How to Get Your Baby to Nap

6 Sleep Saboteurs

Of course, as every new parent knows, life happens, and even the most diligent parent can be thrown off schedule. Here, some of the most common situations that sabotage your hard-won nap schedule and what to do to avoid them:

No nap. You're crazed with errands, your sitter forgot the routine, or you've all slept late. For whatever reason, baby missed his nap, and now you're paying for it. "If my toddler, Cody, doesn't nap in the early afternoon, he sleeps through dinner and wakes up miserable and starving, or he has a meltdown," says Denise Newman, of Berkeley, California. Her solution? Make sure he naps, even if he's not at home or there's a major distraction going on. "If we're at someone else's house, I'll lie down with him in a bedroom. He even napped during his sister's birthday party," says Newman.

Carnapping. It's similar to catnapping, but more destructive. Basically, your child falls asleep in the car for a few minutes, and when he wakes up, he won't sleep and is testy and irritable. "Sometimes ten minutes can be enough to keep a child awake, but not enough to keep him going," says Mindell. The solution? Stop him before he snoozes. Open a window, or try singing to keep him awake until you get home. To avoid future carnaps, pinpoint the times when you're most likely to be out and about, and choose baby's nap time accordingly. If you find you need to make a big time shift -- say, a half hour -- adjust the time by gradually moving it in 15-minute increments; instead of 12:30, go to 12:15 and then 12, until you're at the time you need.

Sickness. Colds and other childhood illnesses interfere with good napping because they often interrupt nighttime sleep, throwing baby off schedule. If your child is up all night and falling asleep at breakfast, bring him back to his crib so he still has a mental connection between naps and his crib. After the illness passes, return to your bedtime rituals to help get your naps back on track.

Vacation. Your baby couldn't care less that he's in sunny Nassau; a different crib and major schedule disruptions can ruin his nap timing and leave him cranky. The good news? If you've stuck to a routine at home, you can adapt it to your vacation. And if your child has a lovey he sleeps with, taking it on vacation ups the chances that he'll nap better in a strange place. Thanks to his dad's unwavering ritual (and his trusty brown stuffed doggie), 9-month-old Tony Kavalam napped throughout a six-week trip to India. "I lay Tony on his left side, place his doggie on his right cheek, drape his right arm over the doggie, and walk away," says his dad, Jude, of Seattle.

Developmental milestones. When your 8-month-old conquers pulling herself up, she'll probably prefer working on her new skill to taking a boring nap. Give naps a try, but don't worry if she won't sleep now and then. "Put her in the crib for an hour, even if she just plays. When the time is up, take her out," Mindell advises. If she falls asleep later on in front of a video, take her back to the crib to sleep. Return to the usual nap time the next day. "After she masters the milestone, she'll be ready to start her nap routine again," notes Mindell.

Older siblings. They're big and they can do lots of cool stuff. What baby wouldn't want to stay up and play with them? They also need attention, particularly if they're toddlers, and you can't leave them to their own devices while you implement baby's nap routine. One solution: family rest time. Baby goes to her crib, the older kids settle down with a book or, conceivably, nap themselves. It worked like a charm in my house. No one missed out on any fun, and everyone got some much-needed rest.


Pamela Stock is a writer in Brooklyn.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, April 2004.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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