Understanding the science of car naps

Snoozing. On the Hana Highway.

Snoozing. On the Hana Highway.

The world is abuzz about billionaires today, as Forbes magazine has released its annual list of the richest humans on Earth.

If I were a billionaire, I’d spend my cash on running shoes, buy-ins for poker tournaments, and lots and lots of international family travel. I’d also set aside a fat wad of it to fund research into the study of car naps.

Seriously. I mean, what parent wouldn’t?

How is it that these kids of ours manage to stay awake for 85-90 percent of every road trip, only to fall asleep for the home stretch? Why is it that kids who never in a million, billion, trillion years would nap at home, actually fall asleep in a moving car? Finally, why do most kids sleep through any number of noises in the moving vehicle, then awaken immediately when you try to transfer them to their beds at home?

I’ve got questions, people. And as someone who spends a ton of time road-tripping with girls who generally don’t nap, I demand answers.

My kids would be great case studies. This past weekend, for instance, after a fun-filled day in the city, the two of them resisted sleep for 65 of the 75 miles home, then—inexplicably, really—dozed off less than 10 minutes from our house.

Last month we endured a similar scene—I was so happy to see them sleeping in the middle of the day that I sat in the parked car in my own driveway for nearly 30 minutes, just to score them decent rest.

How long must the erratic realities of car napping plague us moms and dads? Is there any hope for us at all, short of blasting music and constantly turning around to tickle our kids in the knees and keep them awake? If a billionaire can’t fund research into this area, perhaps we can get some cash on Indiegogo or Kickstarter. Surely I’m not the only parent determined to find out.

Feeling Our Way in the Dark

Sisters. At St. Luke's Garden Playground. In the light.

Sisters. At St. Luke’s Garden Playground. In the light.

The conversion to Standard Time from Daylight Savings Time always is a dicey one for parents with young kids. Little ones wake up earlier. They’re crankier before dinner. Midday naps can go horribly awry.

Thankfully, here in London, we’ve experienced none of these usual problems. Instead, we find ourselves faced with another challenge: Exploring in the dark.

It’s a matter of logistics. R naps from about 130 p.m. local time to 330 p.m. local time every day. Once she wakes up, the process of changing her diaper, feeding her snack, getting her dressed to go out and actually clambering down three flights of stairs generally takes about 45 minutes. This means we’re headed out for our afternoon/evening adventures around 415 p.m.

Which gives us less than one hour of post-nap sunlight to do stuff every day.

On Monday, for instance, we arrived at a local park just as the sun was setting, and proceeded to stick around until it was so dark we couldn’t see the ball we were trying to kick. One day last week (we set clocks back Oct. 27 here), a simple errand to the local pharmacy required the extra purchase of a flashlight to see the way home.

Perhaps the biggest adjustment has been with playground time; because most playgrounds here are run by the city, they close before the sun even begins its descent—at 3:45 p.m.

Of course we learned about the playgrounds the hard way. That fateful day, as I tried to hide my disappointment from the girls, a mom walking by smiled and cheerily offered, “Welcome to London in winter!” I was not pleased.

So far, our solution has been to create a new schedule. On days when the girls want/need playground time, we push back R’s nap to get in an hour while it’s still light. On days when R goes down at regular time, we have what I’ve started calling, “Walkabout,” which consists of nothing more than putting on hats and jackets, taking the flashlight and wandering on foot.

As the temperatures drop, I imagine we’ll transform these evening strolls into evening bus rides or something like that. Nothing like feeling your way in the dark.

How has the time change impacted your travel experiences?

%d bloggers like this: