10 Common Naptime Problems and Solutions
If your baby has trouble sleeping during the day, check out these simple solutions to typical naptime problems. Your little one will be snoozing away in no time!
Many parents struggle to implement an effective sleep routine for their babies, especially when it comes to naps. "A lot of sleep-deprived parents feel like, 'Give me my nights back, and the naps can take a backseat,'" says Jennifer Waldburger, coauthor of The Sleepeasy Solution. "But it will be hard for your baby to sleep well at night if he isn't napping well during the day." Here are the most common problems that crop up at naptime, with advice for how to get your baby back on track.
RELATED: How to Put a Baby to Sleep
Napping is Unpredictable
You never know when your baby's going to nap each day, so you're not sure when you can shower or make a phone call.
The Solution: Set a schedule. It's normal for your newborn to snooze on and off all day, but between 3 and 4 months, their sleep should consolidate into two or three longer naps. This routine will make your day more predictable, and it also helps your baby recognize what to expect. Try this schedule from Suzy Giordano, author of Twelve Hours' Sleep by Twelve Weeks Old: a morning nap about two hours after waking, and an afternoon nap about two or three hours after the morning nap ends. (Until around 9 months, most babies will also take a 30-minute catnap late in the day.)
Once you have the general routine in place, make your schedule as firm or as flexible as you prefer. Though things don't always run like clockwork—sometimes your baby will wake early or won't fall asleep—the schedule can seem like a lifesaver overall.
Your Baby Becomes Inconsolable
You wanted your baby to take a long nap, so you waited until they seemed exhausted. Now they’re just screaming in the crib.
The Solution: If your little one is inconsolable at naptime, it's probably because they crossed the fine line between tired and overtired. This causes their body to produce a stress hormone called cortisol that makes it harder to fall (and stay) asleep. You can avoid missing the ideal nap window by noting subtle signs of sleepiness, such as eye rubbing, jerky body motions, or staring into the distance. As soon as you see them, drop everything and put your baby down.
What should you do if you miss the window of opportunity, and you have an exhausted, inconsolable baby on your hands? Try swaddling, holding them tightly in a dark room, or taking them for a stroller ride. If the nap just isn't happening, bag it and bump up the next nap by an hour to compensate, says Marc Weissbluth, M.D., author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.
Your Baby Won’t Fall Asleep
Your baby won't fall asleep at naptime or they take forever to settle down.
The Solution: Establish a pre-sleep routine. "There are some angel-type babies that go right to sleep after you kiss them and plop them in the crib—then there's the rest of our babies," says Kim West, a sleep coach and coauthor of Good Night, Sleep Tight (Vanguard Press). To make the transition easier at naptime, practice a mini version of your bedtime ritual: pull down the shades, read a story together, or sing a lullaby. "That helps to calm your baby and cue her brain to slow down and get ready for sleep," West says.
Also, your baby's sleep needs change as they get older, so if it's a long-standing problem, perhaps they’re simply not tired. Experiment by pushing back naptime by 30 minutes until sleep comes more quickly. At 12 months old, your baby may even be ready to move to a one-nap-per-day schedule.
Naps Aren't Long Enough
Your little one naps only in 15-minute stretches.
The Solution: To achieve restorative REM sleep, babies need to nap for at least 45 minutes—but that happens only if they fall back asleep after the slight wakings that occur naturally during sleep-cycle shifts. "Nathan knew only one way to go to sleep, which was me rocking him and holding him," says Leah Leuteritz of Irvine, California. "I thought, ‘Oh, I'm bonding with my baby.’ I didn't realize I was creating a sleep association for him that was more harmful than helpful in the end."
To break Nathan's bad sleep habits, Leuteritz did a bedtime makeover—an easier fix because babies are already tired and cues such as darkness indicate it's time for sleep. She put him in his crib drowsy but awake, then let him cry it out for a few nights. Once Nathan got the hang of falling asleep solo at night, he started taking longer naps.
