One of the biggest challenges for any mom or dad is a baby not napping. Learn what to do when your baby won’t nap, and how to get them to finally sleep.
It’s the frustration we all dread: the skipped nap.
It didn’t matter how tired I knew my baby was—he’d still refuse to nap. It also didn’t help when one missed nap would reshuffle the entire day and even ruin our plans. Sometimes, daytime naps had the power to make or break my day.
I remember thinking, He’s been awake since 6am! I couldn’t stand the thought of him being awake for hours and not getting enough sleep.
What to do with your baby not napping
The problem was, I felt stuck doing the same techniques over and over, only to get frustrated when they wouldn’t work. I took “failed” naps personally as if they were a reflection of my inabilities. And I often lost my temper, filling me with shame and guilt that I would even get upset at my little guy.
I was not a happy mama.
But then I started implementing a few different techniques that helped him take—not skip—his naps. These techniques allowed me to help him fall asleep, and I found myself being more patient in the process.
By applying these simple changes, I was able to turn these moments from nightmares into nap times. Let’s take a look at how you can do the same:
1. Watch your baby’s awake time
I didn’t know any better. I thought that infants would simply fall asleep when they felt tired. That they’d know it was time to nap and fall asleep wherever they happened to be.
Turns out, that wasn’t always the case. I ended up taking my baby out and about, not sticking to any sleep schedule. Looking back, I even kept him up for hours at a time, wondering why he wouldn’t nap when I figured it was time to.
You see, babies have a short window of awake time between sleep times. Any longer and they have a difficult time taking their next nap, overstimulated and too tired to fall asleep.
Fussiness and lots of yawning are often a sign that your baby is already overtired. Sleepy cues aren’t always easy to detect (especially for first-time moms). If so, you’re better off watching the clock to make sure he hasn’t been awake too long.
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2. Allow your baby to fall asleep on his own
Is your baby used to falling asleep in your arms, or from feeding? You may be turning to sleep aids as a first resort instead of as secondary means.
Here’s what you can do to encourage good sleeping habits. Each time he needs to nap, try putting him down drowsy but awake. He’ll likely be sleepy enough to fall asleep on his own, but not so knocked out that he has no idea how he even got to the crib or bassinet in the first place.
Why is this important? Sometimes babies fuss at naps because they struggle with putting themselves to sleep. By giving him many opportunities to fall asleep on his own, you can help him self-soothe when he’s about to nap.
3. Use sleep aids and baby gear
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This might seem like the complete opposite of the previous point, but hear me out. Yes, give your baby the chance to fall asleep on his own, but it’s also okay to resort to sleep aids and baby gear that can help him sleep when all else fails.
Assuming he’s still a few months young, it might be unfair to expect him to fall asleep on his own when he still needs your help. Think of it this way: give him a chance to sleep on his own, but if that doesn’t work, use sleep associations and baby gear.
A few of my tried-and-true techniques include:
Don’t fall for the same trap I did and repeat the same technique over and over. If the pacifier isn’t working, switch him into a swing.
And this can also include his sleep environment. For instance, put him down in a dark room using blackout curtains, and turn on white noise to muffle startling sounds.
4. Use routines to keep your schedule predictable
Your baby may not be able to tell time, but she understands when a sleep routine is in place. She grows used to waking up and feeding, followed by playtime, a diaper change, and finally, another nap.
Doing the same tasks in the same order gives her the reassuring feeling that things are running how they should be. This means less anxiety and fussing, and more focus on playing and learning.
Not only that, but she’s also less likely to resist daytime sleep (and more likely to self-soothe) when she knows when they happen. Far from being boring, a pre-nap routine gives you and your baby the structure you need to run on autopilot.
5. Get out of the house
Do you ever feel caged in when your baby won’t nap? Talk about the rest of the day ruined—it’s easy to feel stuck at home with nothing to do but put her to sleep.
Except all that does is make you feel miserable, which only rubs off on her. Imagine trying to fall asleep when your mom or dad is frowning and upset about why you haven’t napped yet!
Instead, get out of the house for a change of scenery. You’re less likely to feel down when you can focus on other things besides the failed nap attempts. The best part? The stroller walk, baby carrier, or even car drive just might be the thing she needs to fall asleep!
6. Drop the nap your baby has been skipping
Do you notice your baby has been skipping the same nap time? She might be ready to drop that nap completely. This means you could lengthen her remaining naps as well as her awake time between them.
How do you know if she’s ready to drop a nap? Follow her cues and whether they point to her readiness to transition to fewer naps. She might be ready when she:
- Doesn’t nap well for one nap, especially for five consecutive days
- Can remain happy and alert even after having skipped that nap
- Takes a long time to fall asleep for a nap
- Takes a short nap
7. Try another nap again
Let’s say your baby usually naps from 9-10:30am, but isn’t falling asleep. When should you call it quits? And if so, when do you put him down again for another nap?
Keep trying to put him to nap for however long your designated nap time was supposed to be. If nap was is 9-10:30am, then give it a shot up until 10:30am.
What happens if he skipped the nap completely—when do you try again? If he’s six months old or younger, keep him up for one extra hour after the end of his designated nap time and try again. This means you’d put him down for another nap attempt at 11:30am.
If he’s older than six months, keep him awake until his next scheduled nap time. If the next nap time was scheduled for 12:30pm, then put him down at that time.
The day feels like it’s humming along as it should when you know your baby is well-rested and taking his naps. You feel accomplished, like you’ve done your job well. But on the days when he skips those naps and isn’t getting good sleep? Well… it’s worth trying new techniques to help turn things around.
Give him a chance to fall asleep on his own before resorting to sleeping aids and baby gear. Keep a consistent routine so he knows what to expect, being mindful of how long he’s been awake.
Break out of your rut and leave the house if need be—you just might find the change of scenery is what you and your baby needed. And finally, try again at a later time depending on his age.
It’s never easy when your baby’s nap schedule is off, or if you’re dealing with a fussy baby. But when you take a step back and think about it, naps are a small part of your day. Try not to let skipped naps affect the rest of it—even if you realize he’s been awake since 6am.
Get more tips:
- 5 Ideas to Try When Your Baby Only Takes Catnaps
- What to Do When Your Baby Won’t Nap Unless Held
- How to Get Your Baby to Nap in the Crib
- How to Break the Cycle of an Overtired Baby
- 4 Newborn Sleep Cues That Can Help Baby Sleep Longer
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