Does it seem like your baby won’t nap well or easily? I have been there! Just because helping children become super sleepers is my job does not mean that my babies are natural born super sleepers. My first was quite the opposite! Sleep was a struggle for her from the beginning. I have been in your shoes. It seemed like my baby was fighting sleep almost every time she was supposed to be napping.
Thankfully, even the worst nappers are not beyond hope! The process of becoming a super sleeper is easier for some than others. But, with enough time, patience, and consistency it is possible for all babies to start napping well. This is true even if right now, your baby won’t nap without you bouncing on a yoga ball at precisely 30 bounces per minute while singing Rock-a-bye Baby.
5 Things To Try When Your Baby Won’t Nap
There are 5 simple things you can try adjusting if your baby won’t nap. Many times, these can make all the difference in the world! If these 5 things don’t help, most likely your baby is using a sleep prop to fall asleep and is therefore unable to fall asleep or return to sleep without your assistance.
1. Adjust the Nap Timing
If you put your baby down too early, she will be under-tired (not sleepy yet) and have a hard time falling asleep. Most likely, she will either babble and play in her crib until she is ready to sleep or will cry. If you put your baby down too late, she will be over-tired (too sleepy) and have a very hard time falling asleep. You are probably wondering why this happens. If she is tired, she should fall asleep easily, right? Actually, because of how your baby’s brain responds when she is awake too long, it becomes very difficult for her to calm and be able to fall asleep. So, if your baby won’t nap, the first thing you should do is evaluate your baby’s wake time and adjust her nap time accordingly. It is easiest for her to fall asleep when you put her down in that sweet spot where she is tired but not too tired.
2. Make Sure Baby’s Room is Sleep-Friendly
This one is so easy to overlook! Most of us like bright, sunny spaces. While they are great for most of daily life, they are not so great for tired babies. For the first 2-3 months of life, many babies can fall asleep just about anywhere. After that, naps on the go just don’t work as well as they used to. Aim to have most of your baby’s naps at home (or school) and in a room that is fairly dark. If fairly dark doesn’t work, you may need to go cave dark. Having a super dark room makes a huge difference for some babies!
White noise can also help drown out the ambient noise from the rest of the household. This makes it easier for your baby to fall and stay asleep. If you find yourself tip-toeing around…you need some white noise! You should be able to go about your daily tasks without worrying about waking your child. Of course use common sense and don’t vacuum right outside her room…no one can sleep through that! If your baby is fighting sleep, make sure her room is sleep-friendly.
3. Let Baby Know It Is Time To Sleep
This is something else that is easily overlooked but makes perfect sense when you think about it. Picture yourself happily playing with your toys and then being plucked from the floor and placed in your bed. Do you think you would fall asleep right away? Most likely not! You’d be confused about what just happened and wondering why you are in bed instead of playing. The same is true for our little ones.
No wonder it seems like many babies won’t nap! Even though they can’t tell time and don’t understand what the words “it is almost nap time” mean until they are older, we can still signal our little ones that the time for sleep is coming. This allows their brain to prepare and start setting itself up for sleep success. I recommend doing a 5-10 minute long nap routine before each nap. It can be a shortened version of your bedtime routine. It will take some time, but you will find that if you do the same routine and do it each and every time, that baby will start to calm and relax during it. This is especially true once you nail the nap timing!
4. Be Aware of Teething, Growth Spurts, and Developmental Leaps
These events can throw sleep way off track for even the best super sleepers. You may be doing everything “right” but your baby is fighting sleep and it feels like your baby won’t nap well no matter what. In this case, evaluate and see if any of these things are going on. A baby who suddenly struggles to nap well can also be signaling you that she is ready for a transition. These transitions are common around 8 months of age (3-2 nap transition) and 15-18 months of age (2-1 nap transition). There is also often a nap strike around 10-12 months of age.
If teething, a mental leap, or a motor skill milestone is the cause of your baby’s disrupted naps, hang in there! It will pass and most likely your baby will return to napping well. Be consistent in offering naps at the right time and using your routine. Just know that your little one may need a few more snuggles than normal and may need a temporarily earlier bedtime to make up for the rough naps.
5. Give Your Baby A Chance To Return To Sleep
As parents, it is tempting to run into our baby’s room at the first peep they make. This can easily backfire and make it more difficult for your baby to take long, good quality naps. Many babies are noisy sleepers and may cry out ever so briefly while transitioning from one sleep cycle to the next. If you were to rush in, you may have just cut short a nap that would have been longer otherwise. When you hear your child, look at their monitor (if you have a video one) and make sure that she is actually awake. If you don’t have a video monitor, pause a few minutes and see if you continue to hear her; she may quickly return to sleep!
Even if your child doesn’t immediately return to sleep, wait a few minutes before you end the nap (unless, of course, she is truly upset – use your best judgement). This is especially true if the nap lasted less than an hour. For most babies, learning to connect sleep cycles is a process and by leaving her for 15-20 minutes after she wakes up, you are giving her a chance to go back to sleep.
My Baby Won’t Nap Well Despite All Of Those Tips
If your timing is spot on, your child’s room is sleep-friendly, you have a great nap routine, she is not teething or in a developmental leap and yet your baby won’t nap well, most likely your baby does not know how to fall asleep without your help. This is called using a sleep-prop. Common sleep props are feeding to sleep and rocking to sleep. While not at all a negative thing in and of themselves, these sleep props become problematic when your child’s dependence on them starts to negatively impact your life. Babies fall asleep one of two ways: either self-soothing or with a sleep prop.
Self-Soothing Vs Sleep Prop
Self-soothing is a learned skill for most babies. Once they learn it, they are are able to fall asleep without assistance and even more importantly, return to sleep on their own. When a baby relies on a sleep prop, she needs it to both fall asleep and return to sleep. Since her sleep cycles average 40-45 minutes long, she will not be able to nap longer than this on her own. The older she gets, the more difficult it is to put her down once she falls asleep and the longer it can take to soothe her back to sleep. This makes getting the 1-2+ hour naps she likely needs difficult.
If you think this is the case for your baby, you have two choices: either continue to assist her to sleep until she outgrows that need (which may well last into toddler-hood) or gently teach her to self-soothe to sleep on her own. While neither choice is right nor wrong, from a practical stand point most families just don’t have the ability to continue to assist their baby for the entirety of their naps long term.
If you chose to teach your baby how to self-soothe, there are a variety of ways to choose from. If you are tired of struggling with naps and feel at your whit’s end, consider one-on-one daily help and encouragement! Sleep doesn’t have to stay a struggle.
*as always, information provided by Peachtree Pediatric Sleep Consulting is to be considered educational only and is never intended to be medical advice nor a substitute for medical advice. If you have questions regarding your child’s health, please consult with his or her licensed healthcare provider*