Your Baby Won’t Nap At Home
Your baby takes terrific naps at daycare, but weekends at home are a mess.
The Solution: "Sometimes if babies don't see as much of Mom and Dad during the week, they are less inclined to nap well on the weekend. They don't want to miss any time together," says Dr. Weissblut. Talk with your daycare provider to make sure your weekend nap routine echoes what works during the week, whether that's swaddling or reading a naptime story. Make sure your baby gets weekend naps at home around the same time they go down at daycare. As long as your little one is napping well during the week, a couple of off-kilter days shouldn't interfere with their good sleep habits.
Your Baby Doesn’t Want to Nap
Your 8-month-old has just learned to pull themself to standing—and now they’d rather do that for an hour than lie down.
The Solution: Give your baby plenty of floor time to practice skills. Milestones of all types disrupt sleep; babies are so electrified by their newfound abilities that they have a hard time pausing. Also, help your newly standing baby learn to sit down so they won't get stuck (and scream for help 20 times an hour). Play a modified "Ring Around the Rosy," and when you sing "We all fall down," push your baby's knees slightly so they'll plop onto their bottom.
Your Baby Suffered From Colic
Your baby might finally be outgrowing colic, but naps may still be touch and go.
The Solution: Experiment with what works. "You need to think creatively to help the post-colicky child sleep well," says Dr. Weissbluth. That's because colicky babies take longer to develop a nap routine, and often their naps are shorter. Plus, after months of being rocked, shushed, and swung, they lack the ability to soothe themselves.
Jenny Livingston, of Kansas City, Missouri, was at her wits' end with her 4-month-old son, Davis, who would wake up after a half hour, then fuss and cry for two hours. (She would try to soothe him back to sleep by nursing or putting him in the swing, but nothing worked.) Two hours later, she would put him down for his next nap, at which point he'd again wake up after a half hour. Finally, she started putting him back down for the second nap just an hour after he woke up from the first one. For her overtired baby, it was pure relief. "Both naps increased to an hour and a half, sometimes two hours," she says.
Your Baby Only Naps in the Car
One 20-minute snooze in the car and your baby is convinced that their afternoon nap is over and done with.
The Solution: A small taste of sleep can be enough to give your baby a second wind—and make it difficult for them to settle down for real sleep. To avoid the problem, reorganize your schedule so you're not running errands within 30 minutes of naptime, and limit trips to a 15-minute drive from home. If that's not possible, do your best to keep a drowsy baby awake en route.
"I put on cheery music, sing with them, yell out their names in the car," says Angela Killinger, a mother of three in Chantilly, Virginia. "And I tell my older daughter, 'Shake your sister's hand and keep her awake.'" If all else fails and your baby nods off, you can try to lug in the car seat without waking them. Or forget about gas prices and try the time-tested parental technique of cruising the neighborhood so they get an extra 30 minutes of sleep.
Naptime Interferes with Your Schedule
You know you're supposed to stick to a nap schedule, but you're starting to feel like you're under house arrest. Plus, your toddler has Kindermusik and playdates to attend.
The Solution: Planning for a few on-the-go naps each week may actually help your baby adapt to the family schedule. But before you start schlepping your little one to your older child's midmorning Gymboree class, take two weeks to establish naps in the crib. "Once you've instilled that habit, then you can bend the rules from time to time," Giordano says.
To make sure your baby can be flexible without becoming exhausted, plan to be home for at least one solid nap a day. Killinger found that taking her older daughters to playdates affects the baby's schedule: "The first nap is always on the go. But I never schedule anything in the afternoon so we'll always be home for the second nap."
Sleep Needs Are Changing
Your baby might be ready to transition from two naps to one. How can you tell?
The Solution: Most toddlers give up their morning nap by 18 months, with some managing it as early as 12 months and others as late as 20 to 21 months, says Jodi Mindell, PhD, author of Sleeping Through the Night. It usually doesn't happen overnight—there's often a period when they switch between one- and two-nap days. Kids typically give up their nap altogether between ages 3 and 4.