had two tough naps in the same day, then this is a great time to use motion sleep. My advice is to keep driving or walking for 30-45min so to not interrupt baby’s sleep. That can be challenging, but again this is only for the short term until baby is taught to sleep well. But during the time before she has learnt the sleep skills, this is totally fine.
If you’ve been trying to get her to sleep in her crib and its’ really not working. Then you can always use the car, stroller, swing as a plan B alternative to prevent serious overtiredness so that baby gets some sort of sleep.
If you just need to get out of the house to take a breather! By all means, you have to get out of the house now and again or to errands. What you can do is plan it around the last nap of the day so that baby will nap in stroller during that time.
If you have too much time before bedtime especially during transitioning from 3 naps down to 2 naps. When baby hasn’t really gotten used to the new schedule and woke up at 2pm when bedtime is 7pm, we want to refrain baby from getting overtired before bedtime. Motion sleep can serve as a 20-30min cat nap to take the edge off a little bit.
Practicing Motion Sleep
I’d say it is important to give your baby a little bit of exposure to sleeping in a different arrangement and keeping her used to sleeping in the car or stroller can be useful. That 80-20 is rule is important to keep in mind. There will be times when you will need or want baby to sleep in the car, like when you have a wedding to attend and it’s a whole day affair. Your baby is going to think, “I can sleep in the car/stroller, even if it’s not my preferred method.”
Temperament also plays a big part into how flexible your baby will be in adapting to schedule changes. Some babies will go with the flow while some babies don’t deal well with changes at all. For the latter, you just have to work the schedule as best as you can, as often as you can. Go with what you’re given, and just know that some babies will roll with it and some won’t.
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